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When relationships break down it can be comforting to pretend that those involved simply decided to call it a day – jointly, and in the best interests of both. But the painful truth is that, almost inevitably, one party has chosen to leave in search of a better, happier future elsewhere, and the other feels abandoned, embittered. Those doing the leaving might offer words of comfort, or promises to stay in touch. Between bouts of tears, those on the receiving end may spit poisonous oaths and vows of retribution.

So it seemed, did the marital drama of the EU and UK play out on Wednesday. After more than four decades of union – some years happy, but others turbulent, punctuated by major fights and, recently, characterised by fatal disenchantment – Britain finally made good on its threats to pack its bags and leave. To many in the EU (and no doubt some diehards in Britain) this was an astonishing development. Even in recent weeks, we know, some on the Continent were certain Brexit would never happen. “She says she’ll go,” they said dismissively of Theresa May, “but she’ll never actually do it.”

Now she has. And with the delivery of the letter triggering Article 50 to Donald Tusk, the realisation has unequivocally dawned in Europe that Britannia really is off. For good. Cue Mr Tusk’s sadness. “We already miss you,” he said. Well, the EU might have thought about that when it offered David Cameron such derisory renegotiation terms in the months before last June’s referendum.

To cite Churchill after El Alamein, this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning. And at this early stage in negotiations it is entirely right that the Prime Minister set out her ambitions with the utmost respect and cordiality. But as talks continue, she may need to demonstrate steel, bellicosity even, to ensure that this country gets the best deal it possibly can. For the EU and Great Britain both have interests to defend, constituencies to appease. Looked at in this light, it is little wonder that the EU has struck a very different pose to the UK. Just as Downing Street must demand everything at the outset in order still to be seen to achieve a good deal after concessions, so Brussels must offer nothing now in order for its inevitable compromises not to be seen ultimately as a sell-out to perfidious Albion.

As with the carefully choreographed delivery of that letter to Donald Tusk, much of what is happening now – on both sides – is stage-managed for public consumption. Soon, however, the hard work will be put in behind closed doors. And then we must be ready, if not keen, to take the gloves off.