There’s some brexiters who argue that the UK doesn’t need to trigger article 50, nor spend two years negotiating leaving the EU (and thus its all just a big conspiracy to keep the UK in the EU). We just tell the EU we’re leaving and that’s that. Ah…..no!
To draw an analogy, this would be like quitting your job by just not bothering to showing up for work any more. Okay, so you’ll be leaving without a reference, without your pension contributions, without reimbursement for any outstanding expenses, without your next pay cheque and without the protections afforded by the law. You’d be at risk of your employer suing you for damages (generally your contract of employment will specify an agreed period of grace either side must give before the contract can be terminated) and you’d also not be eligible to claim unemployment benefits. Does any of that sound like a good idea?
The whole point of negotiating is that its a two way street, you reach an accord which gives both sides an acceptable agreement. Perhaps this is the problem of course, the Brexiters think that they can have their cake and eat it and thus the idea that they have to “negotiate” or “compromise” is alien to them. However by refusing to negotiate the UK would essentially be a conceding the field to its opponents. In other words the EU will decide the terms of the UK’s exit, without the UK being consulted.
Naturally the consequences of this could be quite serious. There’s a long list of issues that needs to be resolved and not just with the EU. The UK is doing something that isn’t really governed by existing legislation, so in theory it could leave the country in legal limbo if other nations don’t co-operate. Keep in mind article 50 was originally written by a British lawyer to provide some semblance of an exit mechanism, should it become necessary.
For example that 60 billion the EU says they will charge the UK as its exit fee from the EU. Now I’d consider that at present a negotiating position that they’ll likely horse trade away in exchange for the UK making certain favourable concessions (although the UK will inevitably still face some sort of bill in the end and it will probably be in the tens of billions). However if the UK doesn’t negotiate its exit, then obviously they’ll just slap that bill onto the UK and give the country 30 days to pay, perhaps they’ll even make it higher.
What’s that you say? You’ll refuse to pay? Okay and then the EU starts ceasing UK government assets, freezing bank accounts, imposing punitive taxes on UK companies and businesses or ceasing goods at Calais. Recall that a few years ago, after the Russians reneged on their debts (under Yelstin) it lead to them facing all sorts of sanctions from creditors. At one point a bunch of lawyers showed up at a French air show and tried to impound a group of Russia airforce planes. The Russians actually took off and fled back to Russia to avoid being impounded. That’s the sort of stuff the UK would be facing. The UK’s failure to pay this bill would technically count as a sovereign default, which would mean the UK’s credit rating would be cut to near junk status which would cause a whole host of financial problems.
Ask any lawyer and they will tell you that if someone is suing you in court for money, the worst thing you could possibly do is ignore it. They’ll win by default, the court will appoint a bailiff who’ll come round to your house or place of business and start impounding goods. You can make all the excuses you want at that point, they won’t listen and they don’t have too (they have a county court warrant in their hand). If they are in a good mood they might give you an hour or two to come up with the cash, before then start loading your stuff into their van. And they’ll keep coming back and coming back until you pay up. That’s what the UK would essentially be facing.
And then there’s issues like the WTO. The UK’s membership of the WTO is in a state of limbo. Now in theory so long as nobody kicks up stink it should be easy enough to straighten that out. However, if we’ve left the EU without agreement and are now locked in a trade dispute with them, quite obviously that will have to be resolved first. Without WTO membership the UK will find it quite impossible to trade abroad in any meaningful way.
Then there’s the status of UK citizens in the EU. Without an agreement it will be up to the EU, if not individual EU states, to decide on their fate. My guess is they’ll offer some sort of duel citizenship to the UK citizens they want to keep (i.e. the working age taxpayers living in their countries) while kicking out the pensioners who they want rid of (more precisely, they’d refuse them health care and hit them with a massive punitive tax on their pensions to force them to return to Britain). The French will no doubt withdraw the current border arrangements and simply wave through masses of refugees straight onto Ferries bound for the UK. So we’ll see a drop in east European workers replaced by hordes of pensioners and Syrian migrants.
But we’ll be able to send all them Polish people back right? No! You can’t deport someone to a government whom you don’t have relations with. This is exactly the problem with refugees, they’re in legal limbo and thus can’t be deported back to their country of origin. If the UK left the EU without triggering article 50, then all of the EU citizens would fall into the same category. It would be legally very difficult if not impossible to deport them, or any Syrian refugees for that matter.
And it won’t just be people coming in but goods too. As I’ve pointed out with regard to the post-brexit Irish border, its not people you need to worry about but contraband. Without a bilateral exit agreement from the EU the smugglers will be having a field day. They’ll be shipping in truck loads of tax free booze, cigarettes and petrol, undermining UK businesses and depriving the treasury of valuable tax income. As it is there needs to be some sort of an agreement reached to prevent this becoming a major problem.
And they’ll also be shipping in drugs too. Ireland is already a known transit route for drugs into Europe and in particular shipments into the UK. Our rugged West coast with its countless inlets and bays is virtually impossible to defend and patrol. And the Irish countryside, with its rabbit warren of narrow boreens and remote farm houses, gives smugglers plenty of places to hide stuff. Currently intercepting such shipments is a major focus of attention by customs officials both sides of the border. And its achieved by mutual trust and co-operation. Destroy that agreement and the only winners are the smugglers. In short, leave the EU without triggering article 50 and the only think that will get cheaper in Britain afterwards is the street value of heroin and crack.
So no, the UK can’t leave without triggering article 50. Doing so would be the height of irresponsibility and grossly stupid. Yes article 50 is designed to basically let the EU screw over the country that is leaving. But that’s still better than the alternative, leaving and getting screwed over by the rest of the world permanently.