Article 50 – definition and meaning

Article 50 is part of the 2007 Lisbon Treaty, which became European Union law in December 2009, eight years after the heads of the member states initiated a process to make the trading bloc ‘more democratic, more transparent and more efficient.’

The Article is a basic 5-point plan which any member state can use if it wishes to leave the European Union (EU). Lawyers describe it as an obscure, complicated and vague clause.

Article 50 states that any EU member state can decide to leave the trading bloc in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.


Article 50 of the Lisbon TreatyAccording to openeurope.org.uk, after Article 50 is invoked, EU laws will still applly to the UK. The country will continue to participate in other EU business as normal, but it won’t participate in internal EU discussions or decisions regarding its own withdrawal. (Image: euobserver.com)


Article 50 kicks off separation negotiations

On 23rd June, fifty-two percent of the British electorate voted in a referendum to leave the European Union. Leaving the EU has been nicknamed BREXIT, which stands for BRitain EXITing the EU.

Britain will not officially be out of the trading bloc until the invoking of Article 50 and the UK and EU have signed an exit deal. This may take several years.



The Lisbon Treaty says that the exit negotiations should be completed within two years of Article 50 being invoked. We will see how accurate that prediction was as soon as Prime Minister Theresa May invokes Article 50. She said this will happen before the end of March 2017.

Britain had a similar referendum in 1975, in which 67.2% of the voters chose to remain.

The UK is not the first member state wishing to leave the EU. Greenland, which is part of the Danish Realm, voted in 1985 to leave the then EEC (European Economic Community). When Algeria became independent of France in 1962, it left the trading bloc.


Theresa May Article 50 Brexit

When Prime Minister Theresa May invokes Article 50 and the separation negotiations start, which route should she pursue – the Hard or Soft Brexit route?


However, Britain will be the first country to leave the EU using Article 50.

Two types of Brexit

There are two routes Mrs. May might take when negotiating Britain’s exit from the EU – Soft Brexit or Hard Brexit.

Soft Brexit refers to a gentle, semi-detached separation, in which some of the features that the country currently has would continue. Britain would still have unfettered access to the EU market – a market with more than 500 million consumers. It would also maintain passporting rights.

Passporting refers to the freedom that a financial institution has within an EU member state to operate across the whole Union, as well as Norway, Liechtenstein and Iceland (EEA – European Economic Area). Britain must keep its passporting rights for London to continue being Europe’s financial hub, experts say.

With a Soft Brexit, the UK will have to sign up to the free movement of people. This means that EU citizens will be able to – as they can now – come into the country, live, study or work in it, without needing any special visas.

Hard Brexit refers to a total separation from the EU. This would mean losing free access to the EU market, as well as passporting rights. The UK would no longer belong to the European customs union.

However, the British Government would regain total control of its borders, i.e. it would be able to decide under what conditions foreigners might visit, live, study or work in the country.

Most businesses would prefer a Soft Brexit, they say anything else would devastate the economy and kill jobs. Economists say that London would risk losing its leading position in Europe as the continent’s major financial center.

The electorate, however, would probably prefer a Hard Brexit. Regaining border control was one of the main concerns – perhaps the main concern – among voters who chose Brexit.

The current EU states have made it clear that they would only consider granting the UK free access to the EU market plus passporting rights if it signed up to the free movement of people.



The exact words of Article 50

Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.”

“A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.”

“The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.”

“For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it.”

“A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.”

“ If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.”

“The Protocols and Annexes to the Treaties shall form an integral part thereof.”

Video – What is Article 50?

As this Guardian video explains, Article 50 is complicated, vague and has never been used before.