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Anxiety, elation as PM May begins Brexit process

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said he “couldn’t be happier” that the Brexit process was underway, while pro-EU quarters insisted it was a “leap in the dark”.

world Updated: Mar 30, 2017 13:17 IST
Prasun Sonwalkar
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.
British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street for the Houses of Parliament on Wednesday.(AFP)

Britain on Wednesday began the historic process of leaving the European Union, to which it was tethered for over four decades that enriched the country’s economy and other areas, but also generated much ennui over Brussels taking over ever more sovereign powers.

There was a mix of uncertainty and elation – The Guardian called it a “step into the unknown” – as the United Kingdom’s permanent representative in Brussels, Tim Barrow, handed over a letter signed by Prime Minister Theresa May to European Council president Donald Tusk.

The letter invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty that sets out the two-year process for an EU member-state to leave the group. If all phases of the process are completed on time – which many believe unlikely – the exit will be completed by March 29, 2019.

The development is of much interest to nearly 1,000 Indian companies that use their base in London and the UK to access the European market. Most have already taken steps to deal with the situation by relocating some staff in other European capitals.

The pound sterling, which has taken a beating in recent months, was unsteady as the Brexit process began in Brussels and London. The process began within hours of the Scottish parliament on Tuesday passing a resolution to hold another referendum on independence, adding another complexity to the process.

On Wednesday, May made a statement in the House of Commons, while chancellor Philip Hammond set the tone for the day by cautioning of “some consequences”.

The UK, he told BBC Radio 4, “cannot have the cake and eat it too” while negotiating the Brexit deal, referring to claims by some Brexiteers that the country will get the same terms and access to the European Single Market after leaving the EU.

UK Independence Party leader Nigel Farage said he “couldn’t be happier” that the Brexit process was finally underway after people voted 52% against 48% to leave the EU in the June 2016 referendum. Pro-EU quarters insisted it was a “leap in the dark”, as Remain supporters protested outside parliament.

Calling for unity, May said: “When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom – young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between. And yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said the party respected the decision of the British public but vowed to hold the government to account: “Britain is going to change as a result. The question is how … It will be a national failure of historic proportions if the prime minister comes back from Brussels without having secured protection for jobs and living standards.”