Nearly a year after the historic referendum in which British voters decided to leave the European Union, the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, has begun the formal negotiation process of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU.
“There is no reason to pretend that is a happy day, neither in Brussels nor in London”, said the EU Council President Donald Tusk at a news conference shortly after Tim Barrow, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, handed him a six-page letter signed by Prime Minister May. The letter declared the UK’s formal withdrawal just after noon on Wednesday, March 29th.
However, in London, pro-Brexit tabloid newspaper The Daily Mail printed a massive front-page headline declaring “FREEDOM!”, sharing the sentiment of pro-Brexit voters and politicians. What Theresa May has done, with the approval of the British Parliament and Supreme Court, is activate a previously unused clause in the founding documents of the EU: Article 50, the right of a member state to leave the union.
What comes now is two years of massive negotiations between the EU and UK, covering a wide range of issues such as trade, immigration, and diplomatic cooperation all while existing EU-UK treaties and laws are temporarily kept in place. The UK has the additional task of creating new domestic law and international deals with other nations since existing EU agreements will no longer apply to them. In fact, the British Parliament has already proposed a “Great Repeal Bill” that would end the Jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice but keep most EU laws temporarily in place until British lawmakers can amend or replace them; such a bill would come in effect the day the UK leaves the EU.
As for the actual negotiations, President Tusk has released a nine-page paper to be approved by the remaining EU member states outlining the goals and guidelines of the EU during the negotiations. The paper includes a “divorce bill”, a single financial transaction from the UK that covers its financial obligations to the EU, bans the UK from negotiating with individual member states rather than the EU as a whole, and forbids the UK from cherry-picking parts of the EU’s single market to keep in trade negotiations. In fact, trade will likely be one of the most important topics of the negotiations, with many worrying about the implications a poor deal would have on international companies in the UK.
In response, Prime Minister May, who earlier threatened to walk out on negotiations if needed, stated, “No deal is better than a bad deal for Britain”.
The UK now also faces many internal political problems due to Brexit. For instance, Scotland, whose citizens voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU, plans on having a second referendum on Scottish independence from the UK in order to remain in the EU. Prime Minister May has even asked Scottish Minister Sturgeon to delay such a referendum, who promptly refused and plans to hold the new referendum before the EU-UK negotiations are completed. Furthermore, the border between the UK and Ireland may no longer be free since Ireland will remain part of the EU. Many increasingly wonder how an open-border proposal for Ireland between the UK and the EU would play out.
Despite all these conflicts, both parties have promised to work together on the issues. According to Article 50, the UK will leave the EU in exactly two years, with or without a diplomatic treaty.