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NINE MONTHS AFTER Britons voted to leave the European Union, Prime Minister Theresa May has started what could be a two-year divorce settlement.

At 12.30pm, she triggered Article 50 by delivering a letter (through her Brussels representative Tim Barrow) to European Council president Donald Tusk, formally starting the Brexit process.

TheJournal.ie had all the detail as it happened, including reactions from Ireland and around the world.

Good morning!

Today is the day. Well, kind of. Theresa May will trigger Article 50 this afternoon, meaning the UK will have 730 days to leave the EU.

Sinéad O’Carroll here to bring you through the morning. Please leave your comments below the line or tweet us at @thejournal_ie.

Here’s the basic plan for the day:

  • noon: Theresa May will take PMQs (the British version of our Leaders’ Questions). That one should be interesting, given the Labour leader’s own Brexit beliefs. How will he fire it up?
  • 12.30pm: May’s letter (which is in the hands of representative Tim Barlow) will be handed over to European Council president Donald Tusk.
  • 12.30pm: At the same time, the British PM will make a statement to MPs.

Read more about the process here, as explained by my colleague Gráinne Ní Aodha.

And here’s a reminder from Sky News that today’s triggering of Article 50 just *starts* the process, it doesn’t mean the UK leaves the EU right now.

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Are they going to keep that running across the screen for two years?

The Guardian’s front page is getting a lot of attention this morning.

But it hasn’t been a positive reaction on this side of the Irish Sea.

As DailyEdge.ie says, ‘The Guardian made a hames of Ireland on its Brexit front page this morning‘. David Elkin writes:

“… [The is] one small problem: they’ve taken a hefty chunk of Ireland out of the jigsaw, and a little bit of France too.”

PastedImage-61863 Source: The Guardian

“Ah lads, you can’t be taking Donegal, Leitrim, Cavan, Dundalk and even a bit of Wicklow with you on this jaunt out of the EU,” he continues.

Last night, Scotland’s parliament backed Nicola Sturgeon’s wish to ask for another referendum on independence.

The vote passed 69 to 59 and now the Scottish First Minister will have to make a form request to gain approval from the British government and parliament in London. May has already said that ‘now is not the time’. An interesting game of politics between the two leaders awaits.

For now, Sturgeon isn’t pulling any punches.

A little hyperbolic from Ryanair, perhaps…

A press release from the airline this morning has warned that the UK ‘could be left with no flights to or from Europe from March 2019′.

It explains:

Ryanair called on the UK Government to put aviation at the forefront of its negotiations with the EU and provide a coherent post-Brexit plan, or risk leaving the UK without any flights to/from Europe for a period from March 2019, when it exits the EU.

With the UK set to leave Europe’s “Open Skies” system, the UK Government will either have to negotiate a bilateral agreement with the EU to allow flights to/from Europe to continue, or else revert to historical WTO rules, which do not cover aviation, thereby raising the distinct possibility of no flights between Europe and the UK for a period from March 2019 in the absence of a bilateral deal.

The main point being made, however, is similar across most industries – they don’t know how Brexit will impact them. And nothing in the past nine months – since the referendum – has enlightened them.

Journalists in Brussels are tasked this morning with following Sir Tim Barrow (or as The Guardian’s correspondent Jennifer Rankin refers to him as, ‘Chief Brexit Postman’) around.

He has been asked to hand deliver Theresa May’s letter to European Council president Donald Tusk at 12.30pm.

No journalist has been given access to the letter yet.

With so many ‘unknowns’ about Brexit, it’s easy to forget that there were huge celebrations among Leave supporters last June.

This was from our liveblog at 12.20am when Sunderland voted out by a massive 61.3% to 38.7%.

celebrations Source: Sky News

It’s an interesting read to look back on how that dramatic night unfolded. We went from on-the-day polls predicting a 52% remain win to Nigel Farage (almost conceding) to a Leave victory within hours.

At 1.43am, we posted the following:

If anyone out there is imbibing, it would be a BAD idea to drink every time you hear someone say ‘hard to call’, ‘too close to call’ or ‘difficult to predict’ tonight.

img2.thejournal.ie

What’s the business perspective on today?

Davy commentator David McNamara writes:

Triggering Article 50 starts the clock on two-year divorce proceedings with both sides still far apart on issues such as the UK’s final contributions to the EU budget, trade and immigration.

The risk remains that complex negotiations are not concluded within the tight timeframe and the UK reverts to WTO rules outside the EU in March 2019. This worst case scenario can be avoided by extending the negotiating period or agreeing a transitional trade deal, but that would require the assent of all 27 remaining nations.

 In the coming weeks, the EU will release its guidelines for Brexit, endorsed by all the other EU member states, and will set out its public negotiating position. Following the release of this document, negotiations are expected to begin in earnest by May or June.

Does Britain regret Brexit?

