By Tanya Harrington
In a formal letter delivered to EU Council President Donald Tusk on Wednesday, Prime Minister Theresa May delivered the long-awaited verdict, a decision laced with controversy since the EU referendum of June 2016: “We are leaving the European Union.” It was a movement she later described in the Commons as being “an historic moment from which there can be no turning back.”
She also emphasised that in doing so, “the government acts on the democratic will of the British people,” referring to the results of the 2016 referendum, in which 51.9% of voters chose to leave the EU.
This slight majority has been reflected in the actions and sentiments of the UK since, with political parties and ties between countries increasingly divided by differences in opinion and global aspirations.
When Tusk accepted the letter on Wednesday, it formally triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty, which became a part of EU law in 2009. As a result of this, it is expected that negotiations for Britain to leave the EU should be settled before April 2019.
Already, there has been debate regarding the content of May’s letter to the EU, with some arguing that Theresa May is using Europe-wide sharing of defence-related intelligence as a “bargaining chip” in the upcoming negotiations.
In the letter, the Prime Minister wrote that “in security terms a failure to reach agreement [on trade] would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.” Some, including Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, have referred to this as “blackmail.” In an interview with Sky, home secretary Amber Rudd stated that “If we left, we’d take our information with us.” With an estimated 40% of European intelligence information coming from the UK, this tactic could prove to be equally powerful as it is divisive.
Leader of the opposition Jeremy Corbyn called Theresa May’s plans and conduct with regards to Brexit negotiations “reckless and damaging,” in the Commons on Wednesday, referring to a need to “represent the whole country, not just the hard line Tory ideologues on her own benches,” and warning of Labour’s refusal to allow the government “a free hand to use Brexit to attack rights, protections and cut services.” He also emphasised the need for “full access to the single market,” disputing the Prime Minister’s earlier inference that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” However, the Labour leader refrained from making any reference to Brexit at the Prime Minister’s Questions on the same day.
With both the UK and EU remaining divided on crucial components of the negotiations which are about to proceed, it appears that a period of instability may lie ahead. It is hoped that all governments involved will work co-operatively to reach the best outcome, but with the EU potentially wanting to provide a “hard deal” to discourage other member states from leaving, this could be difficult.
Speaking on the matter, Donald Tusk said that there was “no reason to pretend this is a happy day,” but said that “we will act as one and start negotiations by focusing on key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal.”
Finally, he said: “what can I add to this? We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”