Westminster View

So, a six-page letter to change the course of British history has been delivered to Brussels and now the real negotiations to leave the EU have started.

To call it momentous is probably about right. Is it more important a document than Magna Carta in 1215 or the 1689 Bill of Rights laying down the principle of parliamentary supremacy in Britain? I doubt it, but it will certainly be mentioned in the history books.

However, whatever the view of the historical importance, right now it means a period of intense negotiation that will be difficult, but certainly not impossible, and I have every faith the Prime Minister can get a deal for the UK.

In her letter, Theresa May set out sensible and achievable goals for our leaving the EU. Europe is hurt by Brexit on an emotional level and I understand that but, as the PM said, the referendum decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Calm heads in many EU countries see this and they will focus, as we are, on the practical elements of our withdrawal.

There has been some sabre rattling since the letter’s delivery from many uninformed sides, but at the negotiating table I suspect things will be very different and they will be certainly respectful. The UK has made it clear it wants a deep and special partnership with the EU in trade, security and in common values. We want to be its closest friend and a good neighbour. These principles are in everyone’s interests, they form our guiding light in the talks and they are anathema to no-one.

So, compromise will be the key to these discussions and the Government understands it cannot ‘cherry pick’ and there will be consequences to leaving the EU, especially as we do not seek membership of the single market.

The UK has also made it clear the interests of EU and UK citizens living in each other's countries will be at the heart of the talks and we want to strike an early deal about their rights. Nearly everyone has friends and neighbours from the EU and this is a very important part of these complex negotiations.

Another key area is to minimise disruption to business, citizens and investment and so seeking an implementation period to allow an orderly change is something that, again, will suit everyone.

No-one is underestimating the challenges all this and many other topics comprising Brexit will offer to both sides and there will be disagreements. The deal will be complex, its ratification by the remaining 27 member states and the European Parliament possibly protracted and it must be done by 29 March 2019.

There remains opposition in what has been a divisive subject for many years, but the clock is now ticking. For those who voted to remain, like I did, I would say this: now is the time to come together and support the Government in getting the best deal because there is simply no going back.