Can we revoke Article 50 to cancel Brexit – and will it actually happen?

Odds have been slashed today on Article 50 being revoked after more than 700,000 people signed a viral petition in a day.

Article 50 is the name of the legal process that set the two-year countdown to Brexit .

If we revoke it, Brexit will be cancelled completely and won’t happen unless we invoke the Article 50 countdown all over again.

The petition authors warn a second referendum may not come, or may come too late, so it’s time to take action.

“The government repeatedly claims exiting the EU is ‘the will of the people’,” they write. “We need to put a stop to this claim by proving the strength of public support now, for remaining in the EU.”

So can Article 50 be revoked – and will it be revoked? Here’s a simple explainer.


Can we revoke Article 50?


Article 50 can be revoked at any time until the minute Brexit actually happens

If she wants to, Prime Minister Theresa May can cancel Brexit with a stroke of her pen.

The 2016 EU referendum didn’t, in itself, give any legal power for us to leave the EU.

Mrs May had to do that by triggering our notification to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

That started a two-year countdown clock which ends at 11pm on 29 March 2019. It may well get delayed to 30 June 2019.

But the UK government can cancel the Article 50 notification at any time, as long as it’s before Brexit actually happens.

And courts have ruled that we can do this unilaterally – in other words, without asking permission from the rest of the EU.

Paradoxically, that makes cancelling Brexit easier than delaying Brexit, because to delay we need permission from 27 other leaders.

Will we revoke Article 50?


Theresa May says there would be a massive public backlash if we cancel Brexit

At least, almost certainly not.

The petition has naturally fuelled enthusiasm for revoking Article 50, with 888Sport slashing odds from 12/1 last week to 5/2.

And today, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said although it’s “highly unlikely”, MPs could vote to revoke Article 50 next week.

But, and it’s a big but. Article 50 can only be revoked by the government, not by MPs on their own.

Theresa May has made clear she does not support revoking Article 50. The PM says it would “betray the vote of the referendum”.

She has added: “MPs need to face up to the fact that we will not revoke article 50 because we are leaving the European Union.”

She could, in theory, have her hand forced by MPs in a House of Commons vote.

But there almost certainly aren’t enough MPs who back it to do this. The SNP , Independent Group and some backbenchers are among those who back revoking Article 50 – but Jeremy Corbyn and the Labour front bench do not.

Even if by some miracle a vote for revoking Article 50 passed, it would likely not be legally binding on the government. Theresa May has shown contempt for parliament before, and it’s possible she could choose to ignore it, or keep the row rolling until it’s too late.


Does the petition change anything?

No. Not legally, anyway.


The petition will almost certainly be debated by MPs, because it has passed the threshold of 100,000 signatures.

But firstly, that debate would never be legally binding.

Secondly, a debate date hasn’t been scheduled yet and usually takes a few weeks to organise.

First the petition needs a response from the government.

Then it has to be considered by the Petitions Committee, a small group of MPs who decide what to schedule for debates. They meet on Tuesdays so the soonest possible meeting is three days before Brexit.

Only then would it be recommended for a debate in the non-binding chamber of Westminster Hall.

If Brexit isn’t delayed that’s very unlikely to happen before Brexit actually takes place.

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