The blogger The Boiling Frog (TBF) has written an excellent piece on “Article 50 and withdrawal”. His analysis correctly identifies how the EU’s procedural stages of accession (Article 49) closely resemble those of succession (Article 50) – as set out by the Lisbon Treaty.
Concerning accession, TBF notes, “a country formally applies for membership, then begins a period of negotiation mainly based on whether the country wishing to apply[sic] is able to sufficiently execute EU law…” This execution, of course, being the main condition for a country’s desired membership.
However, in describing the “remarkably similar” inverse process of succession, TBF unfortunately passes straight over “negotiation”, with no corresponding outline of what that process would entail or indeed what its intended goal might be. As we shall see, the dynamics of negotiating succession, rather than being remarkably similar to accession, are its diametrical opposite.
In Article 50, the EU accepts that a country intending the withdraw from the EU can do so voluntarily and at any time it chooses – so, clearly, the period of negotiation set out by the article would be concerned with whether a country acting upon this intention to withdraw is sufficiently able to execute a workable relationship with the EU as an independent nation. And, rather than this workable relationship being a legal condition for a country’s withdrawal, it is only the EU’s strong desire for there to be one which the Article’s negotiation period is provided to address.
This, of course, represents a crucial difference in the balances of power between accession and succession negotiations. Whereas the surrender (or concession) conditional to a negotiation of accession is unilaterally and exclusively that of the party desiring membership, the surrender conditional to a negotiation of succession is that of the party – or parties – desiring a future workable relationship.
As we know, negotiation is defined as the process whereby the necessary preparedness for surrender is consented to at the outset and an ensuing exchange determines how much or how little is available to be surrendered in the interests of reaching a desired end. In the case of succession, that desired end being the EU’s overriding wish to avoid the trade chaos guaranteed itself by its failure to have a workable relationship in place in the event of a country such as Britain leaving. The EU, of course, is able to foresee that – an albeit battered and bruised – Britain would still be there after that period of continent-wide upheaval resolves… whereas the EU itself would almost certainly be gone as a consequence of it.
We can understand then that the EU places such high value on its desire for a workable relationship following a voluntary withdrawal that it is openly offering an indeterminate surrender as the means of getting one. That declaration is essentially what Article 50 is and its mechanism effectively preempts and removes any obstacle to a country – cognisant of the sudden and huge shift of power in its favour upon triggering a notification of withdrawal – fully exploiting the negotiating table as the alternative to a much-feared risk of it walking away from an (otherwise) recalcitrant EU with no new relationship in place.
Regular readers of TBF’s website will know that he is a fully signed-up supporter of Richard North’s so-called ‘exit-plan’, Flexcit. Although North has constructed his Heath Robinsonesque scheme around the keystone of Article 50, his description of the Article in Flexcit shows an alarming (and sometimes humorous) failure on his part to comprehend the nature of its provisions and the defining function of the negotiation process it offers. And into this vacuum of unwanted knowledge Flexcit’ posits, instead, the needlessly reckless scenario of Britain unilaterally surrendering – in advance! – to whatever conditions he assumes the EU has for withdrawal… thereby Flexcit effectively consigns Article 50’s negotiation period, unused, to the dustbin at the same time as pre-handcuffing Britain to decades of further, wholly unnecessary, EU contraptional interference.
North’s lack of intellectual and objective rigour here results in his battle plan, consequently, lacking any strategical correspondence to the actual terrain being faced. As a detailed declaration of Britain’s prior and total capitulation to the EU (before any battle commences), Flexcit may have some merit. But – unlike the EU itself – North’s apparent inability to foresee the dynamic shift in the balance of power a notification of withdrawal would bring, leaves Flexcit very far from being a convincing ‘plan’ with which to fight – let alone win – a referendum campaign.