On Wednesday article 50 will be triggered. 9 months have passed since the UK voted to leave the EU and the historical moment of the UK’s notification of withdrawal from the EU has arrived. In her speech in Scotland on Monday, Theresa May called Brexit a “great national moment.”

What is article 50?

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is the formal mechanism that will begin the two-year negotiations with the EU. It consists of 5 clauses which refer to a member state’s decision and conditions of withdrawal from the EU. It explains that the member state needs to notify the European Council (EC) of its plan to leave, negotiate a deal and establish the future relation it will develop with the EU. It was drafted by Lord John Kerr, Britain’s former ambassador to the EU.

No other country has ever left the EU before, so the article does not contain many details. However, Lord Kerr said that it is not irrevocable and “You can change your mind while the process is going on.”

When and how will it happen?

On midday, 29 March, the UK will be the first member state to trigger article 50, which means that Theresa May will write a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, outlining her negotiation demands. This could be in the form of an email or a hand-delivered letter to the EC in Brussels. The letter could be delivered by the Brexit Secretary, David Davis, or Sir Tim Barrow, the British Ambassador to the EU. Donald Tusk promised to respond to the British government’s letter within 48 hours. As he said in a Brussels press conference: “When the U.K. notifies, it is our goal to react with the draft negotiation guidelines for the 27 Member States to consider. For this I think we need more or less 48 hours.”

Theresa May will then make a short statement in the House of Commons notifying the country that she has triggered Brexit.

What will happen after?

After article 50 is triggered, the 27 EU member states will meet in a summit in April to discuss their consensus of opinion and the way they will respond to the UK’s demands. After 6 weeks, Theresa May will receive a reply from Tusk outlining the EU’s negotiating position. After both sides, have clarified their demands and positions, the talks will commence between British officials and the European Commission’s representatives on the Brexit terms. 

Which are the main issues?

Trade talks are important for the UK and a priority, but the EU would attempt to discuss this separately. Guaranteeing the rights of EU nationals living in the UK and UK nationals living in the EU would be a priority for the EU, but the UK has denied guaranteeing this before the talks begin, creating fears that they might be used as bargaining chips. This assumption was triggered after international trade secretary Liam Fox said in a speech, at the Conservative party conference in Birmingham, that EU nationals living in the UK is “one of our main cards” in the negotiations.

What if the two sides don’t come to an agreement? 

Whether they reach an agreement or not, the UK would still leave the EU on 29 March 2019. But leaving without an agreement or a trade deal, is considered by some as detrimental, but for others not so bad. Theresa May said that “No deal for Britain is better than a bad deal for Britain.”