LEADING THE WAY OUT OF THE EU

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30 March 2017

Article 50: the day it happened.

After nine long months of waiting, Article 50 notice was finally handed to European Council President Donald Tusk just after midday on Wednesday. The historic moment saw British ambassador Tim Barrow hand the letter to the senior Eurocrat less than a day after Theresa May signed had signed it, notifying the EU of our intention to quit the failing bloc.

Responses from across the continent were quick, with many applauding the tone of Mrs May’s letter while others – such as impotent French President Francois Hollande, who will soon be booted out of office – took a hard line.

A conciliatory tone

Mrs May’s letter was received warmly by many, with commentators pointing to its friendly wording and openness about future relations with the EU. She stressed that our decision to leave the EU “was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states.”

She insisted that “we are leaving the European Union but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent”.

But while the tone of friendship was reciprocated by some, including Donald Tusk himself who said that “we already miss you”, others were less cordial to the Prime Minister and struck out at the British government.

Harsh responses

President Hollande, who is so unpopular in his home country that he will not even seek re-election in the upcoming presidential plebiscite. He said that the process of leaving the EU would be “painful for the British and for France it will be painful sentimentally”, despite the fact that he won’t represent his country by the time Britain leaves the bloc. But the timeline of Brexit favours the unpopular politician, with the major meeting of European leaders at the end of April coming between the first and second rounds of the French ballot, just before he is ousted from office.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel was also less than friendly, insisting that EU divorce talks – including the settlement of an exit bill – must be concluded before discussions can begin about the future trading relationship of the UK with the EU. “Not before those questions are answered, which will hopefully happen soon, can we start speaking about our future relationship,” she said.

The European Parliament chimed in too. A group of MEPs pounced on the calls in May’s letter to avoid a “cliff-edge” by insisting Britain remain tied to the EU until 2022 through so-called transition arrangements that prevent the British government from delivering the promise of Brexit: control of our borders, our money, and our laws.

More measured replies

But not every nation followed the lead of Hollande and Merkel. The Swedish Prime Minister offered a swift response emphasising that they “would like to see orderly and results-oriented negotiations” and thanking Mrs May for “the constructive approach in [her] letter”. Finland continued in a similar vein, with Prime Minister Juha Sipila saying that the nation “will take a constructive approach to the negotiations” while confirming that they “wish to continue working in close partnership with the UK”.

The Irish government also struck a note of cooperation, highlighting that their concerns “have been acknowledged by Prime Minister May in her letter” and reaffirming their commitment to a series of mutually beneficial negotiating priorities including “to minimise the impact on our trade and economy; to protect the Northern Ireland Peace Process, including through maintaining an open border; to continue the Common Travel Area with the UK”.

More importantly Article 50 notice drew positive response from our closest allies, with White House press secretary Sean Spicer going to lengths to remind journalists of President Donald Trump’s early support of Britain’s separation from the European Union. With a global future, it’s good to see that allies around the globe are excited about Britain’s future as an independent country.