Nine months after Brits voted to leave the European Union, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday fired the Brexit starting gun, triggering Article 50 and officially starting the divorce proceedings.
While May struck an optimistic tone about the future negotiations, it was a more gloomy message that came out of Brussels. Holding the six-page Brexit notification letter in his hands, a visibly emotional European Council President Donald Tusk stated there is “no reason to pretend that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels, nor in London.”
The Polish politician also said:
‘After all, most Europeans, including almost half the British voters wish that we would stay together, not drift apart. As for me I will not pretend that I am happy today. … What can I add to this? We already miss you.’
In her letter that starts the U.K.’s two-year exit process, May stressed — seven times, to be exact — that Britain still wants a “deep and special partnership” with the trade bloc, even after the last goodbye.
See: The U.K. letter triggering the start of the Brexit process, in full
“We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe — and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent,” May said in the letter.
However, for now it looks like her friends are circling the wagons. Finding a silver living, Tusk said that “paradoxically” something positive has come out of Brexit.
“Brexit has made us, the community of 27, more determined and more united than before,” he said.
After the U.K. closes the door on the EU, there will be 27 members left in the union.
“This means that both I and the Commission have a strong mandate to protect the interests of the 27. There is nothing to win in this process, and I am talking about both sides,” Tusk said. “In essence, this is about damage control. Our goal is clear: to minimize the costs for the EU citizens, businesses and member states.”
Read: Here’s what happens now that the U.K. has triggered Article 50
Also read: Three ways today’s triggering of Brexit will change Britain and Europe
This stands in stark contrast to the message May was trying to get across back in the U.K. parliament. Talking to the House of Commons after Article 50 was invoked, the prime minister reiterated that leaving the EU presents a “unique opportunity” to “build a stronger, fairer, better Britain — a Britain our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.”
The two sides — differing in what they are hoping to achieve in the upcoming Brexit talks — now have two years to reach an agreement on their future relationship. Key issues include trade, rights of EU nationals living in the U.K. and vice versa, the so-called Brexit bill (who owes what to whom), and security. Tusk said he will share a proposal for the negotiating mandate with the member states on Friday.