There is, according to The Times, some difference of opinion in government about the content of the Prime Minister’s Article 50 letter:
‘A government source said that two versions of the Article 50 letter were circulating among senior figures. Allies of the prime minister were examining whether to go beyond what she said in her speech at Lancaster House in January or whether to hold back those details for later. Downing Street said it did not recognise this account.’
It’s easy to see how the debate arises. Should the letter be a diplomatic tool in the negotiation process or a simple formality?
The Prime Minister should of course be polite and friendly when giving notification. But there seems very little to gain by trying to expand on her goals or motivations in the missive.
If she did, it would make little positive difference to the talks themselves. What will matter on that front is what happens in the negotiating room and on the prime ministerial hotlines between the EU’s capital cities. The initial letter is unlikely to hold much sway.
At the same time, a longer letter carries various political risks – not least because its two audiences have very different interests. Writing a letter which pleases the EU institutions and the British electorate at the same time would be very difficult – anything likely to give the former a warm feeling would be likely to rile a significant proportion of the latter, and vice versa.
The ever excellent Daily Mash is of course joking when it reports “May to send Article 50 letter strapped to a bulldog in a Spitfire”, but the awkward truth is that there’s a sector the electorate and of Fleet Street which would definitely cheer if she did. Equally, even simple expressions of hope that the EU will prosper after Brexit have already produced inexplicable negativity from the Labour Party, who have never seen a national interest they don’t want to undermine, and from the more hardcore end of the Eurosceptic spectrum, who still fear being sold out.
The conflicting interests and priorities of the British electorate and the Brussels establishment are one reason why we voted Leave. They also make the writing of this letter ever more precarious the longer it gets.
Why enter a minefield when you can walk round it? The letter should be short and clear, and not much more. Its sweetness to this Leaver’s eyes won’t be diminished for that.