The UK will have left the EU within two years of yesterday, if Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 sticks to the supposedly fixed timetable.
This is an exciting moment for Britain, but also an uncertain one for it and for continental Europe. It is a time for national confidence but not triumphalism. The EU is in peril and some people will be pleased by that fact, but more people will be sad to see a grand postwar dream fade.
The reasons for the malaise are many, including an over expansion of the EU, albeit for laudable motives. The more unwieldy the EU became, the harder it was to keep it intact.
And so the UK made a difficult but appropriate step in June. Britain had been half in and half out of the EU, wanting all the benefits but wanting also to be at a remove. That was always going to end in difficulty.
The eurozone needs to forge ahead at a different pace if the single currency is to survive, so the UK was destined to have a fraught relationship with that inner core so long as it stayed in the EU but out of the euro.
The public demand that we secure our borders was one that is being echoed in almost all EU countries at a time of huge population movement. By nature of being islands, Britain and Ireland have a particular advantage in doing so – something the Republic accepted by staying out of Schengen.
In the nine months since the referendum, the UK economy has not suffered the early shocks that were predicted, which is a promising start.
From a unionist perspective, the big arguments against Brexit were the threat to the UK itself, via inflamed nationalist feeling in Scotland and here, and the problems that arise from the Irish border becoming an EU frontier.
Theresa May has set the template for responding to these by both being robust in supporting Brexit across the UK and resisting nationalist bullying (including her welcome comments yesterday on not being neutral on NI’s place in the Union), but also talking sensitively about the concerns on the edges of the UK.
There is an almost universal desire to minimise disruption at the border, and with such determination it ought to be achievable.