Britain is on its way out of the European Union. In the last few moments, Theresa May stood up in the Commons and announced that Article 50 had been triggered. She told MPs:
‘The Article 50 process is now underway. And in accordance with the wishes of the British People, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union. We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws. We are going to take control of the things that matter most to us. And we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain – a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home. That is our ambition and our opportunity. And That is what this Government is determined to do.’
Hear James Forsyth and Katy Balls on the immediate impact of Article 50:
Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, had earlier tweeted a picture of Sir Tim Barrow delivering the Article 50 notification of Britain’s intention to leave the EU. In his tweet, Tusk wrote:
After nine months the UK has delivered. #Brexit
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 29, 2017
For now, the political theatre is over: with the clock ticking, the small task of thrashing out a Brexit deal awaits. On March 29th 2019, Britain will leave the EU without a deal, unless a transitional – or more comprehensive – arrangement is in place. There’s also the chance that the negotiating period could be extended. But if things get acrimonious, there’s no guarantee that the European Council will agree to that. What’s more, to make the deadline even more pressing, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has said he wants any deal to be in place in 18 months time, by October 2018.
So, what happens now? In a month’s time, the other EU countries will meet in Brussels to attempt to form a collective response to Britain’s Article 50 notification. Only days later, voters in France go to the polls – meaning that there is likely to be some delay in Donald Tusk formally replying to Theresa May. From that point on, the real negotiations will start. But given that this process has never happened before – and Article 50’s five short paragraphs spell out little in the way of detail – the actual negotiations will be something of a moveable feast. Even the European Parliament’s own briefing document on Article 50 admits the following: ‘The role of the European Commission in the withdrawal procedure is not entirely clear’. All of this – not discounting the rival political and economic aims on either side – mean that the road ahead will inevitably be rocky.