It’s shorter than the famously short Gettysburg Address (272) and considerably shorter than the Magna Carta (3,600) and is dwarfed by that other life changing article – the Bible at 783,137.

But Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty – 261 words long – will become the most talked-about and an analysed piece of international diplomacy since Neville Chamberlain’s piece of paper declaring “peace in our time” – just before war.

261 words. Doesn’t sound much. But who has read it? We’ve reproduced it here. Takes two minutes.

On Thursday (October 13), Article 50 holds the headlines again. A legal challenge in the High Court in what has been described as the most important constitutional case in generations.

Opponents are fighting to stop Prime Minister Theresa May triggering Article 50 to leave the European Union without the authorisation of Parliament.

Government lawyers are arguing before three judges at the High Court in London that the Prime Minister is legally entitled to use the royal prerogative to start the Brexit process.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty

Article 50
  1. Any Member State may decide to withdraw from the Union in accordance with its own constitutional requirements.
  2. A Member State which decides to withdraw shall notify the European Council of its intention. In the light of the guidelines provided by the European Council, the Union shall negotiate and conclude an agreement with that State, setting out the arrangements for its withdrawal, taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union. That agreement shall be negotiated in accordance with Article 218(3) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union. It shall be concluded on behalf of the Union by the Council, acting by a qualified majority, after obtaining the consent of the European Parliament.
  3. The Treaties shall cease to apply to the State in question from the date of entry into force of the withdrawal agreement or, failing that, two years after the notification referred to in paragraph 2, unless the European Council, in agreement with the Member State concerned, unanimously decides to extend this period.
  4. For the purposes of paragraphs 2 and 3, the member of the European Council or of the Council representing the withdrawing Member State shall not participate in the discussions of the European Council or Council or in decisions concerning it. A qualified majority shall be defined in accordance with Article 238(3)(b) of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union.
  5. If a State which has withdrawn from the Union asks to rejoin, its request shall be subject to the procedure referred to in Article 49.

The Gettysburg Address

Abraham Lincoln Memorial statue

For reference, and because we want to remind ourselves of the lofty heights of American rhetoric, like a wanderer in the desert quests for water, we have reproduced the Gettsburg Address too.

There are a number of drafts – the Nicolay, the Hay and the Everett and the Bancroft Copy. Historian George Bancroft asked President Lincoln for a copy to use as a fundraiser for soldiers so Lincoln wrote out this one, the one reproduced on the Lincoln Memorial and named after Colonel Alexander Bliss, stepson of Bancroft.

"Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war.

We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this.

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate – we can not consecrate – we can not hallow – this ground.

The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract.

The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced.

It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us – that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion – that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain – that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom – and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth."

Abraham Lincoln

November 19, 1863