Signed, sealed and delivered – now the divorce battle starts


Nine months after the Brexit referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May has notified European Council President Donald Tusk of the UK’s intention to leave the EU. Her letter starts the clock ticking: both sides have two years to agree a divorce settlement, and a framework for a future relationship.

The UK Government is aiming for an exit which delivers an ambitious trade agreement covering good and services, including financial services and transport, and calls for staggered implementation of the agreement to avoid a “cliff-edge”. May’s reference to a “vision for our continent” provides a hint of more conciliatory language than in recent times.

On Friday, Tusk will circulate to the leaders of the remaining EU countries draft guidelines for the negotiations which will reveal more clearly what kind of Brexit the EU27 envisages. Shortly after the letter was delivered, he issued a statement which spoke of “damage control” for EU citizens, businesses and members – its primary purpose being a show of EU unity.

May’s letter also calls for an early agreement on the rights of both British and EU citizens during Brexit negotiations. While a key issue for both sides, it remains complicated and contentious. It will also be core to the demands made in the European Parliament’s (non-binding) Resolution, which will be debated by MEPs next week.

This short briefing sets out what the prime minister’s letter tells us about the mood in London, and how the UK Government plans to manage the next steps at home.

It also explains what will happen at Brussels/EU level in the weeks and months to come, including a timeline showing the likely start and evolution of negotiations.