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Itchy trigger finger
Prime Minister Theresa May has signed the letter that will formally trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. This will begin the UK's departure from the European Union, just over nine months after the British public backed the withdrawal. The letter will be delivered to European Council President Donald Tusk at 12.30 BST today by the British Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow. Mrs May will then address the House of Commons, calling this 'a moment for the country to come together.'
Marking this historic moment, the Prime Minister will present her determination to get the right deal for 'every single person in this country,' promising to include EU nationals whose status after Brexit has yet to be settled.
The rest of EU countries are expected to meet at the end of April to agree to give the European Commission a mandate to negotiate with the EU. Negotiations are then expected to begin in mid-May. Mrs May has said that she is keen to carry out both separation and trade talks at the same time, but EU chiefs say the two issues must be handled separately. Developments within the EU, such as upcoming French presidential (23 April and 7 May) and German parliamentary elections (24 September) may also have an impact on the negotiations.
The UK Government has said that it wants an 'early agreement' to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and those of the British nationals living abroad. Other issues that are likely to be part of the talks include cross-border security arrangements, the European Arrest Warrant, moving EU agencies which have their headquarters in the UK and the UK's contribution to pensions of EU civil servants - part of a wider 'divorce bill' which some reports have suggested could run to £50bn. Rhetoric will now meet reality as Mrs May faces EU leaders and seeks to get a favourable deal for Britain.
The Prime Minister will also attempt to move on from the divisions caused by June's referedum vote. 'We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and bright future,' Mrs May will say, 'and, now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together.'
Divorce Part II [Pending?]
Theresa May's call for unity at home, as Brexit negotiations period begins today, will indeed be very timely, following the Scottish Parliament vote backing the second independence referendum. MSPs voted by 69 to 59 in favour of seeking permission for a referendum before the UK leaves the EU yesterday.
The Prime Minister has made it clear that she would block the referendum until after the Brexit process is completed, repeatedly insisting that 'now is not the time' for a referendum. David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, has said that the timescale could include 'the Brexit process, the journey of leaving and people being able to understand what the UK's new relationship with the EU is, so they can make an informed choice if there was ever to be another referendum.'
However, Scotland's First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has insisted that her mandate for a second vote was now 'beyond question', and warned that it would be 'democratically indefensible and utterly unsustainable' to attempt to stand in the way. There has been speculation that Ms Sturgeon is planning an 'endless' independence campaign to try to force Mrs May to back down over the referendum, report the Telegraph.
Some ministers have compared the Brexit talks to a game of three-dimensional chess, played blindfolded and with so many players that it is impossible to keep track of every move, capturing that the process will most likely be more difficult than anticipated. Nevertheless, the fight at home is likely to be even more important, as Mrs May attempts to save the union and please the different fractions her Government, while getting a good deal for Britain in Brussels.
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