Doç. Dr.  Dilek Yiğit Doç. Dr. Dilek Yiğit


02 April 2019

Brexit process started after the United Kingdom officially informed the European Council of its intention to leave the Union on March 29th 2017, consists of two stages. The first stage was of negotiations, during which the United Kingdom and the EU would try to determine the conditions of withdrawal and state of relations after withdrawal. The second stage was ratification process during which the withdrawal agreement would be approved by the British Parliament and the European Parliament.

As of November 14th 2018, the first stage was completed after the United Kingdom and the European Union agreed upon a draft of the withdrawal agreement. But the second stage could not be completed since the House of Commons did not approve the withdrawal agreement. In addition, in accordance with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty which regulates withdrawal, a period of two years is foreseen as the limit to complete the withdrawal process, starting from the date the European Union is notified of the intention to withdraw. The issue of time restriction, for now, has been solved as Theresa May has asked the European Union for an extension of time until June 30th 2019; and Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty allows for postponing the date of withdrawal.

However, as the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier said “Brexit Extension: for what?”

It may have been possible to answer this question through the voting held by the House of Commons on March 27th 2019 about Brexit alternatives. However with MPs refusing Brexit alternatives such as “no-deal withdrawal”, “Common Market”, “EEA/EFTA without customs union”, “Customs Union”, “Labour Plan”, “Revoke Article 50”, “Confirmatory Public Vote” and “Contingent Preferential Arrangements”, no answer to the question “Brexit Extension: for what” has been forthcoming.

Under these circumstances it is without doubt that the United Kingdom is in a political crisis caused by Brexit. In fact, the crisis is not only taking place because the House of Commons did not approve the withdrawal agreement or MPs could not agree on Brexit alternatives; this crisis, indeed, began when the legitimacy of the results of the referendum on the UK leaving the EU in June 2016 was questioned.

Brexit itself is the crisis!

Who or what is blame for Brexit?

Is it David Cameron, who decided to hold a referendum on the UK leaving the EU even though he wants the country to remain in the European Union?

Is it Euro-sceptics within the Conservative Party, who called for a referendum and applied pressure on David Cameron to take the referendum decision?

Is it the rapid rise of UKIP in British politics, advocating that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union?

Or is it the “low-skilled”, “less-educated”, “older-voters” who are described as the “left-behind”, who voted to leave the European Union in the referendum on June 23rd 2016?

Is it Theresa May, who is accused of not being able to manage the negotiation process properly?

Of course, all of these more or less contributed to Brexit crisis. However, David Cameron’s decision to hold a referendum due to pressure of the Euro-sceptics in his party was a political choice; UKIP’s discourse that the United Kingdom should leave the European Union is party policy; the decision to leave the European Union through a referendum was the choice of voters and the claim that Theresa May is not able to manage the negotiation process is an opinion. All of these are natural components of a democratic processes.

The main reason for Brexit crisis stems from outside. This reason is Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which took effect on December 1st 2009.Why?

First of all, Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty creates problems in the European Union by its very existence. This is because even though it is not possible for a member country to withdraw from the Union according to the European law, this article makes it possible for member countries to withdraw from the Union. Although this provision of withdrawal was introduced for the first time with the Lisbon Treaty since it was seen as a sovereign right for a country to withdraw from a union of which it is a member; this provision will harm the Union in its attempts at further integration. Because it allows for any member that wants to leave to withdraw from the Union and even play the card of withdrawal in supranational politics. Brexit remains on the agenda since it is an ongoing process, but it is not impossible that if another country wants to withdraw in future, the process of withdrawal will turn into a crisis similar to Brexit. Already, terms like Nexit, Frexit and Grexit are being used and the possibility is discussed of other member countries leaving the EU after the United Kingdom. Regardless of possibility of other countries leaving the Union is low, the reason for terms like Nexit, Frexit and Grexit being used is the withdrawal clause of the Lisbon Treaty.

On top of this, the withdrawal clause of the Lisbon Treaty is also problematic due to its incompleteness. This article only regulates the procedure of withdrawal. It contains no regulations regarding conditions of withdrawal or possible alternatives regarding how the relations between the European Union and the withdrawing country will continue. If the withdrawal clause contained a limited number of clear alternatives regarding future relations with the withdrawing country and the European Union, any member country could take specific models of relations which were determined through an agreement into account before making a decision about leaving. The withdrawal clause allows for delaying the date of withdrawal, however it provides no idea on which conditions, for what purpose and for how long the date of withdrawal may be delayed. If this situation was regulated by the provision on withdrawal, there would be no need for the question,“Brexit Extension: for what?”

In order to avoid crisis like Brexit, either the withdrawal clause should not have been introduced with the Lisbon Treaty or not only the procedure of withdrawal but also concrete conditions of withdrawal and relational models after withdrawal should have been regulated in the Lisbon Treaty. Moreover, this should have been done in light of the fact that no member country has ever gone through the experience of leaving the European Union yet.

The point is, while the crisis into which the United Kingdom has been dragged due to Brexit is being discussed at length, if any other member country decided to leave the Union with reference to Article 50, would circumstances for it be any different from the United Kingdom’s?