ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow, left, delivers the formal notice of
the UK's intention to leave the bloc to European Council President
Donald Tusk in Brussels. Photo: AFP
one of the most significant steps by a British leader since WWII, Mrs
May notified EU Council President Donald Tusk in a hand-delivered
letter that Britain would quit the club it joined in 1973.
United Kingdom is leaving the European Union," Mrs May told
is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back."
months after Britain shocked world leaders by unexpectedly voting to
quit the bloc, the prime minister now has two years to negotiate the
terms of the divorce before it comes into effect in late March 2019.
is faced with the task of holding Britain together in the face of
renewed Scottish independence demands, while conducting arduous talks
with 27 other EU states on finance, trade, security and other complex
outcome of the negotiations will shape the future of Britain's
economy, the world's fifth biggest, and determine whether London can
keep its place as one of the top two global financial centres.
the EU, already reeling from successive crises over debt and
refugees, the loss of Britain is the biggest blow yet to 60 years of
efforts to forge European unity in the wake of two world wars.
leaders say they do not want to punish Britain. But with nationalist,
anti-EU parties on the rise across Europe, they cannot afford to give
London generous terms that might encourage other member states to
May's notice of the UK's intention to leave the bloc under Article 50
of the EU's Lisbon Treaty was hand-delivered to Tusk in Brussels by
Tim Barrow, Britain's permanent representative to the EU, on the top
floor of the new Europa Building in Brussels.
moment formally set the clock ticking on Britain's two-year exit
process. Sterling, which has lost 25 cents against the dollar since
the June 23 referendum, jumped to $US1.25.
May signed the
6-page Brexit letter on Tuesday night, pictured alone at the cabinet
table beneath a clock, a British flag and an oil-painting of
Britain's first prime minister, Robert Walpole.
letter sought to set a positive tone for the talks though it admitted
that the task of extracting the UK from the EU was momentous and that
reaching comprehensive agreements within two years would be a
prime minister wants to negotiate Britain's divorce and the future
trading relationship with the EU within the two-year period, though
EU officials say that will be hard given the depth of the
believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership
alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU," Mrs May told
Tusk in her letter, adding that London wanted an ambitious free trade
agreement with the EU.
however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default
position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation
terms," she said.
May signs the six-page Brexit letter on Tuesday. Photo: AFP
/ Julien Mattia / NurPhoto
already miss you'
May has promised to seek the greatest possible access to European
markets but said Britain was not seeking membership of the 'single
market' of 500 million people as she understood there could be no
"cherry picking" of a free trade area based on unfettered
movement of goods, services, capital and people.
will aim to establish its own free trade deals with countries beyond
Europe, and impose limits on immigration from the continent, May has
Tusk said the EU would seek to minimise the cost of Brexit to EU
citizens and businesses and that Brussels wanted an orderly
withdrawal for Britain.
already miss you," said Mr Tusk who will send the 27 other
states draft negotiating guidelines within 48 hours. "Thank you
will strive in Brexit negotiations to make sure there is as little
disruption as possible to the lives of European Union citizens living
in Britain, Chancellor Angela Merkel said.
that she hoped Britain and the EU would remain close partners, Mrs
Merkel said the prospect of Brexit made many people in Europe worried
about their own personal future.
is the case especially for the many Germans and European citizens in
Britain. Therefore, the German government will work intensively to
make sure the effect on the everyday lives of those people is as
small as possible," she said.
newspapers' front pages on the formal triggering of
Brexit. Photo: AFP
recent months, German officials have made clear that they do not
believe there is time to negotiate a bespoke transitional agreement
for Britain that would come into force immediately after Brexit.
huge number of questions remain, including whether exporters will
keep tariff-free access to the single market and whether
British-based banks will still be able to serve continental clients,
not to mention immigration and the future rights of EU citizens in
the UK and Britons living in Europe.
home, a divided Britain faces strains that could lead to its
break-up. In the Brexit referendum, England and Wales voted to leave
the EU but Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
nationalists have demanded an independence referendum that May has
refused. In Northern Ireland, rival parties are embroiled in a major
political crisis and Sinn Fein nationalists are demanding a vote on
leaving the UK and uniting with the Republic of Ireland.