What is Article 50?

Article 50 is a process through which a member state can leave the European Union. It is part of the Treaty of Lisbon, which was signed in 2007, and came into force in 2009. It was not, as its author would confess, designed to be used by a major member state but in case democracy broke down within a member state.

“It seemed to me very likely that a dictatorial regime would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out” Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, author of Article 50.[1]

The process was written into the treaty with dictators in mind, and accordingly puts all the power in the hands of the remaining EU member states.

On 29 March 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50 which can be read in full on the opposite page. In simple terms Article 50 is the divorce. It deals with the legality of leaving the EU and working out what the UK’s obligations are. The key items that will need to be addressed in the agreement will be:

  • Citizen’s rights- i.e. EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU27;
  • The closure of EU agencies currently based in the UK and ensuring that there is a legal framework for such agencies so that they can continue to be operated by the EU within the UK until they have been re-located;
  • Ascertaining the UK’s financial obligations to the EU from contracts that have already been signed.

What will be negotiated is the creation of a withdrawal agreement “to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union.”[2]

The agreement will not cover the future relationship.


Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty[3]

  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
  3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
  4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

[2] European Commission, ‘Directives for the negotiation of an agreement with the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal from the European Union’, XT 21016/17 ADD 1 REV 2 (2017).