It was a historic day in British history on Wednesday as UK Prime Minster Theresa May formally started the process of the country’s exit from the European Union. Media coverage was wall-to-wall throughout the UK this morning as May signed the letter that gives the EU official notice of Britain’s intention to leave under Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. The letter will be delivered to European Council President Donald Tusk later in the day.
The move comes nine months after Britain voted to leave the EU in a historic 51.9% to 48.2% vote on June 23, 2016 and triggering this formal process means that Britain will now have just two years to negotiate Brexit terms and establish trade agreements. Today’s formality comes after series of bumps in the road for May’s Conservative government: In January, Britain’s Supreme Court ruled that Parliament had to be given power to decide whether the country could begin its two-year EU exit-strategy. While this excited the anti-Brexit camps, May and her party received backing in time for the government’s March 31 deadline.
Protestors continued to stand outside of Parliament on Wednesday and UK media outlets featured blanketed coverage of the landmark event throughout the morning. Even #BrexitDay was trending on Twitter in the UK. Left-leaning paper The Guardian led with a quote from UK Chancellor of the Exchequer (equivalent to Secretary of the Treasury) Philip Hammond saying, “We can’t have our cake and eat it.” The paper’s site featured a live-blog of events throughout the morning.
Right-wing paper The Telegraph led with “Historic Article 50 letter to be delievered at secret time and location amid fears of sabotage by Remainers” while columnist Philip Johnston said “The phoney Brexit is over. Theresa May now faces Britain’s greatest challenges since WWII.” Meanwhile, the Financial Times was more hopeful with its headline: “May signs historic Brexit letter and opens way for compromise.”
Brit tabloid The Daily Mail splashed the headline “Freedom!” across its front page while its website followed UK envoy Tim Barrow, as he arrived at the European Council’s office to deliver May’s letter. It said: “It’s E-Day. Britain’s man in Brussels arrives at EU headquarters for the historic moment when Article 50 is FINALLY triggered – as May gathers her Cabinet to begin preparing for a future outside the EU.” Rupert Murdoch-owned tabloid The Sun beamed a message on the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, part of the southern English coastline that faces France, saying “Dover & Out,” which it featured on its cover.
UK news channels featured wall-to-wall coverage of Brexit Day, with Sky News, BBC News and EuroNews all focused on the story.
And it wasn’t just the Brits that weighted in heavy on the day’s events: European news outlets were awash with messages for the UK. German paper Die Welt said “Dear Brits, the door is still open” and Die Welt Kompakt simply said “Farewell,” featuring a picture of May floating in a paper Union Jack boat along the English Channel. Spain’s economic and business paper Expansión said it believed that it would be a “difficult” Brexit.
France’s Libération printed the words “Vous Nous Manquez Deja!,” or “We already miss you!” across the hat of a Queens Guard. Le Figaro, meanwhile, featured the Brexit procedure farther down its site.
May is set to deliver a speech to Members of Parliament later on Wednesday, urging the country to unite. She is expected to promise to “represent every person in the whole United Kingdom” during the negotations, including the EU nationals who currently reside in the country and whose status has yet to be confirmed.
“It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country,” she will say. “For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can – and must – bring us together.”
Mid-morning trading saw the British pound slip around 0.3% at $1.2415 after reaching a seven-week high on Tuesday at $1.26. Earlier in the day, the pound fell below $1.24.