Article 50: decoding Donald Tusk’s careful remarks

So: Prime Minister David Cameron avoided blurting out any notification under Article 50 at yesterday’s European Council meeting.

This daft attempt yesterday by the European Parliament to bounce the UK into making such a notification failed:

5. Warns that in order to prevent damaging uncertainty for everyone and to protect the Union’s integrity, the notification stipulated in Article 50 TEU must take place as soon as possible; expects the UK Prime Minister to notify the outcome of the referendum to the European Council of 28-29 June 2016; this notification will launch the withdrawal procedure.

But the remarks of the President of the European Council Donald Tusk (who, unlike the blustering Jean-Claude Juncker, is to be taken seriously in all this) which followed the meeting repay close attention.

(The European Council is the important EU body to watch regarding Brexit: in comparison with the Council, both the European Parliament and European Commission are weak schools of postures.)

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The key paragraph of the remarks is as follows:

“Most importantly, Prime Minister Cameron outlined the results of Thursday’s referendum. Respecting the will of the British people, we all recognized that a process of orderly exit was in everyone’s, and especially, in the UK’s interest. Prime Minister Cameron undertook that the decision to trigger Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union be taken by the new leadership in Britain. Our discussions were calm and measured. Leaders understand that some time is now needed to allow the dust to settle in the UK. But they also expect the intentions of the UK government to be specified as soon as possible. This was a very clear message which I believe Prime Minister Cameron will take back to London.”

A few points can be fairly made about this wording.

First, Tusk accepts the Article 50 notification is to be made by the next UK Prime Minister, and that the decision has not yet been made by the UK to make that notification.

Second, he accepts the merits of delay: “that some time is now needed to allow the dust to settle in the UK”.

And third, and this is very subtle – see how he describes the referendum outcome: “the results of Thursday’s referendum”.  Note how he uses “results” not “decision” – and carefully uses the plural form in doing so.

These remarks, by themselves, do not mean that the Article 50 notification will never be made; but they do mean that the European Council accepts that the referendum, by itself, was not the (or, even, a) decision, and that the European Council accepts that there should be delay in the decision being made.

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