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Brexit can still be reversed ‘in theory’ - but it’s highly unlikely in practice

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
A British flag at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels (Getty)

In a process as closely scrutinised and political charged as Brexit, a mere statement of fact can appear to be politically-loaded.

That’s why an interview given by France’s European Commissioner today has made headlines.

Speaking to Radio France Inter, Pierre Moscovici said that the Brexit vote could still – “in theory” – be reversed.

Those two words have been leapt upon as fresh proof that the EU has still not accepted the result of the 2016 referendum.

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That’s perhaps unsurprising given the context of the question – mounting fears over the prospect of a ‘no-deal’ Brexit and big money backing for second referendum campaigners.

Moscovici made the comment in answer to a question about news that the co-founder of Superdry has given the People’s Vote group £1 million.

And he was, in theory, correct in what he said.

Pierre Moscovici, the French European Commissioner, who said it is still possible to stop Brexit ‘in theory’ (Getty)

To leave the European Union, Theresa May sent a letter to Brussels on March 29, 2017 triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.

Article 50 states that, unless an extension to the process is agreed, the country triggering it will leave two years after doing so. So, Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

But the process can, in theory, be stopped. The British politician who wrote Article 50 explained how yesterday.

Lord Kerr, who was Britain’s representative to the EU between 1990 and 1995, told Radio 4 it is simply a matter of taking back the letter sent by Theresa May last March.

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“If you take back the letter, which is merely a notification of intention…you will never have left assuming you take it back during the two-year period or any agreed extension of it.

“Your rights as a member can’t be changed except with your agreement because you’ve never lost them.”

That’s the theoretical possibility that Moscovici was referring to and there’s no doubt that many are still clinging on to it – both across Britain and inside the Commission’s Berlayamont headquarters.

Lord Kerr, the British peer who wrote Article 50, with Princess Diana during his time as British ambassador to the US (Getty)

But as Moscovici went on to say – this theory is highly unlikely to be put into practice.

“It is up to the British themselves who have made the decision to leave, to decide ultimately if they will or not, and how they will do it,” said the French politician.

“The probability of Brexit is nevertheless very strong because there has been a vote of the people, a referendum.”

At this stage, the EU is most concerned about avoiding a ‘no-deal’ Brexit. The speed of negotiations has been stepped-up in a bid to meet October’s deadline for a deal.

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EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier is meeting UK Brexit secretary Dominic Raab in Brussels for the third time in just over a month tomorrow. By comparison, Barnier met his predecessor, David Davis, just twice in Brussels over the first six months of 2018.

The truth is that every outcome remains a possibility in theory – a Brexit deal, a ‘no-deal Brexit or no Brexit at all.

But all sides are running out of time to put their preferred future into practice.