Whether Brexit can be reversed is a conundrum that obsesses politicians on both sides of the Brexit debate. And for good reason: events of the past few weeks have clearly shown there is currently not a majority in Parliament for any of the various models of Brexit on offer. There is not a majority for reversing Brexit either but there might just be one for a second referendum that could have that ultimate effect.
For a simple question, it has a surprisingly complex answer that relies not just on politics but on untested legal grounds as well.
What would be the mechanism to reverse Brexit?
The act that legally gave effect to Brexit was Theresa May’s letter to Donald Tusk in March last year announcing the government’s intention to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty.
This states that any member can leave the EU by giving notice of two years — after which the Treaties will cease to apply.
Importantly, Article 50 is silent on whether a member state can reverse its decision by officially revoking its intention to quit.
One of its authors, Lord Kerr, a former British diplomat, has said this was intentional and was designed to leave open the possibility that Article 50 could be revoked.
However, if Theresa May were — in any circumstances — to officially revoke Article 50 this would almost certainly be challenged in the European Court of Justice which as the ultimate arbiter of EU law would have to rule on whether such a move was legal.
That said Mrs May — or her government — could not revoke Article 50 unilaterally. She would have to go first to Parliament and repeal the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Act that was passed last year and provided the legal framework for Brexit.