Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday triggered Article 50 of the Treaty on European Union, formally starting the two-year negotiating period for the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.
Speaking to the House of Commons, she said it was “an historic moment from which there can be no turning back,” adding, “We are going to make sure that we can strike trade agreements with countries from outside the European Union too.”
The Article 50 letter to European Council president Donald Tusk stressed that the UK wants a “deep and special partnership” and “want[s] to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.”
The letter confirmed the UK’s intentions to leave the EU single market and advocated “implementation periods” for businesses and people to adjust “in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements.” The letter goes on to argue, “We believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.”
It warned, however, that if the UK leaves the EU without an agreement, the default position would be to trade on World Trade Organisation terms, adding “in security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”
Responding to the letter, Tusk said that Brexit had made the remaining EU members “more determined and more united than before.” He continued, “There is nothing to win in this process and I am talking about both sides. In essence, this is about damage control.” He ended the conference by telling the UK, “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.” Tusk will propose the European Council’s draft negotiating guidelines tomorrow.
Separately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship… and only when this question is dealt with, can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship.”
German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel called on the UK and EU to stay friends as each will need each other even after Brexit.
French President François Hollande said Brexit “is going to be painful for the British,” while French Foreign Minister Jean-Marc Ayrault said, “After the negotiation of the separation, there will be another negotiation and that will be the organisation of the future relations between the 27 in the European Union and Great Britain.”
Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni said, “Italy is working so that the shock of Brexit turns into an opportunity for a European awakening…Italy is approaching the negotiations of the coming months in a friendly spirit towards the UK.”
Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte stressed it was important that “the best possible” relationship was established between the EU and Britain. Czech Secretary of State for European Affairs Tomas Prouza tweeted, “We would like to have a close relationship with the UK after Brexit and avoid erecting new barriers. But it’s primarily up to the UK.”