The wait is over. Almost. Theresa May will trigger Article 50 – the first formal step in Britain’s departure from the EU – on March 29th, Downing Street has confirmed. Brexit Secretary David Davis said:
‘Last June, the people of the UK made the historic decision to leave the EU. Next Wednesday, the Government will deliver on that decision and formally start the process by triggering Article 50. We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation.’
The announcement means that the Prime Minister will make good on the pledge she made at the Tory party conference to kick start the process of Brexit before April 1. Next week’s announcement will undoubtedly be significant in terms of symbolism. But for all the talk and bluster we’ve heard about Article 50, there’s already a sense that the announcement will underwhelm in terms of detail. The letter from the Prime Minister setting Article 50 in motion is likely to reveal little more of Theresa May’s Brexit battle plan beyond that already detailed in her Lancaster House speech in January.
So given Theresa May’s refusal to give a ‘running commentary’ on Brexit why has the Prime Minister decided to announce the date a week early? This rare act of frankness from the Government seems to have been motivated by a desire to try and keep the financial markets stable. The referendum result – and almost any Brexit talk since – has reverberated in the value of sterling and the FTSE index (even if the recovery has been equally rapid). By giving the markets a heads-up, the Government will be hoping to soften some of the impact.
What will happen next? It’s expected that we’ll hear an initial response from Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, within two days. In Brussels today, there’ll already be a big sigh of relief that the Prime Minister has avoided pulling the trigger four days earlier, on March 25th: the sixtieth anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.