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What is Article 50 and what does it have to do with Brexit?


Here's Prime Minister David Cameron shaking hands with European Parliament President Martin Schulz in February. (European Parliament/Flickr)

The UK is leaving the EU. Only ... not yet, not officially. Soon-to-resign PM David Cameron said yesterday Britain hasn't yet launched the official process of leaving the EU--which requires the activation of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Cameron says Article 50 shouldn't be "started too soon":

"I think it’s right not to trigger Article 50 because that starts a process that within two years has to result in an exit and it might be an unmanaged exit if it started too soon."

Instead, Cameron's cabinet will set up an "EU unit" to manage Britain's departure. Cameron says his successors will have to decide vital issues, such as whether Britain remains in the EU's single market.

So, Article 50 details how a country can leave the EU. But it's pretty vague--probably because the drafters didn't really expect it to actually happen.

One of the reasons Britain is hesitating to activating Article 50 is because once it officially declares its intentions of leaving, it no longer has access to the European Council and can't be involved in EU decision-making.

Even some of those who voted to leave don't want to trigger Article 50 too soon since it gives the departing state only two years to conclude negotiations--which others are saying might take as long as a decade.

On the other hand, many European leaders want the UK out as soon as possible to reduce uncertainty and avoid setting an example for other countries to leave the EU.

But they can't do much because Article 50 only provides for a country to leave of its own choice. (Unless they activate Article 7, which allows the EU to suspend a member if breaches the union's basic principles, but Britain hasn't actually done that.)

Basically, Britain and Europe are looking at a long, messy series of divorce talks.

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What is Article 50 and what does it have to do with Brexit?

Dana Brown

Dana is a freelance writer from Florida, the state that winter forgot. She likes video games, cats, fantasy novels, and complaining about the weather. Follow her on Twitter for intermittent whining about the First Amendment.

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