Brexit triggered, negotiations to begin on Irish border
Brexit triggered, negotiations to begin on Irish border


The European Union has confirmed that the Tory government in London has triggered article 50, beginning a two-year process that will see Britain, and possibly the north of Ireland, fall out of the European Union.

A six-page letter signed by the prime minister was hand-delivered to the president of the European council, Donald Tusk (pictured, right) by a British official just before 12.30pm today. The complex negotiations formalising the terms of Britain’s departure are due to be concluded within two years.

May signed the letter yesterday before the cameras in Downing Street, next to a union flag and beneath a portrait of Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole.

As the letter was being delivered today, she made a statement in Westminster confirming the historic, and potentially irreversible move had gone ahead.

May urged people to “come together” behind a decision which was strongly opposed in Scotland and Ireland and viewed as a political and economic disaster internationally. Yesterday, the Scottish parliament backed a plan for a new independence referendum, while in Ireland support for a poll on Irish reunification has vaulted higher.

“When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom - young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between,” May told MPs.


She confirmed that her government will not try to ‘cherry pick’ in Brexit talks, but that the rights of EU nationals currently under British jurisdiction will be a “priority”. She also accepted the EU’s refusal to allow access to the single market without accepting free movement of its citizens. “We respect that,” she says.

On Ireland, May says she wants to maintain the free travel arrangement between Ireland and Britain and insisted “there shall be no return to the borders of the past”.

Iain Duncan Smith, a former Conservative leader and longstanding pro-Brexit campaigner, insisted that today “is the day the United Kingdom becomes truly united because it has only one position: that we are leaving the EU.”

It was also a day of triumph for former UKIP leader Nigel Farage, marking the fruition of a campaign once considered to be right-wing fringe politics. “After a quarter of a century spent campaigning for this moment, it will be a big happy day,” he said.

But Michael Heseltine, the Conservative former cabinet minister, said the move represented the “worst peacetime decision taken by any modern postwar government”, with the power now all in the hands of European leaders.

Speaking following the announcement, Sinn Fein MEP Matt Carthy said the development had “grave implications” for the island of Ireland as the British government “insists on dragging the North of Ireland out of the EU also, against the will of the people there”.

“This scenario presents huge challenges, undermining the Good Friday Agreement and threatening two decades of political progress,” he said.

“A return to border customs posts, border checkpoints is now a real possibility and there is a major threat to the freedom of movement of people and goods between the North and South of Ireland. This is not acceptable and will be resisted.

He said Ireland was the EU member state most at risk as a result of Brexit and Europe had a duty to protect and defend Irish interests.

“The EU must grant special designated status to the North of Ireland. This would allow the island of Ireland to remain within the EU.

“The Irish Government bears a huge responsibility at this time to act in defence of our citizens rights and welfare and the interests of the island of Ireland as a whole.

“Undoubtedly the British governments moves today have hastened the process of delivering a United Ireland as more and more people will come to see, I believe, that unity is the best means of protecting Irish interests north and south.

“In the short term and in all Brexit negotiations, the Taoiseach and the Irish government must be guided by the Dail motion passed in February calling for the North to be granted special designated status within the EU.”

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