With her finger having hovered for months over the Article 50 trigger, Theresa May will on Wednesday, finally, fire the gun on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. With so much at stake, and so little clarity on the kind of deal the UK even wants, there are plenty who will regard it as a shot in the dark.
For Brexiteers it will nonetheless be a moment of joy, confirmation that last year’s referendum has taken effect. For Remainers, however, there will be a sense of profound sorrow.
There may be a tinge of relief, too, that at least now the negotiations can begin. After all the meaningless “Brexit means Brexit” platitudes, surely nobody would resist moving on from the banalities offered up so far by the Government.
Perhaps the reality of the impending break is showing. The Prime Minister has been notably more measured in her recent remarks, making plain that her goal is to retain a “deep and special partnership” with the European Union. Key figures on the EU side have also reined in their spikier barbs, with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker expressing a desire for “fair and friendly” negotiations.
Both sides will be hoping to make early progress on key questions, including the position of EU citizens already living in the UK (and UK citizens living in the EU) and the size of Britain’s exit bill.
Nevertheless, for almost every indication of willingness to compromise, a contrary signal seems to pop up.
With EU members desperate to ensure that Britain isn’t better off outside than in, British negotiators face a difficult task, with threat and counter-threat likely to be an ever-present feature of the divorce talks.
One overriding factor which politicians and bureaucrats would do well to keep in mind is the wishes of citizens across the continent – not only with regard to the minutiae of a prospective deal, but in terms of a broad and obvious desire to maintain peace, prosperity and cooperation…