Article 50: Theresa May's 'Dear John' letter to the EU
By Daniel J. McLaughlin
John Don," Theresa May's letter to the European Council could have began, "I have found someone else whom I think the world of. I think the only way out is for us to get a divorce."
Instead, the prime minister opted for a more formal approach when informing European Council president Donald Tusk of Britain's intention to leave the European Union.
"Dear President Tusk," she started, "On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper.
"Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent."
As well as the expected heartbreak and bitterness, signalling their separation after a 40-year relationship, Mrs May also started the clock on the Brexit negotiations. The divorce will happen in March 2019, whether you like it or not; and whether you are prepared or not.
She also outlined seven principles “to make sure that that the process is as smooth and successful as possible". However, in each case, the Huffington Post argues, the Government has failed to deliver.
The prime minister asked for the UK and the EU to act in "a spirit of sincere co-operation", and yet the bloc has been constantly attacked by her ministers, including Boris Johnson's infamous "go whistle" remark - and she accused the EU of "threats" and "misrepresentation" during the disastrous general election campaign for the Conservatives. She promised to put UK and EU citizens first, and yet there has been no deal on their rights. Similarly, she has failed to make progress on the Irish hard border issue and their future trade relationship, with the Brexit negotiations still stuck in limbo at Phase One.
Mrs May also outlined the principle that "we should work together to minimise disruption and give as much certainty as possible". With nine months passing since the prime minister triggered Article 50, we are none the wiser about life after the EU, with a cliff-edge Brexit being threatened - and this uncertainty is causing disruption to businesses and workers.
Her biggest mistake was not necessarily calling the snap general election, the Business Insider argues, but triggering Article 50 without fully understanding how it works. The prime minister may not have grasped the consequences of her actions, and understood how sending the letter gave an advantage to the EU in the Brexit talks. Her former chief Europe negotiator, Sir Ivan Rogers, admitted that she triggered Article 50 against his advice - noting that the EU27 could "dictate the rules of the game and they will set up the rules of the game in the way that most suits them" once the ticking clock starts.
The New Statesman argues that the EU should let the UK revoke Article 50, and release them from the "Brexit death spiral of its own making". While the separation may not be acrimonious, the bloc needs to stop their friend from going off the rails as the UK "needs an intervention by loved ones to get it out of its cycle of harm". They conclude: "Besides, friends help out friends, even when they’ve screwed up."
Or, the EU could make sure it does not get its heart broken again by rewriting the "deeply flawed" Article 50 clause, Prospect Magazine argues. The greatest constitutional challenge to both Britain and the EU all lies on a 130-word clause in the Lisbon Treaty. The biggest problem, they add, is the arbitrary time limit, which is too rigid and too short.
"Together," Theresa May concluded in her Dear John letter to the EU, "I know we are capable of reaching an agreement about the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, while establishing a deep and special partnership that contributes towards the prosperity, security and global power of our continent."
In other words, while "it's not me, it's definitely you" in the break-up between the UK and the EU, can we still be friends?