If you speak to anyone in London, they’ll say ‘Yes’ but it’s not what the polls are showing.

YouGov today says there is “little sign of any Bregret” (their words, not ours).

“There is a media appetite for a narrative of the public changing their mind and some newspaper stories based on open-access voodoo polls or cherry-picking individual polls, but the broad picture is consistent: the vast majority of people still think the way they voted in June 2016 was correct,” writes Anthony Wells, director in the political and social research team in the YouGov London office.

PastedImage-35416

He sums it up:

Once likelihood to vote is factored in, this suggests that if there was a second referendum tomorrow the result would probably be much the same as it was last year.

And, what’s more, Brexit voters also want more countries to follow them out of the EU.

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Theresa May has stood up in parliament. First up, she makes a statement on the terror attack in London last week.

She will now take Prime Minister Questions before making a statement on triggering Article 50.

The first question is on Northern Ireland and the prospect of a border poll…

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She says that her preference is that Northern Ireland should remain a part of the United Kingdom.

It’s just the normal, run-of-the-mill questions now (similar to what we see at Leaders’ Questions, just with more ‘Right Honourable Gentlemen/Members/Friends’).

May will make her Commons Statement straight after – at 12.30pm.

We’ll go back to find out more about what YouGov has been asking Leave and Remain voters. As you can see from this tweet, there is a greater appetite among Leave supporters for the death penalty, the return of dark blue passports, corporal punishment in schools and selling goods in pounds and ounces.

Few scenes at PMQs… chair has to tell members to stop heckling, with particular reference to one Scottish lawyer-turned-MP, telling him he’d be ‘chucked out’ of court in Scotland.

May urges all politicians from Scotland, England, Wales and Northern Ireland to come together to ensure the best deal possible for Britain.

They’ve all calmed down again now, and are back to talking about education.

IT’S OFFICIAL!

They’re out: The UK has officially triggered Article 50 to leave the EU

Theresa May has triggered Article 50 as her letter reaches European Council president Donald Tusk.

And now May stands to make her statement…

Prime Minister's Questions Source: Nick Ansell/PA Wire

“The Article 50 process is now underway and according to the will of the people, Great Britain will leave the European Union,” she begins, adding, “there can be no turning back.”

And again, for emphasis:

Britain is leaving the European Union… We are going to make our own decisions… our own laws…

“I choose to believe in Britain and the best days lie ahead.”

There is some hoopla in the house when May claims that “now more than ever, the world needs the liberal democratic values of Europe”.

She explains that Britain is leaving the institutions of the European Union – and not Europe.

“We are not leaving Europe, we will remain a close friend an ally, a committed partner…,” she continues. “We will do all that we can to help the EU prosper and succeed.”

Of the letter to Tusk, she says she repeated these sentiments to show him that the “deep and special partnership” the UK seeks is “in the best interest” of both parties.

She promised him that her government would “work constructively and in the spirit of sincere cooperation to bring that partnership into being”.

IRELAND KLAXON!

May says that there will be no return to hard borders between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Her statement continues in the same vein of what we’ve heard before. Lots of hopes and wishes – but nothing to tell us how this will happen, or if any of it is even possible.

Donald Tusk – the European Council president – has said today is not a happy day for Europe or London.

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“There is nothing to win in this process,” he says at a press conference. “And I am talking about both sides. This is about damage control.

Our goal is clear… to minimise the costs for EU citizens, businesses and member states. We will do everything in our power and we have all the tools to achieve this goal.

An official statement from the European Council says that key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal will be made.

The Irish government has issued its response to the triggering of Article 50.

It repeats concerns about the border and the Good Friday Agreement and notes that these issues “have been acknowledged by Prime Minister May in her letter.”

The response also repeats the government’s “regret” over the Brexit decision.

Although we regret the UK’s decision to leave the EU, it has been clear since the referendum last June that the British Government would follow this path.

PastedImage-97583 Source: Sky News

Nigel Farage warned Sky News that he ‘might be in the pub’ when Article 50 was triggered. – and that’s exactly where they found him. Hmmm…

He is obviously quite delighted.

The British press seems determined to lob Donegal off with Northern Ireland as they drag it through a Brexit. (See The Guardian earlier)

Here’s one from The Telegraph’s political correspondent:

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Our reporter on the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland Paul Hosford has this interesting tidbit this afternoon.

A butcher in Strabane just said to me “well nobody knows what’s happening so you probably should have stayed in Dublin”.

That’s Sinéad O’Carroll signing off for today. Cliodhna Russell will be here for the rest of the afternoon to bring you more reaction and live updates.

Hi, Cliódhna Russell taking over the the liveblog here. Please leave your comments below the line or tweet us at @thejournal_ie.

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, who was hand-delivered the letter which formally launched the process said this was not a happy day for him.

What can I add to this? We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.

