What stops the UK from revoking Article 50 simply to reinvoke it later for an additional 2 years of time to work out a deal?

  • 2
    This is new territory for everyone involved. I'd be surprised if there's a specific processes for that scenario in place.
    – yannis
    Jan 17, 2019 at 7:31
  • There is no provision that says it can be invoked again before the end of the two year period started by it's first invocation, so I'd say article 50 prevents article 50 from being invoked a second time before the first is resolved. After the first is resolved, the country is out, so it can't invoke it a second time anyways (without joining the EU again first).
    – user20672
    Jan 17, 2019 at 7:32
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    @Morfildur the first invokation would be revoked first. - Aka cancel leaving the EU, before stating your like to leave a second time.
    – Skeen
    Jan 17, 2019 at 7:49
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    Under the condition that it would be possible to even revoke the first invocation, which to my information is not guaranteed ( see politics.stackexchange.com/questions/12284/… ), then yes, it would probably be possible to revoke and then invoke, but the political ramifications would probably be... harsh. Upsetting the people you try to negotiate with by abusing the rules rarely produces better results.
    – user20672
    Jan 17, 2019 at 7:59
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    @Morfildur Your comment is spot on but note that the question you link to is outdated, the EU court of justice recently handed down its ruling on a case pertaining to the possibility of revoking the article 50 invocation.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 17, 2019 at 8:23

2 Answers 2


Mostly the EU court of justice willingness to get creative or even political at times. It's not obvious to me that article 50 was really meant to ever be used (as opposed to placating EU skeptics during negotiations on the treaty) and it is pretty light on procedural details. Case in point the possibility to go back on the article 50 invocation unilaterally is something the court created recently, it is nowhere to be found in the text itself (but it does not exclude it either, it's just silent).

The court's role is major complaint of some Brexit enthousiasts but for now the UK is still a member and stuck under its jurisdiction. Unless it is willing to contemplate the hardest of no-deal Brexit and ignore the treaties entirely, it needs to follow the article 50 process and the court's interpretation of that process. I am not even sure British courts would contemplate breaking off with the EU in such a disorderly fashion (but I am far from a specialist on this topic).

Someone else noted recently in a comment that the advocate general suggested a slightly different wording allowing the process to be stopped “in good faith“ but the court did not retain it. However doing it in bad faith is sure to be met with some strong push back from the EU's side. Importantly, article 50 does state that an extension of the negotiation period has to be agreed unanimously by all EU member states. Effectively extending the process by cancelling and re-invoking article 50 flies in the face of this provision.

You also have to consider what the purpose would be. Reading British commentary on Brexit, you sometimes get the feeling there is only one party in all this. It's all about what the UK wants or its leverage and it can be as cynical or ruthless as it can all the while ignoring the other party's perspective and complaining that the EU is mean. But what's needed is an agreement. Tricking the EU into another two years of negotiation is unlikely to buy any good will or help find some common ground.

  • "but it does not exclude it either, it's just silent" Indeed, except there is no logical reason to believe it is revocable, both from practical considerations as well as normal practice with notice periods
    – user19831
    Jan 17, 2019 at 12:37
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    Extending the negotiation period is "slightly" different from revoking Art. 50. If you revoke, you start all over again - while you go into it with a better understanding of the process and its limitations and about the expectations of the public and the ensuing political debate, all actual progress made and codified during the first negotiations is void. I think in the current situation, scrapping all results and starting over again from scratch, but with more understanding how the process works and how the timeline should have been, would lead to a better outcome than what's on the table now
    – Alexander
    Jan 17, 2019 at 13:09
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    @Alexander I agree that formally extending art. 50 and revoking it are different things, but in the case that art. 50 were cancelled by UK and started again, the UK would not be in a better position. The EU would have all the incentives to avoid improving the pact, because if the UK restarting art. 50 meant a negotiation advantage for the UK, then it could be done again and again until the UK imposed the pact it wants. And certainly if May knew now something that could make the pact acceptable both to the EU and MPs, she would propose that right now...
    – SJuan76
    Jan 17, 2019 at 22:36
  • @Orangesandlemons I tend to agree regarding the revocation but that's moot now the court has ruled (and it's far from being it's most "creative" ruling). On the other hand, the EU stance regarding the negotiations follows article 50 pretty closely, I see no bad faith whatsoever in that.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 17, 2019 at 23:57
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    @Alexander I don't see how that is. None of what's been discussed until now has any legal value. On the other hand, showing up on the first day of the new round of negotiations by claiming you want a clan start just adds insult to injury. You cannot “undo“ the last two and a half year.
    – Relaxed
    Jan 18, 2019 at 0:00

It's possible but timing is an issue.

The European Court ruled that it is possible for the UK to unilaterally revoke Article 50. However, if you read the Advocate General's opinion, on which this ruling is based, you can see that it says cancelling Article 50 cannot be used as part of an "abusive process".

In other words the plan could not to be cancel and then quickly re-trigger it to get another 2 years on the clock. It would have to be cancelled in good faith, i.e. with the intention of not leaving the EU. Perhaps some years later it might be possible to have another go, under a different government or with a fresh democratic mandate.

  • Yep, basically, the ruling was 'yes, if it's convenient for the EU' so all answers about EU law can probably safely be 'If it's convenient for the EU' in future :)
    – user19831
    Jan 17, 2019 at 12:41
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    @Orangesandlemons: Well,you can interpret it that way, but in fairness, the judgement was a bit more nuanced than that. In particular, it was based on general principles of international law, particularly Article 68 of the Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties, which does say that a notice of withdrawal "may be revoked at any time before it takes effect".
    – sleske
    Jan 17, 2019 at 12:49
  • @sleske interestingly the article says "‘A notification or instrument provided for in Articles 65 or 67 may be revoked at any time before it takes effect.’ " so there's a little bit missed out...
    – user19831
    Jan 17, 2019 at 12:56
  • @Orangesandlemons: Yes, I shortened the quote. Article 65 talks about withdrawal, among other things, so notifications of withdrawal from a treaty (which is what Brexit is) are covered.
    – sleske
    Jan 17, 2019 at 12:58
  • 1
    @Orangesandlemons that's a preposterous interpretation of a very clear statement.
    – user
    Jan 17, 2019 at 13:33

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