On Wednesday 29 March, the United Kingdom officially launched Brexit with a letter handover – effectively triggering Article 50 and launching a two year process to leave the European Union (EU).
British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the official Brexit process in a letter to the EU, which was handed over to Brussels by Sir Tim Barrow at 12:20 BST. Two years of exit negotiations will now follow.
EU leaders responded to the UK officially triggering the Brexit process, with EU Council President Donald Tusk tweeting shortly after receiving the letter “after nine months the UK has delivered.” He went on to say that there was “no reason to pretend that this is a happy day” in Brussels or London, adding “most Europeans, including almost half the British voters, which that we would stay together, not drift apart.” He went on to say that still, there is “also something positive” about Brexit, adding “Brexit has made us a community of 27 more determined and more united than before.” He noted that the EU states would protect their interests in the “difficult negotiations” that lie ahead, concluded, “we already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.” Meanwhile a spokeswoman for German Chancellor Angela Merkel stated that Britain remained a key EU ally. Ulrike Demmer disclosed that the official notification would give Germany “more clarity” on how Britain planned to proceed, adding “we must not forget that the UK is still a partner, in NATO and in Europe.” Manfred Weber, a German politician and chair of the centre-right EPP Group in the European Parliament, was more blunt, tweeting “EU has done everything to keep the British. From now on, only the interests of the remaining 440 million Europeans count for us.” Meanwhile the Austrian government disclosed that clarifying the status of EU citizens living in Britain was a priority, with Chancellor Christian Kern stating, “for me, the status and rights of around 25,000 Austrians living and working in the UK are at the forefront.” Mr Kern went on to say that “we also want to achieve clarity and legal certainty for Austrian companies operating in the UK.”
Below is the historic letter triggering Brexit.
Dear President Tusk
On 23 June last year, the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. As I have said before, that decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states. On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.
Earlier this month, the United Kingdom Parliament confirmed the result of the referendum by voting with clear and convincing majorities in both of its Houses for the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill. The Bill was passed by Parliament on 13 March and it received Royal Assent from Her Majesty The Queen and became an Act of Parliament on 16 March.
Today, therefore, I am writing to give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom. I hereby notify the European Council in accordance with Article 50(2) of the Treaty on European Union of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Union. In addition, in accordance with the same Article 50(2) as applied by Article 106a of the Treaty Establishing the European Atomic Energy Community, I hereby notify the European Council of the United Kingdom’s intention to withdraw from the European Atomic Energy Community. References in this letter to the European Union should therefore be taken to include a reference to the European Atomic Energy Community.
This letter sets out the approach of Her Majesty’s Government to the discussions we will have about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and about the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave. We believe that these objectives are in the interests not only of the United Kingdom but of the European Union and the wider world too.
It is in the best interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use the forthcoming process to deliver these objectives in a fair and orderly manner, and with as little disruption as possible on each side. We want to make sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and is capable of projecting its values, leading in the world, and defending itself from security threats. We want the United Kingdom, through a new deep and special partnership with a strong European Union, to play its full part in achieving these goals. We therefore believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union.
The Government wants to approach our discussions with ambition, giving citizens and businesses in the United Kingdom and the European Union – and indeed from third countries around the world – as much certainty as possible, as early as possible.
I would like to propose some principles that may help to shape our coming discussions, but before I do so, I should update you on the process we will be undertaking at home, in the United Kingdom.
The process in the United Kingdom
As I have announced already, the Government will bring forward legislation that will repeal the Act of Parliament – the European Communities Act 1972 – that gives effect to EU law in our country. This legislation will, wherever practical and appropriate, in effect convert the body of existing European Union law (the “acquis”) into UK law. This means there will be certainty for UK citizens and for anybody from the European Union who does business in the United Kingdom. The Government will consult on how we design and implement this legislation, and we will publish a White Paper tomorrow. We also intend to bring forward several other pieces of legislation that address specific issues relating to our departure from the European Union, also with a view to ensuring continuity and certainty, in particular for businesses. We will of course continue to fulfil our responsibilities as a member state while we remain a member of the European Union, and the legislation we propose will not come into effect until we leave.
From the start and throughout the discussions, we will negotiate as one United Kingdom, taking due account of the specific interests of every nation and region of the UK as we do so. When it comes to the return of powers back to the United Kingdom, we will consult fully on which powers should reside in Westminster and which should be devolved to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. But it is the expectation of the Government that the outcome of this process will be a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.
Negotiations between the United Kingdom and the European Union
The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms. In security terms a failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened. In this kind of scenario, both the United Kingdom and the European Union would of course cope with the change, but it is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.
It is for these reasons that we want to be able to agree a deep and special partnership, taking in both economic and security cooperation, but it is also because we want to play our part in making sure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats. And we want the United Kingdom to play its full part in realising that vision for our continent.
