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Now that the letter invoking Article 50 has been signed by British Prime Minister Theresa May and delivered to the president of the European Council, James J. Marlow says that the UK’s divorce process from the EU will start moving along even though Britain will still face many challenges from the bloc, Scotland and Northern Ireland.


Illustration Photo Credit: Reuters/Channel 2 News

The referendum result to leave the EU was arguably the greatest disaster to have hit the European Union in its 59-year history. But besides hundreds of political statements, dozens of demonstrations and a few court hearings in the UK, nothing in reality has actually changed. That is until the new conservative government under Theresa May finally triggered Article 50, which officially signaled the country’s exit.

The road ahead is unclear but there is a huge amount of optimism with more than 20 countries lined up to do free trade business with the UK including Israel. However, no state has left the European Union before and the rules for exiting, which are contained in Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon, are extremely brief and open to interpretation.

The Lisbon Treaty, which became law in December 2009, was designed to make the EU “more democratic, more transparent and more efficient.” But the majority of British people were unconvinced and believed the union was heading towards a complete Federal United States with no control over borders but plenty of control over British law.

In anticipation of triggering article 50, the pound surged to its highest level on Monday against the US dollar in almost two months, jumping almost one percent to 1.259 and rose higher on Tuesday. The pound was also up against the euro as investors had previously been betting against the pound known as shorting.

The British government’s official letter confirming the start of formal divorce procedures from the bloc was handed to European Council President Donald Tusk by British Ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow on Wednesday.

The process to officially separate has now begun and although it is supposed to take two years, some say it could take longer as the timescale could be extended (but only with the unanimous consent of the European Council). However, with the French election still to come, it is unlikely any real work will take place before it is clear who will become France’s next president. The second round is scheduled for May 7 when the final two candidates will go head to head.

The Europeans have not held back on their major disapproval of the British people’s decision to vote Brexit last June. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said last week: “No other countries will want to leave the EU after they see how badly Britain is punished.”

The European Commission chief also threatened that Theresa May will have no choice but to accept the EU demands for a divorce bill which he claimed were British commitments. But Juncker’s bullish stance was derided by Eurosceptics who accused him of living in a “fool’s paradise.”

As the war of words begins to intensify, May may instruct her team to walk out of the door earlier than expected if Junker insists on a £50 billion fee to leave the union. Junker boasted that the “example” of the UK would ensure the survival of the Brussels club, meaning no other European government would dare allow their people a similar referendum. Which begs the question, if the EU club is so essential and worthwhile to the European economic and political stability, why don’t they do a better public relations job on convincing Europeans why it is so important?

France’s Marine Le Pen has stated she will hold a referendum on EU membership similar to Britain if she were to win the general election. But the latest opinion polls show the centrist Emmanuel Macron is head of the National Front candidate. 

May will, in any case, have a tough fight on her hands especially as the Scottish National Party (SNP) are opening up a confrontational front on the northern border calling for a second referendum on Scotland to leave the UK. If that was not enough, Northern Ireland is in disarray with Sinn Fein and the DUP unable to agree on a power-sharing government and have become increasingly arrogant towards each other.

May has at least a 19 point poll lead over Labour and could significantly increase her majority by changing the fixed term Parliament law and calling an early general election. But she is unlikely to take such drastic steps as she believes that priority must be given to Brexit negotiations and all members of the UK must come together at least during this difficult two-year process.