Article 50: “Point of No Return”
The Prime Minister signed the letter that triggers Brexit on Tuesday at 4.30pm in the Cabinet room in Downing Street. She later called the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council and Jean Claude-Juncker, the president of the European Commission, to let them know before she sends the letter.
The letter has been hand-delivered to Donald Tusk on Wednesday (29 March) at 12.20pm (GMT) by Britain’s EU ambassador, Sir Tim Barrow, who arrived in Brussels on Tuesday night on a Eurostar train.
And some advice from an old pistol
Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader, said that “After a quarter of a century spent campaigning for this moment, it will be a big happy day.” While the Conservative Michael Heseltine, the former cabinet minister, has criticised the “undeliverable promises of Brexiters” like Farage, warning that Brexit would deliver a “hard reality,” Farage remains a happy man: “The impossible dream is happening. Today we pass the point of no return”, he tweeted on Wednesday morning.
On a lighter, but still disconcerting note, American Conservative and Breitbart author, Ann Coulter, is praising forgotten and confused godfather of punk, John Lydon (Johnny Rotten) for supporting Brexit. Coulter tweeted: “JOHNNY ROTTON [notice the misspelling] FOR TRUMP & BREXIT! ‘The working class have spoken & I stand with them!’” Her tweet which was retweeted by Nigel Farage, is enough to put us at rest, as if the man who brought us the Country Life butter commercial, is an authority on all things Brexit.
Theresa May’s statement in the House of Commons
As the government said previously, the “point of no return” for Brexit has passed, and the only way forward is through understanding and unity. Going beyond the controversies surrounding such figures as Farage, Gove and Johnson, Theresa May has managed the difficult task to trigger Brexit and start the lengthy procedure of a complex divorce.
In her statement in the House of Commons, Theresa May told MPs that the letter was delivered and the article 50 procedures are just starting. She said: “In accordance with the wishes of the people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. This is a historic moment from which there can be no turning back.” She described how Brexit is a unique opportunity to build a better future where the UK emerges “stronger, fairer, more outward-looking than ever before”. Britain will become truly global but will seek to shape a “new, special and deep partnership with the European Union”. May was immediately mocked when she continued praising the values of the EU, considering the situation and her support for Trump. She said: “Perhaps now more than ever the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe - values that the UK shares.”
May’s tone was measured and rational, reassuring MPs about her intentions to consider the interests of all four countries of the United Kingdom, and promising an important increase in their powers. More importantly, she confirmed the priority of securing the rights of EU nationals, protecting the rights of workers and respecting the EU’s demands in terms of free movement and access to the single market. There won’t be any cherry picking in the Brexit talks, she acquiesced.
She established that it is in the best interests of both the EU and the UK to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit with minimal disruption.
She expressed the UK’s desire to continue trading and cooperating with the EU, to secure and protect the peoples’ interests. She said: “It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country.” She talked about opportunities and ambitions within a “truly Global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world.” For her, Brexit is an occasion “to come together.” May’s statement was calm and thoughtful, navigating delicately through issues and careful to express the UK’s position, while celebrating European values.
In many ways, it was the kind of statement that comes after a fiery marriage has ended—the Brexit referendum has brought with it a certain division and uncertainty—and when the two parts have reached a kind of reconciliation, and everything that happens from now on will be sober discussions and calm negotiations.
From Brussels, Donald Tusk stressed the EU’s unity in the face of Brexit: “I will not pretend that I am happy for today. But paradoxically there is something positive in Brexit. Brexit has made us, the community of 27, more determined and more united than before.”
The French president, François Hollande, while in a trip to Indonesia said: “I think it will be painful for the British ... [Brexit] will force Europe to move forward – doubtless at different speeds.”
The Letter: main points
• The UK understands that it won’t be able to have access to the single market, as it does now, without also giving up its demands for controlling free movement. As she wrote: “The United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no ‘cherry picking’.”
• An early agreement on a transitional deal will avoid disruption: “In order to avoid any cliff-edge as we move from our current relationship to our future partnership, people and businesses in both the UK and the EU would benefit from implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. It would help both sides to minimise unnecessary disruption if we agree this principle early in the process.”
• Security issue and a veiled warning: “If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.”
• Brexit is not an attempt to harm the EU: But the collapse of the EU is of course what the Brexiters have been wishing all along, and this is also the wish of European populist parties, as well as Trump.
Brexit was publicised as a liberating move to “take back control”, but in order to make this happen it depends on the ways this will be pursued. Yanis Varoufakis, for example, has argued that the “Brexiteers’ strongest argument”: the “imperative of restoring sovereignty to the House of Commons” can be achieved by debating the future UK and EU arrangements in the next parliament whose members will have the necessary powers. But while Varoufakis’ idealistic plan might possibly not work, we are seeing already the first signs of how negotiations might be appropriated by the “guard dogs of Brexit”—aka Ukip leader Paul Nuttall and co—who is promising us that they will be watching the government and they “will provide the political threat to ensure no backsliding takes place and ensure that Brexit does indeed mean Exit.”
Most reasonable was the voice of Theresa May, whose words were also echoed by the German Chancellor, Angela Merkel: “My wish is the Great Britain and the European remain close partners. Because for me the United Kingdom is and remains a part of Europe with which we have a lot in common, not least our common values. On the basis of these values, and with the help of fair rules we will strive for a balance of obligations and rights.”