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Article 50 was designed for European dictators, not the UK, says man who wrote it

Lord Kerr says he never thought Britain would use exit mechanism he designed

Benjamin Kentish
Wednesday 29 March 2017 13:47 BST
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Lord Kerr has insisted that Article 50 is reversible, but government ministers say it is not
Lord Kerr has insisted that Article 50 is reversible, but government ministers say it is not

Article 50 was designed to be used by a dictatorial regime, not the UK government, the man who wrote it has said.

As Theresa May wrote to European leaders to trigger the Brexit process, Lord John Kerr, the former UK diplomat who drafted the rules dictating how a county leaves the European Union (EU), said he never believed Britain would use the mechanism he designed.

As Secretary General of the European Convention in the early 2000s, Lord Kerr played a key role in drafting a constitutional treaty for the EU that included laws on the process by which states can leave the bloc.

He had previously spent a long career at the Foreign Office, including a spell as Britain’s ambassador to the US.

“I don’t feel guilty about inventing the mechanism. I feel very sad about the UK using it,” he told Politico.

“I didn’t think that the United Kingdom would use it.”

The rules were written at a time when EU leaders feared that Jorg Haider, then leader of the far-right Austrian Freedom Party, could be elected to lead the country.

The regulations were designed to make it easier for the EU to suspend a country that had elected an authoritarian leader whose values were deemed to be at odds with those of the union.

“It seemed to me very likely that a dictatorial regime would then, in high dudgeon, want to storm out”, said Lord Kerr. “And to have a procedure for storming out seemed to be quite a sensible thing to do — to avoid the legal chaos of going with no agreement.”

The former diplomat said he had invented Article 50 partly to disprove Eurosceptics in the UK who insisted that Britain would never be able to leave the bloc.

“In Britain there was, among Eurosceptics, the theory that one was tied to one’s oar with no escape and rowing to the unknown destination of ever-closer union,” he said.

“That Eurosceptic theory was always nonsense because you don’t need a secession article to secede. If you stop paying your subscription, stop attending the meetings, people would notice that you’d left.”

Lord Kerr has frequently insisted that Article 50 can be reversed, should Britain decide at a later date within the two-year negotiating period that it does not want to leave the EU after all. Government ministers, however, say there is no going back that now the clause has been triggered.

“I think if you ask an EU lawyer, he will tell you straight away that of course it’s not irrevocable,” Lord Kerr said.

“And if the issue was decided in a court, it would be decided in the European Court of Justice and it would be found that it is not irrevocable. The rules of the game in the EU are that you can change your mind."

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