Theresa May’s Article 50 letter will be handed to the EU boss Donald Tusk today, marking the start of a battle to secure new trade deals for Britain.
But it’s not the first time an English leader has had to totally rethink business abroad after the delivery of a simple piece of paper.
Elizabeth I was kicked out of Tudor Europe’s trading club in 1570 after being excommunicated by the Pope – in a document nailed to a door at Old St Paul’s Cathedral.
The queen was shunned by rulers in the Holy Roman Empire but it freed her to send English merchants to secure deals in the Muslim world…
Q: What is happening today?
A: At around lunchtime the UK will hand a letter to the EU formally announcing we are triggering article 50 and pulling out. Brexit will be under way.
Q: What is Article 50?
A: It’s the section of the Lisbon Treaty, signed by all EU nations in 2009, setting out rules for leaving the union. Any country wishing to pull out must follow the Article 50 process.
Q: So how does it work?
A: A country must first notify the EU President of its decision to go. The rules then give the departing country two years to negotiate a new deal with Europe before it leaves.
Q: How will Article 50 be triggered?
A: Theresa May’s new Ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, will hand-deliver her letter to EU President Donald Tusk at his office in Brussels, notifying him of our departure.
Q: What happens next?
A: Britain has two years to negotiate new arrangements with Brussels on trade, immigration, shared security, rights of expats abroad and a host of other issues.
Q: Who will lead these negotiations?
A: Britain’s negotiating team will be led by Brexit Secretary David Davis. The EU team will be led by French diplomat Michel Barnier. But pulling the strings behind them will be Theresa May for the UK and Donald Tusk for the EU.
Q: Can a deal be done in two years?
A: Probably not. Especially as many experts believe the negotiations will not properly get going until Germany – Europe’s most powerful country – has held its national elections this autumn. Many believe a transitional deal will have to be agreed to extend the talks into the 2020s.
Q: So when will we leave the EU?
A: The UK will officially leave the EU in March 2019 as planned. But our complex relationship may continue for some years.