Proposed principles for our discussions
Looking ahead to the discussions which we will soon begin, I would like to suggest some principles that we might agree to help make sure that the process is as smooth and successful as possible.
- We should engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation. Since I became Prime Minister of the United Kingdom I have listened carefully to you, to my fellow EU Heads of Government and the Presidents of the European Commission and Parliament. That is why the United Kingdom does not seek membership of the single market: we understand and respect your position that the four freedoms of the single market are indivisible and there can be no “cherry picking”. We also understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU: we know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy. We also know that UK companies will, as they trade within the EU, have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part – just as UK companies do in other overseas markets.
- We should always put our citizens first. There is obvious complexity in the discussions we are about to undertake, but we should remember that at the heart of our talks are the interests of all our citizens. There are, for example, many citizens of the remaining member states living in the United Kingdom, and UK citizens living elsewhere in the European Union, and we should aim to strike an early agreement about their rights.
- We should work towards securing a comprehensive agreement. We want to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. We will need to discuss how we determine a fair settlement of the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, in accordance with the law and in the spirit of the United Kingdom’s continuing partnership with the EU. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.
- We should work together to minimise disruption and give as much certainty as possible. Investors, businesses and citizens in both the UK and across the remaining 27 member states – and those from third countries around the world – want to be able to plan. In order to avoid any cliff-edge as we move from our current relationship to our future partnership, people and businesses in both the UK and the EU would benefit from implementation periods to adjust in a smooth and orderly way to new arrangements. It would help both sides to minimise unnecessary disruption if we agree this principle early in the process.
- In particular, we must pay attention to the UK’s unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland. The Republic of Ireland is the only EU member state with a land border with the United Kingdom. We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries, to be able to maintain the Common Travel Area between us, and to make sure that the UK’s withdrawal from the EU does not harm the Republic of Ireland. We also have an important responsibility to make sure that nothing is done to jeopardise the peace process in Northern Ireland, and to continue to uphold the Belfast Agreement.
- We should begin technical talks on detailed policy areas as soon as possible, but we should prioritise the biggest challenges. Agreeing a high-level approach to the issues arising from our withdrawal will of course be an early priority. But we also propose a bold and ambitious Free Trade Agreement between the United Kingdom and the European Union. This should be of greater scope and ambition than any such agreement before it so that it covers sectors crucial to our linked economies such as financial services and network industries. This will require detailed technical talks, but as the UK is an existing EU member state, both sides have regulatory frameworks and standards that already match. We should therefore prioritise how we manage the evolution of our regulatory frameworks to maintain a fair and open trading environment, and how we resolve disputes. On the scope of the partnership between us – on both economic and security matters – my officials will put forward detailed proposals for deep, broad and dynamic cooperation.
- We should continue to work together to advance and protect our shared European values. Perhaps now more than ever, the world needs the liberal, democratic values of Europe. We want to play our part to ensure that Europe remains strong and prosperous and able to lead in the world, projecting its values and defending itself from security threats.
The task before us
As I have said, the Government of the United Kingdom wants to agree a deep and special partnership between the UK and the EU, taking in both economic and security cooperation. At a time when the growth of global trade is slowing and there are signs that protectionist instincts are on the rise in many parts of the world, Europe has a responsibility to stand up for free trade in the interest of all our citizens. Likewise, Europe’s security is more fragile today than at any time since the end of the Cold War. Weakening our cooperation for the prosperity and protection of our citizens would be a costly mistake. The United Kingdom’s objectives for our future partnership remain those set out in my Lancaster House speech of 17 January and the subsequent White Paper published on 2 February.
We recognise that it will be a challenge to reach such a comprehensive agreement within the two-year period set out for withdrawal discussions in the Treaty. But we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU. We start from a unique position in these discussions – close regulatory alignment, trust in one another’s institutions, and a spirit of cooperation stretching back decades. It is for these reasons, and because the future partnership between the UK and the EU is of such importance to both sides, that I am sure it can be agreed in the time period set out by the Treaty.
The task before us is momentous but it should not be beyond us. After all, the institutions and the leaders of the European Union have succeeded in bringing together a continent blighted by war into a union of peaceful nations, and supported the transition of dictatorships to democracy. Together, I know we are capable of reaching an agreement about the UK’s rights and obligations as a departing member state, while establishing a deep and special partnership that contributes towards the prosperity, security and global power of our continent.
Last week, London was rocked by what authorities are calling a terrorist attack, after a man in a vehicle ploughed into pedestrians near Parliament in the central part of the British capital.
