For some, today marks the glorious culmination of a long-held dream that the UK would one day slip the surly bonds of Brussels and rediscover life as a sovereign nation.
For others, it serves as the final nail in the coffin following the electorate’s disastrous and destructive decision to reject the European Union. For most people, sentiment lies somewhere between these two extremes. Whatever your view, the triggering of Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is a moment of huge political significance. As our front page today makes clear, it’s been a long time coming.
Former Prime Minister David Cameron announced he would offer an In/Out referendum way back in 2013, subsequently telling officials in Brussels “I can win this.” He was wrong.
Within weeks of last year’s June referendum, he was gone and his successor, Theresa May, has steered the country towards today’s pivotal moment with admirable determination.
She and her chancellor backed the Remain campaign, and it was right to hand the gritty work of delivering Brexit to those who campaigned for it. Of this crop, it is David Davis who has emerged as the master of his brief.
Over the last few months, the government has rolled with the punches delivered by Remain campaigners at the Supreme Court and has marshalled the support of parliament, albeit grudging in places. When it triggers Article 50 today, it will do so with the authority of a single piece of fresh legislation, passed by peers and MPs. And so the hard work begins.
The EU has been remarkably disciplined in keeping its silence until the Article 50 letter is served, saying only that “there can be no negotiation without notification”. They will now start to set out their own red lines.
Away from Brussels, there have been encouraging noises from member states – particularly Germany – indicating a desire for a mutually beneficial free-trade arrangement. Diplomats doubt the UK can negotiate its exit (and its new deal) within the two year timeframe, but the government is in a strong position to make progress and score some early wins.
The EU won’t make life easy, but nor can it afford to punish us. There is a prize on offer here that is worth pursuing, and today the PM starts to fight for it.