The letter made specific reference to relations with Ireland and the peace process, arguing that Brexit must not “harm the Republic of Ireland”.

The section in the letter about Ireland read:

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.

Meanwhile, Scotland’s First Minister said the triggering of Article 50 “represents a leap in the dark” by May.

It comes after Scotland’s parliament backed Sturgeon’s wish to ask for another referendum on independence last night.

The Scottish First Minister will now have to get approval from the British government and parliament in London.

It also appears that the British Prime Minister may not be get her wish on how talks with the EU are held.

May has called for talks on Britain’s exit and on future trade ties to be worked out “alongside” each other.

However, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel has rejected that call.

Michael Noonan has had a telephone call with the Chancellor of the Exchequer of the United Kingdom, Philip Hammond.

Following the call Noonan said, “Chancellor Hammond and I had constructive discussion on the priorities in the forthcoming negotiations.

I reminded Chancellor Hammond that Ireland remains fully committed to our membership of the EU and we will be negotiating as part of the EU 27 in the negotiations ahead.

“We have strong relations with the EU and the UK and we are intent on maintaining both. We are very much in favour of the UK maintaining as close a relationship as they can with the European Union after the UK has left the union.”

This echoed the sentiment of the Minister of Foreign Affairs Charlie Flanagan who has said that Ireland is firmly on Team EU and will not be a proxy for the UK in Brexit talks.

1408 Brexit Exit_90507139 Source: Leah Farrell

DUP MP Nigel Dodds has thanked the Prime Minister for her leadership on an historic day for the United Kingdom.

I thank the Prime Minister Theresa May for her unwavering leadership in charting the United Kingdom so far through the Brexit process. She continues to rightly emphasis her determination to deliver for all the constituent parts of the United Kingdom, despite the moans from others who have sought to undermine the EU referendum result and reverse the United Kingdom’s exit from the EU.

We joined the European Union as a nation and we will leave together.

Source: Democratic Unionist Party/YouTube

Meat Industry Ireland (MII), the Ibec group representing the sector, has raised concerns about business certainty.

Cormac Healy, Director of MII said, “56% of our meat exports accounting for in excess of €2 billion annually are sold into the UK market. A positive outcome to negotiations is crucial.

“A hard Brexit will result in massive trade disruption and job losses whereas a sensible outcome, aimed at maintaining trading continuity, will be beneficial to both Ireland and the UK.

“Amongst our EU-27 partners, we are uniquely exposed on agri-food trade with the UK. This must be prioritised by Government.”

Our business site Fora is reporting a major dip in the number of British visitors to Ireland following the pound’s post-Brexit drop.

New figures from the Central Statistics Office (CSO) show a 6% decline in the number of British people travelling to Ireland between December 2016 and February 2017 when compared to the same period a year earlier.

That means there were nearly 50,000 fewer visitors coming into the country from England, Scotland and Wales – Ireland’s largest overseas tourism market – for the three months.

A reporter from the scene of the Sunderland protest described how a man wearing a Leave badge said today was ‘the happiest day of his life’ while walking past the protest.

In a statement the Minister for Foreign Affairs and Trade Charlie Flanagan said, “My key message today is: Ireland is ready for the negotiations.

This is the beginning of a long and complex set of negotiations. The UK does not leave the EU today – it only begins the process of leaving, they have every EU obligation and right until they do leave.

“In the meantime, nothing will change, including the UK’s obligations towards the citizens and businesses of other Member States.

1414 Brexit Exit_90507138 Source: Leah Farrell via RollingNews.ie

“I note that in the letter delivered today, Prime Minister May made specific reference to the unique and special relationship between the UK and Ireland, and to respecting and protecting the Peace Process – and the necessity to preserve and continue that. This is welcome, and I also think that this is a point that our UK partners are well aware of from our perspective as a continuing member.”

Anti-Brexit campaigners have marched on Stormont.

It’s being reported that around 300 people turned out to voice concerns about a hard border returning to the North.

Some protesters erected mock customs checkpoints as part of the demonstration.

The Taoiseach has highlighted studies that show Ireland will be the country most affected by Brexit.

Speaking to RTÉ News at the European People’s Party conference in Malta, Enda Kenny was asked about what kind of border we would see post Brexit.

The Taoiseach said the solution would not be driven by technology but represented a political challenge requiring creativity. He said the best minds in Ireland and the UK would have to deal with the issue in an imaginative way.

Kenny added that Theresa’s May letter triggering Article 50 reflected the discussions he had with her about Irish priorities.

The former UKIP leader Nigel Farage told 3News anchor Collette Fitzpatrick that many countries will now ask, “What is the European Union for in the 21st century?”

When asked to speak directly to the people of Ireland, Farage said:

My message to Enda Kenny is pointless, because he takes a very different view to me. My message to the Irish people is watch this Brexit process and think about your own futures.

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