Almost immediately after the Brexit referendum result was known in June 2016, the talk was when would the UK "trigger" Article 50? There was much speculation about when the UK would send the so-called "Article 50 Letter". Ultimately, it took nine months for the letter to travel by Eurostar from No.10 Downing Street to the European Council President in Brussels. The Article 50 Letter announced to the EU that the UK intended to leave the bloc

As mentioned by ALG at the time, the triggering of Article 50 would soon be forgotten given the tumultuous negotiations which would ensue (click here published on 27 March 2017).

Now, is it time to start thinking about the possibility (not certainty, but possibility) that the UK could one day send an Article 49 letter to the EU?

But what is an Article 49 letter? It would be an application under Article 49 of the Treaty on European Union that the UK wants to re-apply for membership of the EU.

Article 49 states:

  • "Any European State which respects the values referred to in Article 2 [of the Treaty] and is committed to promoting them may apply to become a member of the Union. The European Parliament and national Parliaments shall be notified of this application. The applicant State shall address its application to the Council, which shall act unanimously after consulting the Commission and after receiving the consent of the European Parliament, which shall act by a majority of its component members. The conditions of eligibility agreed upon by the European Council shall be taken into account.
  • The conditions of admission and the adjustments to the Treaties on which the Union is founded, which such admission entails, shall be the subject of an agreement between the Member States and the applicant State. This agreement shall be submitted for ratification by all the contracting States in accordance with their respective constitutional requirements."

In essence, unanimity is needed among the Member States to re-admit a State – so a single Member State may block an application to re-join. Indeed, the UK would get little credit for having been a Member State because our old friend Article 50 is still relevant - Article 50(5) provides:

  • "If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49."

Put simply, if the UK does leave on 29 March 2019 then its request to re-join would be handled in the same way as if it was joining for the first time and any one Member State could veto its readmission – but first there would have to be an Article 49 letter. It may never happen but stranger things have happened.