Brexit is legally reversible as Brits still have the right to change their minds, one of the key architects of Article 50 will say.
Lord John Kerr, the former chief British diplomat, is set to claim Theresa May’s Article 50 letter can be unilaterally withdrawn at any time and therefore “the die is not cast irretrievably”.
Speaking at an event organised by the pro-single market campaign Open Britain in London on Friday, the former UK ambassador will say: “We are not required to withdraw just because Mrs May sent her letter. We can change our minds at any stage during the process.”
He will add: “Mrs May’s letter was only a notification of the UK’s ‘intention’ to withdraw. Intentions can change. We still have all the rights of a member-state, including the right to change our minds.”
French President Emmanuel Macron, European Council President Donald Tusk and European Parliament President Antonio Tajani have all made statements signalling EU leaders would be open to the UK staying in.
Brexiteers insist that there would be no turning back once MPs voted for Article 50 legislation in Parliament and the Prime Minister triggered the start of the process by writing to the EU.
But Kerr, who was central to drafting Article 50, says until Britain is fully out of the EU, it will retain its full rights as an EU state - including the right to turn over political decisions.
He will say: “As new facts emerge, people are entitled to take a different view. And there’s nothing in Article 50 to stop them. I think the British people have the right to know this – they should not be misled.”
John Kerr served as Britain’s Permanent Representative to the EU from 1990-1995, as UK Ambassador to the United States from 1995-1997, and as Permanent Secretary of the Foreign Office from 1997-2002. In 2002-2003 he acted as Secretary-General of the European Constitutional Convention, which drafted Article 50.
He will say: “While we’re in, we’re in. While the divorce talks proceed, the parties are still married. Reconciliation is still possible. The Article requires the parties to negotiate the ‘arrangements’ for our withdrawal; but we are not required to withdraw just because Mrs May sent her letter. We can change our minds at any stage during the process.
“The fact is that a political decision has been made, in this country, to maintain that there can be no going back. Actually, the country still has a free choice about whether to proceed. As new facts emerge, people are entitled to take a different view. And there’s nothing in Article 50 to stop them. I think the British people have the right to know this – they should not be misled.”
The EU Withdrawal Bill will continue its journey through Parliament next week, with MPs having tabled hundreds of amendments.
The legislation seeks to transpose EU rules and regulations into UK law in order to ensure a smooth exit from the bloc, but many MPs are uneasy about the so-called Henry VIII powers also contained in the Bill.
These would allow ministers to amend the Bill without the need for secondary legislation, but MPs fear sweeping changes could be made by the Government.
Brexit Secretary David Davis, meanwhile, will head to Brussels to begin the next round of negotiations, which ended last month in deadlock over divorce payments.