EU confirms Article 50 can be reversed — just not by Britain alone

Theresa May

The EU has confirmed the UK cannot unilaterally reverse Brexit – while simultaneously leaving the door open for Britain to remain part of the European Union.

On a day in which the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator slapped down Boris Johnson over his claim that Brussels could “go whistle” if it expected large sums from Britain as part of the withdrawal agreement, it became clear Article 50 could be reversed – but only on Europe’s say so.

In a fact sheet released on Wednesday, the European Commission stated that “it was the decision of the United Kingdom to trigger Article 50. But once triggered, it cannot be unilaterally reversed”.

It came a day after the Scottish First minister, Nicola Sturgeon, raised the prospect of Article 50 being revoked.

Indeed, French president Emmanuel Macron said last month that the door was “always open” for Britain to remain in the EU.

His comments were echoed by German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schaeuble, who said that “If they wanted to change their decision, of course they would find open doors, but I think it’s not very likely”.

Earlier, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, issued a blunt warning over the tight deadline to reach a trade agreement ahead of the March 2019 date for Brexit.

He told a Brussels press conference: “I’m not hearing any whistling, just the clock ticking.”

Mr Barnier said Britain must offer more clarity on its position on the “divorce bill” financial settlement with the EU – as well as the status of expat citizens and the nature of the future border with the Republic of Ireland – if it is to make progress towards a deal on trade arrangements after Brexit.

The fact sheet, titled “State of play of Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom” was ostensibly published to keep European citizens informed of what has happened on the EU side since Theresa May formally triggered Britain’s exit in March.

Michel Barnier warned the UK the “clock is ticking”. (PA)

But it could also be seen as the European Commission setting out its stall as negotiations heat up, stating that it had laid out its position over nine key areas:

  1. Citizens’ rights
  2. The financial settlement
  3. Nuclear materials and safeguard equipment (EURATOM)
  4. Issues relating to the functioning of the Union institutions, agencies and bodies
  5. Governance of the Article 50 agreement
  6. Goods placed on the market under Union law before the withdrawal date
  7. Judicial cooperation in civil and commercial matters
  8. Ongoing judicial and administrative procedures
  9. Ongoing police and judicial cooperation in criminal matters

Mr Barnier also said that while the EU had its house in order of the above issues, the UK must urgently set out its position as a matter of urgency.

“We have published nine EU position papers so far on the different issues,” he said.

“The EU positions are clear. We now need to know the UK’s position on each of these issues in order to make progress.”

+ Also on Wednesday, the credit ratings agency Moody’s warned that the UK’s creditworthiness was under pressure due to uncertainty over the result of Brexit negotiations and that Britain would face materially weaker growth if it failed to secure a good deal on trade.