The triggering of Article 50 today marks the beginning of the most contentious negotiations in post-war Europe; negotiations from which, the Prime Minister has stated, there is no turning back.
A letter delivered by hand to President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, by the Permanent Representative of the United Kingdom to the European Union, began the formal departure of the United Kingdom as a member state of the European Union. The letter set out her six principles of the negotiation process calling for the EU and UK to work constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation.
The Prime Minister’s Commons speech, delivered at the same time struck a more conciliatory note that her January speech. In it she stressed that a deal is in “the best interests of the United Kingdom and of the European Union too” which stepped away from her previous statement that no deal was ‘better than a bad deal’. She outlined her vision for a “stronger, fairer, more united and more outward-looking” Great Britain which would have a “new deep and special partnership” with the EU.
The issue of devolved powers is one that has been high on the political agenda as Northern Ireland heads towards a second election in April and the Scottish Parliament voted yesterday for a second independence referendum. The Prime Minister has stated that the administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland will all see significant increases in their decision-making power as a result of Brexit – but what form these will take and how great an impact they will have on the regions remains to be seen. The risks of changes to the Northern Irish borders have become increasingly prominent, and the Prime Minister identified that she would seek to prevent a hard border between the two countries, with a desire to maintain the Common Travel Area.
Writing to Tusk, there was a focus on collaboration to minimise uncertainty and disruption while recognising the challenges for the negotiation process. Stressing the UK’s ongoing value to the EU in terms of security, she underlined that a failure to cooperate would leave the fight against crime and terrorism “weakened”. Whether this will be used as Britain’s carrot or stick against the EU remains to be seen.
Following receipt of the letter, the European Parliament will need to pass a non-binding resolution on its negotiating position, which will be followed by a European Council Summit on 29 April. At this, the remaining member states will agree its negotiating guidelines – including key priorities, the shape negotiations will take and the points where no compromise will be made.
However, beyond this, there is little certainty, as there may be negotiations to even agree the format of the negotiations themselves which pundits guessing at representatives getting around the table sometime between May and September this year. While it is possible to extend the negotiation process beyond two year, this must be agreed by all 27 remaining member states.
What is clear is that negotiations, at least for the time being, will be focussed on the mutual need for future partnerships between the UK and the EU with much made about the similarities between both sides to try and rebuild a new ‘special partnership’ that will continue to contribute towards the prosperity, security and global power of Europe.