For expats or would-be expats keeping a close eye on the Brexit process and what it could mean for life abroad, you’ve probably heard the term ‘Article 49’ pop up a few times since the beginning of the year.
Most of us know about ‘Article 50’ and the saga surrounding the formal beginning of the Brexit process in early 2017, but how do some of the other sections of the Lisbon Treaty, such as Article 49, relate to Brexit?
Could ‘Article 49’ really be a way to get Britain back into the EU, even after Brexit? Read on to find out what we know…
Put simply, Article 49 is the normal means by which a European country can become a member of the European Union (EU). It is not some kind of unique membership re-entry method for previously existing members – like Britain is set to become.
Listed in the Lisbon Treaty, Article 49 states that any European State which respects the EU values listed in ‘Article 2’ (respect for human dignity, democracy, equality and rights among other things) can apply to become a member of the EU. After submitting its application to the European Council the application must be agreed to unanimously – by every head of state and government from every EU member nation.
Any potential agreement would need to be ratified by the member states involved, in consultation with the European Commission.
Re-joining the EU would be a viable option if Britain wanted it, as the European Commission’s current President seems to already be warm to the idea of Britain re-joining the EU through Article 49.
As the British government begins to gear up for another year of UK-EU Brexit negotiations, ahead of the formal Brexit date in March 2019, speculation over the possibility of Britain ‘Remaining’ in the EU after all is returning to the headlines.
With now just over a year until Brexit is supposedly set in stone, high-ranking EU officials have been once again expressing regret that Britain is on track to leave the bloc.
On 17 January, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said to the European Parliament that many major players in the Union felt partially responsible for the Brexit vote and Britain’s discontent with its membership.
He stated that while his offers to discuss ways other than Brexit were shot down, there would always be space for Britain to change its mind. He said: ‘Be it as it may, once the British have left under Article 50 there is still Article 49 which allows a return to membership, and I would like that.’
His comments thrust ‘Article 49’ into headlines, but it was not the first time we have heard of it. Some pundits have speculated since the Brexit process began that Article 49 may be the most likely route back into the EU for a post-Brexit Britain.
Juncker’s comments still made pro-EU citizens and businesses more hopeful that Britain would be re-accepted into the EU if it ever decided to return, but they did not indicate Britain would necessarily be given special treatment under Article 49 when compared with other European countries.
Despite the possibility of a Brexit reversal occurring, the UK government has shown no indication at all that it is planning to change its decision or offer any kind of second referendum.
This means that UK expats living in the EU (and vice versa) will most likely see a wide-reaching change in the rules governing their residency in the coming years regardless of Article 49’s existence.
This is a question that any expat affected by Brexit would likely want the answer to. Unfortunately though, if Britain were to re-join the EU after the Brexit process has been finished it would be joining as a new member.
This could very well mean that all the special deals Britain currently has with the EU, including the usage of the Pound (GBP), may no longer be possible or would at least need to be re-negotiated. The EU would not necessarily offer Britain its unique budget rebate either.
On the other hand, if Britain re-joined the EU through Article 49 without its current opt-outs, it could mean freedom of movement between Britain and the EU would be even smoother.
Under Britain’s current EU membership it is not part of the Schengen agreement, meaning that unlike movement across the rest of the EU a passport is still needed at the UK border. If Britain was part of the Schengen Agreement on a potential EU re-join, life could actually be made easier for expats.
Britain would not be able to ‘activate’ Article 49 like it did with Article 50 though, it would need to submit a membership application. Only then will EU member nations be the ones to follow through on the Article’s rules while examining the application.
In order for Britain to be a member of the European Union and reliably keep its current negotiated benefits, Article 50 would need to be revoked before the Brexit is complete – and that doesn’t seem to be on the cards.
While the UK is on track to officially leave the EU by March 2019, there are still many things we don’t know about what exactly Britain’s post-Brexit relationship will be with the EU. That also means we know little about how it will affect expats.
However, we can formulate a basic view of what might happen, as well as what may change under a potential Brexit reversal someday.
Britain’s exit from the EU is likely to have a major effect on anyone planning to move from the UK to the EU, and even expats already living in the bloc. Even though it’s looking increasingly likely that there will be some kind of Brexit transitionary period to help the UK and EU grow accustomed to the changes, things will still change.
It is possible that close movement ties to the EU will be kept post-Brexit or some other kind of deal on citizen movement will be made, but it’s quite likely that a lot of the conveniences that come with freedom of movement will come to an end for British expats.
This could mean that without EU citizenship, the ease of which we can currently do things in the rest of the EU, such as buy and sell property, work abroad, or enjoy access to foreign healthcare, will disappear.
Instead, expats will likely need to work on getting and maintaining a visa in order to continue doing these things in the EU, as a non-EU member would or as an expat living in a non-EU nation would. The EU offers multiple types of visa which work for different sets of countries, such as the Schengen visa and the European Blue Card.
So, yes, the details of Britain’s post-Brexit relationship with the EU still have yet to be worked out. However, expats living in the EU or planning to live in the EU should still keep in mind potential changes in terms of accessibility and convenience that could become reality in the coming years.
Britain is only likely to keep all of its current freedom of movement benefits with the EU if the Brexit decision is reversed within the next year – or it can regain basic EU freedom of movement if ‘Article 49’ is pursued at some point following Brexit.
Once Britain has gone through the struggle of negotiating and seeing through the entire Brexit process, it would be understandably unlikely for the nation to suddenly go back and change its mind. By far the most convenient way to avoid Brexit for both UK and EU governments would simply be Britain revoking Article 50 before the Brexit process is complete.
However, the electorate as well as Parliament will look different 5-10 years from now – during the first years of post-Brexit Britain. 20+ years from now especially it’s highly possible the electorate will want very different things to the current British public, especially if being outside the EU isn’t going well.
Depending on what the government in power at the time believes, or the tone of the British public, the chances of a referendum on re-entering the EU could be high as soon as the mid. It really is dependent on many factors such as whether or not the nation makes a success out of Brexit and whether or not pro-EU politicians come into power.
Essentially, Britain is likely to pursue ‘Article 49’ eventually if there continues to be a sizeable or even increased portion of the public that remains pro-EU even after the Brexit process is all said and done.
At the very least, if there is no special agreement on movement between the UK and the EU, expats and potential expats are likely to remain supportive of a potential re-entry.
Essentially, it means that regardless of how the Brexit process affects expats and nationals in the EU and what kind of restrictions are put into place on movement between nations, there is always a chance that they could be relaxed again someday.
They may be relaxed even further if Britain does not negotiate an opt-out of the Schengen agreement on potential re-entry.
If the UK government were ever to offer another EU referendum and the country decided to re-join the EU, the EU’s standard freedom of movement rules would likely begin to apply to Britain and British nationals – offering even more freedom of movement than Britain currently enjoys with no need for passports at the UK border.
The possibility of a second referendum or the potential eventual pursuing of Britain re-joining the EU would also have a significant effect on markets and leave the British Pound (GBP) much stronger – especially if it succeeds.
This would of course impact the Pound to Euro exchange rate which is an important factor in UK-EU movement and relations.
For now however, it is still highly unclear how exactly the Brexit process will impact EU expats in the first place. It’s still possible that a deal could be reached allowing for British movement with the EU to remain relatively relaxed, but it’s also possible that expats could just be left in legal limbo or experience much stricter movement and visa demands instead.
Unfortunately, the true impact Article 49 could potentially have on Britain and freedom of movement itself won’t be fully known until after the Brexit process is complete.
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