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Brexit: conscious uncoupling

Prime Minister Theresa May made history on 29 March as she began the official Brexit process by triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk.

The UK and the EU have two years to negotiate withdrawal terms, which will encompass issues such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK and vice versa, and the UK’s financial commitments.

The timing of Mrs May’s letter was widely flagged; her wording was, however, carefully scrutinised. Her tone was conciliatory, stressing a desire for the UK and the EU to enjoy a “deep and special partnership” and emphasising the UK’s understanding that “the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking””.

The UK wants to agree the terms of its future partnership at the same time as it discusses its withdrawal. Mrs May called for a “bold and ambitious” free trade agreement that covers “crucial” sectors such as financial services. If the UK quits the EU without agreement, trade terms would default to World Trade Organisation rules.

If withdrawal negotiations are successful, the agreement has to be ratified by the UK and approved by the European Parliament and at least 20 of the 27 member states. The European Parliament warned, however, that trade relations could take “significantly longer” to determine, and the future framework would need approval from every EU member state and the European Parliament.