Today Brexit Begins, So What Should We Expect?

Theresa May has triggered Article 50 so we've got two years to get a deal before we're out of the EU

Today Brexit Begins, So What Should We Expect?

by Vicky Spratt |
Published on

Your mood today may well depend on how you voted in last summer’s European referendum. If you’re one of the 48.1% of people who voted remain you may be concerned, sad and disappointed but if you’re one of the 51.9% who wanted to leave might also be excited and elated. Then again, if you did vote to leave you may still be nervously picking at your cuticles today and hoping the pound starts to rally soon (it’s fallen again). Why? Because this lukewarm March morning is the day that Theresa May has officially started the formal process of taking Britain out of the European Union.

The Prime Minister has signed a formal letter which will begin Brexit. Under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, she has given notice of this country’s intention to leave.The letter will be delivered to the European Council’s President, Donald Tusk just before lunchtime by the British ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow.

While European headlines are sombre with the French magazine Liberation reading ‘Vous Nous Manquez Deja’ [we miss you already] and German publication Die Welt splashing with ‘FAREWELL’, the Sun’s headline bellows ‘Dover & Out!’ while the Daily Mail’s gloats ‘Freedom!’. The Guardian, quite accurately, points out ‘Today Britain steps into the unknown’ and The Times reminds Theresa May and her cabinet that today ‘the eyes of history are watching.’ As grand and hyperbolic as the Times and the Guardian might sound, they’re quite right. Today’s events are unprecedented and the truth is that nobody really knows how this is going to pan out.

During the two-year negotiating period, which is triggered by enacting Article 50, EU law will still apply in the UK. However, when the negotiating window closes in March 2019, we will leave the EU with or without an agreement and, finally, be on our own.

And therein lies the rub, Theresa May’s signing of the letter and its delivery in Brussels make for pretty good, symbolic photo opportunities but it’s what happens next that’s important. As things stand we still don’t know the terms on which we are going to leave the EU, today marks the beginning of the formal negotiations and everything is to play for.

The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, has said he accepts that ‘we can’t have our cake and eat it’when it comes to Brexit, which is a far cry from the rallying bellows of Vote Leave in the run up to the referendum last year. In public, Theresa May has made it very clear that she is happy to walk away from the EU without a deal if the deal isn’t good enough, which has been music to the ears of die-hard Brexiteers and palpitation-inducing for pretty much everyone else. However, as the Financial Times points out today, ‘behind the scenes British officials have signalled a willingness to soften rigid positions in areas such as the role of the European court of justice and paying the so-called ‘exit bill’ (like a divorce bill) …in another concession, Downing Street said this week that Mrs May would not use the article 50 notification to announce the immediate cessation of full citizens’ rights for new EU arrivals in Britain’. The European parliament has insisted that full rights for EU nationals must apply until the process of Brexit is complete and there is talk of us still paying into the EU budget in order to keep some of our perks.

So, on this undoubtedly historic day, what does that mean? Well, basically, it means that for the time being things aren’t going to change all that much and, depending on how much the EU is prepared to give, post-Brexit Britain could well look very similar to Britain with the UK still paying billions into the EU. For all the posturing of Britain’s right-wing press, it’s definitely worth separating appearances from reality today.

Yesterday the Scottish Parliament voted in favour of a second referendum on Scottish independence in light of Brexit. As we formally start the process of leaving the EU today, the breakup of the United Kingdom is also a very real prospect.

Was it all worth it? Only time will tell. As my bikini waxer, who moved to London from Romania three years ago, said to me last night ‘I think it’s pretty stupid but what will be will be and it’s best not to think about it too much.’

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Follow Vicky on Twitter @Victoria_Spratt

This article originally appeared on The Debrief.

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