Topics about the UK, EU and Europe. Article 50 (Brexit) formally triggered.
Summary from Gezza
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered the formal two-year process of negotiations that will lead to Britain leaving the European Union (EU) after more than 40 years. A letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and officially notifying the EU of Britain’s decision to withdraw from the bloc was hand-delivered to European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels by British Ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow on Wednesday. Copies are to be sent to the other 27 EU member states.
In a speech to parliament designed to coincide with the letter’s delivery, May urged the country to come together as it embarks on a “momentous journey”.
“We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future. And, now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together,” she said. May told MPs she wanted to represent “every person in the UK”, including EU nationals, in negotiations.
She acknowledged there would be “consequences” to leaving, and she said the UK accepts it cannot “cherry pick”, and stay in the single market without accepting free movement.
EU Council President Donald Tusk said there was “no reason to pretend this is a happy day”. “We already miss you,” he said, adding there was “nothing to win” and that, now, the Brexit process was about damage control.
Britain voted to leave the EU last June. Scotland and Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, while England and Wales, with a much larger combined population, voted to leave.
May’s speech attempted to strike a delicate balancing act. She was talking to the audience across Europe, but also to a wide range of opinion in the country – trying to assuage the disappointment of the ‘remainers’, but also to rein in some of the hardline Eurosceptic ‘leavers’ – many of whom belong to her own party… and a conservative-dominated press in this country who are much more gung-ho about the terms of Brexit.
May has promised to take Britain out of the EU single market but negotiate a deal that keeps close trade relations with Europe, as she builds “a strong, self-governing global Britain” with control over its own borders and laws. Brexit Secretary David Davis said Britain was “on the threshold of the most important negotiation” for Britain “for a generation”.
The EU is expected to issue a first response to Britain on Friday, followed by a summit of EU leaders on April 29 to adopt their own guidelines – meaning it could be weeks before formal talks start. Their priority is settling Britain’s outstanding obligations, estimated between 55 and 60 billion euros [$59bn and $65bn] – an early battle that could set the tone for the rest of the negotiations.
Europeans in UK face uncertain future after Brexit
Both sides have also said they are keen to resolve the status of more than three million European nationals living in Britain after Brexit, and one million British expats living in the EU.
The two sides also want to ensure Brexit does not exacerbate tensions in Northern Ireland , the once-troubled province that will become Britain’s only hard border with the rest of the EU.
Britain also wants to reach a new free trade agreement within the two-year timeframe, although it has conceded that a transitional deal might be necessary to allow Britain to adapt to its new reality.
Many business leaders are deeply uneasy about May’s decision to leave Europe’s single market, a free trade area of 500 million people, fearing its impact on jobs and economic growth. The Brexit vote sent the pound plunging, although economic growth has been largely stable since then.
On Tuesday, Scotland’s semi-autonomous parliament backed a call by its nationalist government for a new referendum on independence before Brexit. Scotland’s devolved administration is particularly concerned about leaving Europe’s single market – the price May says must be paid to end mass immigration, a key voter concern.
The prime minister rebuffed the referendum request and has vowed to fight for a new relationship with Brussels that will leave Britain stronger and more united than before.
The EU, too, is determined to preserve its own unity and has said any Brexit deal must not encourage other countries to follow Britain out the door. With the challenges ahead, there is a chance that negotiations will break down and Britain will be forced out of the EU without any deal in place. This could be damaging for both sides, by erecting trade barriers where none now exist as well as creating huge legal uncertainty.
From The Telegraph:
What happens now?
The leaders of the remaining 27 EU member states will hold an emergency meeting on April 29 to agree a common response to Britain’s demands.
The meeting will happen just days before the French election and mean there will no negotiations for a month.
Mr Tusk will then reply from the council to Mrs May after about six weeks, making clear the EU’s negotiating position, formally sounding the starting gun on talks. With both sides having set out their demands, talks will begin between British officials and bureaucrats from the European Commission about the terms of Britain’s exit.
At a glance | What is Article 50?
* Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon gives any EU member the right to quit unilaterally, and outlines the procedure for doing so
* There was no way to legally leave the EU before the Treaty was signed in 2007
* It gives the leaving country two years to negotiate an exit deal
* Once set in motion, it cannot be stopped except by unanimous consent of all member states
* Any deal must be approved by a “qualified majority” of EU member states and can be vetoed by the European Parliament
“The House of Commons has voted overwhelmingly for us to get on with it. And the overwhelming majority of people – however they voted – want us to get on with it too.” – Theresa May, January 2017
How will the EU respond?
Theresa May was given a foretaste of the rocky road ahead on Tuesday when European leaders went on the attack, telling her they will veto any attempt to curtail migrants’ rights before the withdrawal takes place in 2019.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, warned Mrs May that any “unilateral decision” to limit the rights of EU citizens in the UK “would be contrary to EU law” and would be “vigorously” opposed.
However, The Daily Telegraph understands that while Mrs May’s letter to Mr Tusk will include a broad outline of her negotiating position, it will not contain any mention of a cut-off date for migrants’ rights.
Is it reversible?
The Government argues that the decision to trigger Article 50 is irreversible because David Cameron promised to act on will of voters and respect the outcome of June’s referendum.
The question of irrevocability was raised during a Supreme Court hearing on the right of Parliament to give its approval to trigger the process of leaving the EU.
Jeremy Wright QC, who represented Theresa May, argued:
“We do not argue that an Article 50 notice can be revoked and we would like the court to proceed on the basis a notification is irrevocable.”
He added that “parliament’s role in the process” of leaving the EU does not just stop after Article 50 is triggered.
Lord Kerr, who devised the clause in the Lisbon Treaty, has argued the country “might want to think again” when the details of the Prime Minister’s deal with the EU emerge.
Analysis: What does it actually mean for Europe?
Britain’s departure leaves a substantial hole in the EU which now loses the world’s fifth-largest economy, a nuclear power and a member of the UN Security Council, writes our Europe Editor, Peter Foster.
Much will depend on the kind of relationship Britain establishes with the EU after Brexit. Theresa May has signaled she wants to use the UK military power and diplomatic heft as a way of the UK demonstrating it is committed to maintaining security “in the neighbourhood”.
If negotiations turn nasty, and talks break down, it may take some time to build the diplomatic apparatus to allow Britain to contribute to “European” diplomacy from outside the EU.
The result is likely to be less influence for both the EU and the UK in a fracturing global architecture where bilateralism is on the rise and the US is increasingly unwilling to play the world’s policeman.