The two-year process for Britain to leave the European Union under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be triggered by the end of March 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May announced on Sunday.
Brexit, which was voted upon in the June 23 referendum, dominated the first day of the ruling Conservative party conference in Birmingham, with May and three Brexit-related ministers - Boris Johnson, David Davis and Liam Fox - providing more details of the process than were available so far.
In a series of media interventions on Sunday, May also announced a “Great Repeal Bill” in the next Queen's Speech in early 2017, which will overturn the European Communities Act of 1972 that took Britain into the European Union.
May said her government will also enshrine all existing EU law into British law, and later abolish any provisions that are not acceptable to the British people.
The perception that Britain was being increasingly governed by laws made in Brussels was key to the ‘Vote Leave’ campaign before the referendum.
In an interview with the Sunday Times, May said the repeal bill would mark “the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again...It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country. It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end.”
Appearing on BBC, May refused to say more on what shape the process of leaving the EU will take.
There are strong views within her party that Britain should go for either ‘strong Brexit’ (a clean break from the European Union, not part of the common market, and no free immigration of EU nationals), or a ‘soft Brexit’ (continuing access to the common market).
The latter is preferred by business and industry - including Indian companies based in Britain - who are keen that Britain retain access to the common market. A ‘soft Brexit’, in their perception, will also help Britain attract the talent and professionals required in scientific institutions, NHS and other sectors.
Steering clear of the two options, May insisted that she wanted the ‘right’ deal for Britain, and said it was not appropriate to give a running commentary on the positions to be adopted in negotiations with Brussels as part of the exit process.
May said her priority on immigration was to ensure that Britain sets the rules, and wanted to ensure the country gets the people it needs. Asked how important it was to get tariff-free access to the common market, she said she wanted the “right deal”.