Since Britain voted to leave the EU, there have been numerous calls for Article 50 to be invoked.
Invoking article 50 now would have the advantage of clearly signalling that Britain is exiting the EU. It would also get mean getting Brexit over with sooner.
However, there are four important reasons for wanting to delay the move:
1. Allows time to prepare for negotiations
Before invoking article 50, the government must determine its objectives in its negotiations with the EU. Britain’s Brexit government has only recently formed. It needs time to assess assess its negotiating position and how best to play its hand.
2. Allow tempers in Brussels to simmer down
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Junker has promised that British “deserters” will face “consequences'”.
Mr Junker should have time to acknowledge that the EU will want to retain a strong, mutually beneficial partnership with Britain. This means playing nicely.
If Mr Junker doesn’t soften his approach, there is hope that he might be heading for his very own “Jexit”. A German minister has suggested that Angela Merkel might move to have him replaced with a more moderate candidate. The German Chancellor’s more conciliatory tone on Brexit offers hope of a more level-headedness approach to negotiations.
3. The French and German elections in 2017
Given that the French and German leaders will be the most important actors in the Brexit negotiations, it matters a great deal who they are. Waiting for the results of those elections would mean that Britain could enter into negotiations with a better idea of who it’s negotiating with, and consequently what it can expect.
4. Waiting for allies
At the moment Eurosceptic parties on the continent can draw on Brexit as a source of inspiration. “The British are leaving, so can we!”
However, if Britain begins negotiating its exit, EU leaders can take a tough line to dissuade other countries from following Britain’s example. Therefore it would be better if Britain were to wait for a time before beginning negotitions. In doing so, it may find that it is joined by another European country. This would greatly improve its negotiating position.
There has already been talk of Nexit (a Dutch exit) and Frexit (a French exit). At the moment neither Nexit nor Frexit look very likely. But if Donald Trump were to be elected US President, there is no telling where the wave of anti-establishment feeling would end. If the result was that another EU member decided to exit the EU, Britain would be in a stronger negotiating position. If France were to join Britain, it would be an entirely different playing field…
A warning sign
One last thought. EU leaders including Jean-Claude Junker and Donald Tusk (President of the European Council) have called for Britain to invoke article 50 “as soon as possible”.
If that doesn’t send alarm bells ringing…