What have we learned since Article 50 was triggered?

by Luke Lythgoe | 30.03.2017

Leaving aside the cries of blackmail, no political bombshells have been dropped since Theresa May delivered her Article 50 letter to Donald Tusk yesterday lunchtime. But battle lines are nevertheless being drawn and a few comments are already shifting the debate.

A rare and (slightly) revealing Theresa May interview

A few hours after Article 50, the prime minister gave a half-hour interview to the BBC’s Andrew Neil. She remained characteristically on message, save for a couple of unexpected comments.

Pressed on the “tens of thousands” migration pledge in the Tory manifesto, she took a realistic line, explaining there were “so many variables, so many different things that can happen in the world that affect the numbers of people trying to come here to the UK” but that Brexit means the UK can control its borders and set rules on migration from inside the EU (listen from 03:30).

May also appeared to support her Brexit minister David Davis’ promise to get the “exact same benefits” from a trade deal outside the EU as the UK currently enjoys inside the single market, saying: “It will be a different relationship, but I think it can have the same benefits in terms of access to trade.” (listen from 14:30)

Sad day in Europe

Across the Channel, Donald Tusk gave an emotional speech saying there was “no reason to pretend this is a happy day, neither here nor in London”. The European Council president said the only positive from Brexit, he believed, was that it was bringing the other 27 member states closer together. He concluded: “We miss you already.”

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker echoed Tusk’s sentiments, calling it a “day of sadness” during a press conference from Malta.

Bad cop, worse cop

The European Parliament was not nearly as sentimental. Though acknowledging the sadness of the day, the parliament’s president Antonio Tajani insisted his focus now was on the 440 million remaining EU citizens, saying: “Not reaching a deal on the rights of citizens means not reaching a deal at all.” Significantly, the Parliament has drafted a resolution on conditions for approving a Brexit deal – its consent should not be taken for granted.

Taking an even harder line was German MEP Manfred Weber. The leader of the centre right European People’s Party, the largest bloc in parliament, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Probably the British people will understand during the next two years’ time what Europe is all about, what we talk about when we talk about the European Union, and how high the damage will be when you take this union into question.” (listen from 1:35:30)

Revoking Article 50?

The most interesting – and controversial – argument coming out of the European Parliament is that it might even still be possible to withdraw the Article 50 notification. “All the member states of the EU would have to decide whether this is possible,” Tajani explained. “So it could be done, but the rules under which it is to be done, or were to be done, are very clear.” (listen at 01:20).

Intransigent Merkel

A final reaction worth noting is that of Angela Merkel, who reiterated: “The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship. And only when this question is dealt with, can we, hopefully soon after, begin talking about our future relationship.” On this issue the leading EU member states and its institutions are firmly of one voice, a disturbing degree of unanimity from the UK’s perspective, suggesting Theresa May’s hopes of a quick trade deal have been scuppered already.

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    Edited by Stewart Fleming

    One Response to “What have we learned since Article 50 was triggered?”

    • It would be a pleasant surprise if several million of the Brexit brainwashed realised the extent to which they have been duped. The lies of the Brexiteers are now beginning to bite so there is a small chance some will acknowledge the stupidity of Brexiteers so that the British Union may vote again and correct the exit pole. If not may I please have a Scottish, Irish or European Passport. I would prefer to be able to earn a living for a few more years while the stand alone UK drops below the horizon, its own setting sun