On Wednesday 29th March 2017, a six-page letter was signed and sent to the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, outlining the United Kingdom's "intention to withdraw" from the European Union in accordance to Article 50. Article 50 is part of the Lisbon Treaty, which was ratified in 2009 and is the formal mechanism which can be used by an EU member state to leave the Union. This gives the United Kingdom two years to negotiate with the European Union to come up with a 'deal' as part of the leaving process. However, the deal will need to be approved by a "qualified majority", which includes MEP's and the remaining EU member states.
The member state, which wants to leave the European Union will have to meet its "constitutional requirements". On the 23rd June 2016, 17,410,742 people voted leave compared to 16,141,241 who voted remain, which meant that the leave campaign had a small majority. Notably, there wasn't a clear majority in terms of there being a high margin and the fact that the referendum was advisory means that there could have been a further referendum to get a clear-cut result. However, the referendum result was used by Theresa May to warn the other EU member state that Brexit will happen. After a lengthy court battle, the Supreme Court ruled that Article 50 could only be triggered with Parliamentary consent. The House of Commons and Lords passed the 'Brexit Bill' and it was given the Royal Assent by Her Majesty the Queen to become law. The "Constitutional requirement" was fulfilled and Theresa May was able to trigger Article 50. Furthermore, Theresa May addressed the Commons on Wednesday and proclaimed that the Government has acted on the "democratic will of the British people".
"The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation."
The letter itself emphasised the phrase "deep and special partnership" 7 times and "economic and security cooperation" 4 times. In parliament, the message was similar that Britain was going to leave the European Union, but still wants to work closely with the other EU member states. Donald Tusk reacted to the triggering of Article 50 at a press conference, where he held the letter in his hand and expressed his sadness.
"There is no reason to pretend this is a happy day"
However, Tusk remained positive as he implied that Brexit has led to the other 27 EU member states working together closely and having a more strengthened relationship.
Jeremy Corbyn responded by describing the Theresa May's path as being "reckless and damaging" and in recent days he has made it clear that the Labour Party would oppose the Government if they were putting the interests of the British people at risk. The SNP are also increasing the pressure because on Tuesday MSPs passed legislation on a second Scottish Independence referendum at Holyrood. The majority of Scotland voted to remain in the EU, therefore the SNP argue that Scottish independence and becoming members of the EU would be key. However, it is still unclear what the overall deal will be with the EU, so for those seeking independence it is hoped that the referendum takes place after the Brexit negotiations.
A hard Brexit will mean that the United Kingdom would lose access to the single market and free movement, whereas a soft Brexit will attempt to keep as much of the benefits of the EU as possible. The Prime Minister has said that Britain will leave the Single Market, therefore a Hard Brexit is likely but the extent is still unknown. There is no mandate for either a Hard or Soft Brexit, so the Prime Minister must negotiate the right deal for the British people. However, announcing that the United Kingdom will leave the Single Market before the negotiations could be a flaw in the Brexit plan. The single market is key for a range of reasons such as trade, therefore by leaving it completely could lead to catastrophic results. However, Brexiteers have argued that leaving the Single Market will end free movement.
The German Chancellor, Angela Merkel, said that the trade deal will have to wait until after the negotiations. This is problematic for the Government because they were most likely intending to negotiate a trade deal alongside withdrawal from the EU, but the trade deal could take longer to agree on and implement, which inevitably means it may not take full force until years after Brexit. In addition, the tone the Prime Minister adopted about walking away from the negotiations with no deal faded as in the letter to Donald Tusk, it was specifically mentioned that leaving without a deal is "not the outcome that either side should seek".
Overall, the two year clock is ticking away. With withdrawal and trade deals with EU to be negotiated, the Prime Minister is defiant she will get the best deal for Britain. With no Parliamentary vote on the final deal, the Prime Minister will be leading the delegation to negotiate and will have to judge what is appropriate. However, one thing the Prime Minister cannot do is come out with a bad deal for Britain or not listen to the UK citizens. This is because the UK citizens are going to face the impacts of whatever that deal is and what it brings in the days, months and years to come.