10 Downing Street, Dear President Tusk

10 Downing Street, Dear President Tusk

Once more in the world, when something important needs to be done and to be signified publicly to have been done, then a letter is deemed necessary. An earlier blog discussed this in relation to some financially scandalous events in South Africa concerning the Gupta brothers in cahoots with President Zuma (see http://www.whiteswritingwhiteness.ed.ac.uk/blog/the-guptas-state-capture-and-an-oakbay-employees-letter/). Today’s blog concerns something of even greater significance because it will lead to substantial changes in what constitutes ‘Europe’. Yesterday British Prime Minister Theresa May sent a letter from 10 Downing Street addressed to ‘Dear President Tusk’ that formally constitutes the start of the Brexit process. The first and last pages of her six page letter are shown here and below.

The first page starts with the address the letter has been sent from, the highly resonant one of 10 Downing Street. In a way it is superfluous that it has also printed on it that it is from the Prime Minister, so synonymous is that address with that political position. It addresses Donald Tusk by his formal title. Even more significantly, it does so in Theresa May’s handwriting –  it is indubitably from her as Prime Minister to him as President. What than follows has a marked degree of formality and gravitas in its phrasing. From start to finish, each of its six pages spells out in some detail particular aspects of the Brexit process and also towards its end provides would-be reassuring messages about Britain remaining committed to a strong and independent Europe.

The closing page of the typescript letter finishes with Theresa May’s signature preceded by ‘yours sincerely’, which are handwritten in pen, as is her opening address to Donald Tusk on the first page. It is likely that the ink used for both will have been of the particular official kind that is absolutely indelible, the kind that is used when people in Britain sign registers of marriage and civil partnership. It is worth pausing here to note that this letter of intent is more final and absolute than signing up to marriage or partnership, which latter can be dissolved these days with a fair amount of ease. However, while they signify signing up to something in the positive sense, this is being done in the negative voice of ending a commitment

Perhaps the most unusual aspect of Theresa May’s Brexit letter is the sheer amount of detail that it contains, concerning specific aspects of the process that is unfolding. This is a very public letter and it has appeared in full in numerous places, including as a PDF that can be downloaded. Donald Tusk does not need to have any such details spelled out to him – this is what his officials are for and they will already know all of the information provided here. These details are presumably for the great unwashed public, including the very unwashed parts of it composed by journalists, who do need to be told what the details are going to be and to be given this detail in the form of words on the page, so that the veracity of statements of a ‘her letter says X or Y’ kind can be checked against this written text.

A long letter, a very full letter, an extremely consequential letter, and for some of us at least a depressing one. The business is done but it is not well done.

Last updated: 30 March 2017


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