Article 50 - what does ‘triggering’ actually mean?

/ 28 March 2017

By Political Editor Andy Bell

No emails, tweets or faxes for this most important message to be delivered tomorrow; some time around 13.30 Brussels time the UK ambassador to the EU will hand Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, a letter from the Prime Minister.

The letter will even have what in the civil service is called “a wet signature”. In other words, it will be the one actually signed with a pen back in London by Theresa May.

Under the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, this letter “triggers” Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and formally tells the EU that Britain is leaving.

It also starts the clock running on two years of negotiations. Back in London, Theresa May will make a statement to Parliament after Prime Minister’s Questions.

The phoney war of the last nine months will be over and we should be into the nitty gritty of negotiations. It will be a slow start though.

The first proper meeting of the 27 remaining EU governments won’t happen until the end of April and we presumably won’t see David Davis sitting down across the table from his opposite number Michel Barnier until some time in May.

And for two years it’s unlikely people will notice any real difference because until the final agreement has been reached and all the countries (and some regions) of the EU have signed it off, the UK remains a member of the EU.

That means we are supposed to abide by the rules of the EU until that point. The truth is that the people who drafted the Lisbon Treaty never really expected that anyone would want to leave and trigger Article 50.

So, as we are sure to hear again and again over the next couple of years, we are in uncharted territory here.