Article 50 — the mechanism under the Lisbon Treaty in which a country tells the European Union it is leaving the bloc and thereby gives a two-year notice period — is unlikely to be triggered until after a General Election, according to constitutional expert Dr Peter Catterall.
This is because whoever takes over from Prime Minister David Cameron — who resigned following the Brexit vote on Thursday — will want a much clearer mandate for how the UK leaves the EU in order to push it through the House of Commons, said Dr Catterall of Westminster University in a Facebook Live interview with Lianna Brinded at Business Insider.
“If I were the British government, I wouldn’t want to trigger it until I had a fairly clear idea of what I was actually going to negotiate.
“I think a General Election is a lot more likely than a second referendum. An incoming Conservative Prime Minister may well feel he or she will have a honeymoon moment in which they could go to the electorate, win a mandate [through an election], be able to go to Brussels and trigger Article 50. So I wouldn’t expect it to be triggered much before the end of the year.”
This will be much more difficult than it sounds, though, because the Conservatives are not in as strong a position as they think they are, Dr. Catterall says:
“If we get a considerable economic downturn or recession before the end of the year — and that seems very much on the cards — and a government which has raised expectations to undeliverable levels and therefore left people who voted Leave thinking they were going to get “x” now getting “y,” those voters are going to be very cross. It is not that likely to be thanked at the ballot boxes.
“So while they think a second election is likely, I also think it is problematic for the Tories to do it. On the other hand, they do not have a mandate for how we are going to leave the EU. So parliament can block the terms of leaving and make that difficult too.”
Many see Boris Johnson, who campaigned for a Leave vote, and Theresa May, an advocate for Remain, as the most likely successors to David Cameron. But Johnson has already been criticised for a Telegraph article he wrote on Sunday suggesting that Britain can still have access to the single market even though it will not be part of the EU.
Dr. Catterall concluded that even once Article 50’s two-year notice period was triggered, the UK could get an extension on the time period — but only if the majority of EU member states agreed. But this led him to ask “why would they bend over backwards for us?”
“They probably want as orderly a Brexit as possible. But beyond that, a lot of what the Leave campaign said in the referendum about them wanting to keep good trading with us, and so on, is probably an exaggeration. The UK is not as important a market for them as Leavers would have us believe. And I think that is already dawning on the leaders of the Leave campaign if it has not already.
“On Friday morning I overheard an elderly lady say thank goodness that’s all over and I had to stop myself saying ‘are you joking? It has only just begun.'”