The attack, which occurred during the afternoon hours on Wednesday 22 March resulted in four deaths after the man drove his car along a pavement on Westminster Bridge, knocking down pedestrians, creating panic and leaving at least fifty people injured. After crashing his car into railings, the attacker ran towards Parliament where he stabbed a police officer to death. Armed police then shot the attacker. The attack lasted 82 seconds.
In the days that have followed, information emerged regarding the attacker. On Thursday 23 March, Prime Minister Theresa May revealed that the Westminster attacker was a British-born man who was known to the police and intelligence services. The attacker has been named as Khalid Masood. Speaking to MPs on Thursday, she disclosed that the authorities had investigated some years ago but was not part of the current intelligence picture.
Overnight, police officials carried out several raids across the country, which resulted in eight arrests in London and Birmingham. In total, eleven people have been arrested and nine people in total have been released without charge. Scotland Yard has since reported that Masood acted alone and that there is no information to suggest that further attacks are planned. The Metropolitan Police have disclosed that Masoon, 52, had previous criminal convictions but none for terrorism. He had used a number of aliases. At birth, he was registered in Dartford, Kent, as Adrian Elms, but later took his stepfathers name become Adrian Ajao in childhood. In the early 2000s, he was convicted of causing grievous bodily harm after slashing a man across the face with a knife in a pub.
The so-called Islamic State (IS) group has disclosed that it was behind the attack, stating that the attacker had been a soldier of the Islamic State.
This month, the new head of MI6 disclosed that the scale of the terrorism threat to the United Kingdom is “unprecedented.”
According to Alex Younger, UK intelligence and security services have disrupted twelve terrorist plots since June 2013, adding that many of the threats came from ungoverned spaces in the Middle East – namely Iraq and Syria. He further warned that “hybrid warfare,” which included cyber attacks and subverting democracy, was becoming an “increasingly dangerous phenomenon,” noting, “the risks at stake are profound and represent a fundamental threat to our sovereignty…They should be a concern to all those who share democratic values.”
In his first public speech since taking up the post of “C,” Mr Younger warned of the impact of Russia’s alliance with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad in casting all opponents of President Assad as terrorists. He disclosed, “I believe the Russian conduct in Syria – allied with that of Assad’s discredited regime – will, if they do not change course, provide a tragic example of the perils of forfeiting legitimacy.” He went on to say that “in defining as a terrorist anyone who opposes a brutal regime they alienate precisely that group that has to be onside if the extremists are to be defeated,” adding “we cannot be safe from the threats that emanate from that land unless the civil war is brought to an end.”
Speaking to journalists at MI6 headquarters in London, Mr Younger disclosed that the so-called Islamic State (IS) group had exploited the situation in Syria to fortify its stronghold in the region and to wage a war on the West, adding that IS had a “highly organized external attack planning structure” that was plotting attacks against the UK and its allies “without ever having to leave Syria.”
In describing the risks that MI6 agents face in the field, Mr Younger disclosed that “encountering terrorism, some of our agents operate in the most dangerous and hostile environments on earth,” adding, “they know that the result of being identified as an MI6 agent could be their death. But they do what they do because they believe in protecting their country – and religion – from the evil that Daesh (IS) and other terrorist organizations present.”
Since August 2014 the threat level for international terrorism in the UK has been severe, effectively meaning that an attack is highly likely. There are five threat levels – low, moderate, substantial, severe and critical – which are set up by the Joint Terrorism Analysis Centre.
On 26 September, French President Francois Hollande stated that France will completely shut down “the Jungle” migrant camp in Calais and called on London to help deal with the plight of thousands of people whose dream is ultimately to get to Britain.
Speaking during a visit to the northern port city, where as many as 10,000 migrants from war-torn countries like Afghanistan, Iraq and Syria live in squalor, President Hollande stated that “the situation is unacceptable and everyone here knows it,” adding, “we must dismantle the camp completely and definitively.” While France is planning to relocate the migrants in small groups across the country, right-wing opponents of the Socialist leader are raising the heat ahead of next year’s election, accusing the French leader of mismanaging a problem that is ultimately a British one.
While the migrants in Calais want to enter Britain, the UK government is arguing that migrants seeking asylum need to do so under European Union (EU) law in the country where they enter. Immigration was one of the main drivers of Britain’s vote in June to leave the EU, and it is likely that the issue will be a major factor in France’s presidential election next year. If France stopped trying to prevent migrants from entering Britain, Britain would ultimately find itself obliged to deal with the matter when asylum-seekers land on its shores a short distance by ferry or subsea train from France’s Calais coast. President Hollande reminded Britain of this, stating that he expects London to fully honour agreements on managing the flow of migrants. London and Paris have struck agreements on issues such as the recently begun construction of a giant wall on the approach road to Calais port in an attempt to try to stop migrants who attempt daily to board cargo trucks that are bound for Britain.
