PRIME Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50 to formally begin Brexit.
Ahead lies two years of negotiating with humbled EU mandarins before new trade agreements can be created with countries across the globe.
The 27 other European Union states, however, will have a huge influence on the UK’s eventual exit deal, instructing chief negotiator Michel Barnier as to their priorities.
These friends and enemies will ultimately help decide whether Brexit is hard, soft or somewhere in between.
Several countries want to punish Britain for daring to leave the bloc, with French National Front leader Marine Le Pen warning yesterday these countries will make the process “as painful as possible”.
Angela Merkel said Britain would not be able to “cherry pick” during the exit deal
Germany has stated repeatedly it will not stand for any “cherry-picking”, arguing Britain will have no access to EU benefits without agreeing to freedom of movement.
Angela Merkel said earlier this year: “If it turns out to be possible to get full access to the single market, if you can pick certain things, then the single market as such will be very quickly at risk … because every country will want to cherry-pick.”
The Republic of Ireland, too, will put its own national priorities up against a hard Brexit, especially with regards to the border with Northern Ireland.
While Theresa May has repeatedly stated there will be no return to the hard, physical borders of the past, it appears unlikely she will allow a completely open, check-free land border between the EU and the UK.
The Netherlands, meanwhile, warned Britain needed to be “brought back down to earth”. Prime Minister Mark Rutte said Mrs May’s current aims were “Alice in Wonderland… totally unrealistic”.
He said: “We are saying this as a friend. They are totally not prepared… They don’t have the people to negotiate trade deals. So they are underestimating the situation… They need to be brought back down to earth.”
States with large migrant populations in the UK, such as Poland, Lithuania and Ireland, will also heavily prioritise the rights of their citizens in Britain after Brexit.
Many other trading partners, such as Belgium and Denmark, will also push strongly for the UK to remain in the single market.
These issues will all need to be ironed out over the next two years before the UK finally leaves the EU, expected in March 2019.