The Theresa May government on Monday informed Brussels it will officially notify the European Union of its decision to leave the bloc under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on March 29, keeping to its schedule to begin the two-year exit process fraught with many uncertainties.
The Brexit process is being keenly watched across the globe, including by more than 700 Indian companies that use London and Britain as a base to access the European Single Market. Many have initiated steps to deal with the post-Brexit situation, including relocating some staff elsewhere in Europe.
The two-year exit process is expected to be stormy, not least because of hardline positions by leaders of major EU member-states, the possibility of the pro-EU ruling party in Scotland seeking to hold another referendum on independence, and its implications for immigration (including for Goans with Portuguese passports in Britain).
In Brussels, a spokesman for the European Commission said: “Everything is ready on this side. Yes we have been informed in advance. We are ready to begin negotiations. We are waiting for the letter. Now we know it will come on the 29th.”
EU president Donald Tusk tweeted that “within 48 hours of the UK triggering Article 50, I will present the draft #Brexit guidelines to the EU27 Member States”.
The May government got the green signal after Queen Elizabeth granted royal assent to the bill passed by both houses of Parliament last week. It came at the end of a legal and parliamentary process that included the court insisting on parliamentary approval for triggering Article 50.
Britain’s permanent representative to the EU, Tim Barrow, conveyed the trigger date to Tusk’s office in Brussels. If all process, phases and negotiations are completed, and agreement of 27 member-states is reached according to schedule, Britain’s exit will be completed by March 2019.
David Davis, secretary for Exiting the European Union, said: “Last June, the people of the UK made the historic decision to leave the EU. Next Wednesday, the government will deliver on that decision and formally start the process by triggering Article 50.
“We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation. The government is clear in its aims: a deal that works for every nation and region of the UK and indeed for all of Europe – a new, positive partnership between the UK and our friends and allies in the European Union”.
Separately, Downing Street said May will write a letter to the EU’s 27 other members, adding it expected negotiations to then begin as quickly as possible. She is expected to make a statement to the House of Commons shortly after invoking Article 50.
May’s spokesman said that after Article 50 is triggered, it is expected that the remaining 27 EU member states will agree on the terms and make an initial response within 48 hours.
He said Barrow had a conversation with Tusk’s office on Monday morning to give the EU notice of the date. “There will be a letter, she will notify President Tusk in writing, and the prime minister has already confirmed she will give a statement to parliament as well...More details will be given in due course.”
On Monday, May began a Brexit-related tour of the four nations that comprise the United Kingdom, beginning with Wales.
She said: “From my first day on the steps of Downing Street, I made clear my determination to strengthen and sustain the precious Union. I have also been clear that as we leave the European Union I will work to deliver a deal that works for the whole of the UK.
“I want every part of the United Kingdom to be able to make the most of the opportunities ahead and for Welsh businesses to benefit from the freest possible trade as part of a global trading nation.”
Keir Starmer MP, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, commenting on reports that May will trigger Article 50 on March 29, said: “Britain is about to embark on the most complex and important negotiations since World War 2, so this a hugely significant moment for the whole country.
“Theresa May has repeatedly said that she wants to build a national consensus on Brexit, but it is increasingly clear she has failed to do so. Britain is now more divided at home and isolated abroad.
“It is also extraordinary that the Prime Minister has failed to provide any certainty about her plans for Brexit or to prepare for the clear dangers of not reaching a deal with the EU.
“Labour will hold the Prime Minister to account all the way, and argue for a Brexit deal that puts jobs, the economy and living standards first.”