In response to Monday’s comments by the French leader, a British government spokesman stated that “what happens in the Jungle is ultimately a matter for the French authorities, what they choose to do with it.” The spokesman further disclosed that “our position is very clear: we remain committed to protecting the shared border that we have in Calais,” adding, ‘the work that we do with France to maintain the security of that border goes on and will go on, irrespective of what happens to the Jungle camp.”
Speaking at a meeting in London, Libya’s former Prime Minister Ali Zeidan issued an alarming message that Libya could become “the next crucible of global terrorism.” He strongly urged Libya’s allies to assist the country from falling into collapse. Zeidan stated, “Libya could be a base for al-Qaeda for any operation to Italy, to Britain, to France, to Spain, to Morocco, to everywhere. Weapons are everywhere, ammunition is everywhere.” Zeidan urged Britain to increase its support to help to train Libyan security forces and to assist with economic and political reforms.
Libya’s engagement in the Arab Spring of 2011 took the form of a civil war which ultimately saw the death of Dictator Muammar Gadhafi and the end of his regime. However, despite the end of autocratic rule, the nation has remained in turmoil. Weaponry looted from the regime, valued in the millions of dollars, remains prolific on the black market and in the hands of tribal militias and Islamic extremist groups. Factions have seized Libya’s oil assets and land in the eastern part of the nation, threatening to form an autonomous nation. The Libyan government had been reluctant to launch offensives against the militias and extremist groups for fear that those same groups would exploit the added chaos.
Zeidan’s warning is dire: Libya has become ungovernable, and requires a UN peacekeeping force to prevent al-Qaeda or inspired derivatives from gaining a stronghold in the region. The northern part of the nation extends into the Mediterranean Sea, making it a gateway for illegal immigrants or dangerous individuals to access Europe.
The former prime minister added that Libya’s General National Congress is no longer legitimate, and feels that and new elections should be held to bring in a new interim authority. However, he remains sympathetic to the role he left: “Do you think it is a privilege to be prime minister of Libya at this time? It is some kind of suffering. What it has cost me in terms of my nerves and my health over these 15 months, it was unbelievable.
Zeidan served as prime minister for 15 months, during which he was kidnapped and held by a rebel faction. In March, he was ousted from Libya’s parliament in a vote of no confidence following escalating chaos culminating the government’s inability to prevent rebels in the east from attempting to illegally export Libyan oil. Libya has the largest known oil reserves in Africa, approximately 47 billion barrels. Currently, several ports in the east are in the hands of rebel factions.
Zeidan has since fled to Germany, where he had lived previously while in opposition against Gadhafi. However he is preparing to return to Libya in the near future, with intentions to restore stability to his nation.
Simultaneously, the Libyan government has also called for help and declared a “War on Terror”. A statement released on 25 March by the Council of Ministers states, “Libya’s interim government asks the international community and especially the United Nations to provide assistance to uproot terrorism […] the government confirms that it wants this war on terror to start as soon as possible.”
The statement continues, “The nation is now confronting terrorist groups which requires making security and military resources available to fight such epidemic and bring peace and security to our cities […] the interim government asks the world community, especially the United Nations to provide the needed support in order to eradicate terrorism from Libyan cities.
The statement marks the first time in Libyan history that the government has called for outside help to fight terrorists on Libyan soil. The call for help comes after a wave of bombings and assassinations in Benghazi, Derna and Sirte. In Benghazi, killings or injuries through shooting or car bombs, have occurred on a near daily basis. Opposition to the declaration of war on terrorism has already emerged, particularly amongst Islamist supporters in the nation, who feel they will be targeted for their political leanings.
On 28 March, Tarek Mitri, Chief of the United Nations Support Mission in Libya (UNSMIL) visited Tunisia’s capital, Tunis, to officially request help. Mitri spoke with Tunisian President Moncef Marzouki and Ennahda Party head Rachid Ghannouchi. Reportedly, Mitri asked the Tunisian government, which is on the road to recovery following their 2010 uprising, to share experiences regarding democratic transition and national dialogue.
Echoing the distress, a video has been released of Saddi Gadhafi, son of the former dictator. Saadi, who fled to Niger during the revolution, was extradited to Libya earlier this year. He is accused of trying to suppress the uprising against his father’s rule.
In the video, he says, “I apologise to the Libyan people, and I apologise to the dear brothers in the Libyan government for all the harm I’ve caused and for disturbing the security and stability of Libya. I admit that these things were wrong, and we should not have perpetrated these acts.” He also called on “those who carry weapons to hand over their weapons”. Saadi’s brother, Saif al-Islam Gaddafi, remains in the hands of rebels in Zintan, where he was captured in November 2011.
There is no official word yet from the UK or the UN regarding support for action in Libya.