Forty-four years after joining the European Economic Community, the forerunner of the modern day EU, Britain has triggered Article 50 to begin formal divorce talks with the bloc.
Appearing at the House of Commons despatch box for the regular weekly session of Prime Minister’s Questions (PMQs), Prime Minister Theresa May made a statement to MPs confirming the start of the two-year extraction process.
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At the same time, British ambassador to Brussels Tim Barrow delivered a letter signed by the PM to the European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels. Once it was accepted, Article 50 was officially triggered.
Speaking to MPs, May said: “The article 50 process is now underway … the UK is leaving the EU.
“This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the EU. We are going to make our own decisions, our own laws.”
“Our best days lie ahead. I am confident we have the vision and the plan to build a better Britain.”
May says the UK will not try to “cherry pick” in Brexit talks, and wants “smooth” and “orderly” negotiations.
She confirms the rights of the 3 million EU nationals in Britain will be an early priority in negotiations.
May has conceded there will be “consequences” to leaving, but it is in the interests of both the UK and the EU that there is as little disruption as possible.
“I want the UK to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer, more united and outward looking than ever before.”
Labor leader Jeremy Corbyn has condemned the “reckless and damaging” direction of Brexit, responding to May’s statement in the House of Commons.
He has vowed that Labor will not give the government a “free hand” – to jeers from MPs, because he demanded they vote for Article 50.
Corbyn went on to say Britain must not become a “tax dodgers’ paradise” or a “low wage tax haven.”
He says Labor will use “every parliamentary opportunity to ensure this government is held to account at every stage.”
Tusk spoke to the media following the triggering of Article 50.
“There is no reason to pretend that this is a happy day – neither in Brussels nor in London. Afterall, most Europeans including almost half the British voters wish that we would stay together, not drift apart. For me, I will not pretend that I am happy today,” he said.
“But paradoxically there is also something positive in Brexit. Brexit has made us, the community of 27, more determined and more united than before. I am fully confident at this.”
He has stressed that “for now, nothing has changed. Until the UK leaves the EU, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK.” This was possibly in reply to earlier attempts by London – now abandoned – to stop EU citizens from moving to the UK in the two years before Brexit.
He added it is now about damage control. “Our goal is clear – to minimize cost for EU citizens, businesses and member states. We will do everything in our power, and have all the tools to achieve this goal.”
Tusk says negotiations will begin for an “orderly withdrawal.” He says on Friday he will share a proposal of guidelines to the 27 member states to be adopted by the EU council on April 29.
He ended his press conference by telling Britain: “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”
After Article 50 is triggered, there are two years to complete negotiations.