The process for leaving the European Union has officially begun, following the delivery of a letter confirming the decision by the Prime Minister to EU Council President Donald Tusk.
In a speech to Parliament this afternoon following a tense session of Prime Minister’s Questions, Theresa May referred to the day’s events as, ‘An historic moment from which there can be no turning back’.
The letter, which formally triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, serves to give official notice of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, starting a two-year period of divorce proceedings.
“Today, the government acted on the democratic will of the British people, and it acts too on the clear and convincing position of this house”, Mrs. May told MPs.
“The Article 50 process is now underway, and, in accordance with the wishes of the British people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.”
The Prime Minister’s speech served to cover many of the broad aspects up for discussion during the highly complex negation procedure, including but not limited to issues relating to immigration, business, security, defence, health, education, science and the environment.
Whilst accepting the monumental nature of the challenge that now faces the country following the formal notification, Mrs. May remained upbeat and energised, channelling the same patriotic sentiment that many have claimed was in part responsible for the vote in the first place.
Citing the ‘enduring power of the British spirit’, the Prime Minister painted her dramatic vision for the nature of the country’s future destiny outside of the European Union, saying:
“I want us to be a truly global Britain – the best friend and neighbour to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe too.
“A country that goes out into the world to build relationships with old friends and new allies alike”.
Despite the claim within the Prime Minister’s letter that the UK bore no ill-will to the institution of the European Union, in fact wishing for the development of a ‘deep and special partnership’ with it in the future, Mr. Tusk’s response was one that invoked a regretful sentiment.
“There is no reason to pretend that this is a happy day”, he said – adding, “we already miss you”.
Regardless of this response, the Prime Minister seemed keen to charm the 27 member states from whom the UK is now divorcing. In a comment that provoked outrage and guffaws from the other side of the bench, Mrs. May, seemingly unaware of the irony inherent in the statement, declared that, ‘Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe’.
In response to the Prime Minister’s speech to the House, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn urged the government to listen, consult and represent the whole country during the negotiations, and ‘not just the hard-line Tory ideologues on her own benches’.
Mr. Corbyn also criticised the logic behind Mrs. May’s previous assertion that no deal with the European Union was better than a bad deal with it, saying that, in fact, ‘The reality is no deal is a bad deal’.
He accused the government of being ‘utterly complacent’ about the task of divorcing Britain from the EU, and claimed that the direction which the Prime Minister was taking over the specifics of the Brexit negotiations was both, ‘reckless and damaging’.
The historic announcement from the Government comes at a time of intense existential uncertainty over the future of the United Kingdom itself. As well as considerable unrest from those in Westminster still longing for a ‘soft-Brexit’, or indeed no Brexit at all, the Conservatives face the prospect of a new independence referendum in Scotland, where a majority of people voted to remain in the EU.
The Tories face additional pressure over Brexit’s potential impact on the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland. Many activists fear that a hard-border with the EU-member state of the Republic of Ireland would wreck unthinkable havoc on the fragile peace process.
The devolved assembly of Northern Ireland is itself in effective deadlock following its inability to form an effective government after Assembly elections this month.
Referencing this potential chaos and unrest within the nations of the United Kingdom, and seemingly taking a shot at the Prime Minister’s assertion that the Brexit process will serve ‘to strengthen the Union’, former leader of the SNP Alex Salmond asked May if, in fact, ‘now is not the time for triggering Article 50!’