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UK Set to Trigger Brexit               03/29 06:06

   LONDON (AP) -- Britain is set to formally file for divorce from the European 
Union Wednesday, walking out on a 44-year relationship, enacting the decision 
made by U.K. voters in a referendum nine months ago and launching both Britain 
and the bloc into uncharted territory.

   Prime Minister Theresa May is due to tell House of Commons at lunchtime that 
she has invoked Article 50 of the EU's key treaty, the trigger for a two-year 
countdown to Britain's exit.

   Just before May's statement, scheduled for 12:30 p.m. local time (1130 GMT, 
7:30 a.m. EDT), Britain's EU envoy, Tim Barrow, will hand-deliver a letter from 
May to EU Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels.

   Britain will remain an EU member while it negotiates its departure, but 
Wednesday's letter is a historic --- and, Britain says, irreversible --- step 
through the exit door.

   "At 12:30 we pass the point of no return," said former U.K. Independence 
Party leader Nigel Farage, a longtime campaigner for Brexit.

   Photos were released of May signing the letter late Tuesday in the Cabinet 
room at 10 Downing St., under a portrait of Britain's first prime minister, 
Robert Walpole.

   The letter, which is several pages long, was whisked to Brussels aboard a 
Eurostar train, British media reported. Barrow arrived at European Council 
headquarters carrying a briefcase Wednesday morning, before his appointment 
with Tusk.

   May's office said she will tell lawmakers that the U.K. is embarking on a 
"momentous journey" and should unite to forge a "global Britain."

   "It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person 
in this country," she will say.

   Britain's Treasury chief, Philip Hammond, said that triggering Brexit was "a 
pivotal moment for Britain," but denied the country was taking a leap in the 
dark.

   Hammond told the BBC he was optimistic of forging "a relationship that will 
strengthen the U.K. and will strengthen the European Union as well."

   Gus O'Donnell, the U.K.'s former top civil servant, was less certain.

   "We are in a plane being flown by members of the EU and we're about to jump 
out and we've got a parachute that was designed by the people flying the plane 
and they designed it in a way to deter anybody else jumping out," he said.

   Britain and the EU have two years to unpick a tapestry of rules, regulations 
and agreements stitched over more than four decades since Britain joined what 
was then the European Economic Community in 1973.

   EU officials are due to circulate draft negotiating guidelines within days, 
and bloc leaders --- minus May --- will meet April 29 to adopt a common 
position.

   Britain says it's not turning its back on its neighbors and wants to remain 
friends. May has said that the U.K. will become "stronger, fairer, more united 
and more outward-looking" and will seek "a new, deep and special partnership 
with the European Union."

   But many British businesses fear the impact of leaving the EU's vast single 
market of some 500 million people. Senior British officials say they are 
confident of striking a close new free-trade relationship with the bloc --- but 
a successful outcome to the complex and emotionally fraught negotiations is far 
from certain.

   Hilary Benn, chairman of Parliament's Brexit committee, said last year's 
referendum "determined we're leaving, but it did not determine the way in which 
we leave, and the nature of the new relationship with our friends and neighbors 
in Europe."

   He said "there is everything to play for in the negotiations, but it's going 
to be a very complex task and now is a moment for frankness about the scale of 
the challenge."

   Brexit has profound implications for Britain's economy, society and even 
unity. The divisive decision to leave the EU has given new impetus to the drive 
for Scottish independence, and undermined the foundations of Northern Ireland's 
peace settlement.

   It's also a major blow to the EU, after decades of expansion, to lose one of 
its largest members. Anti-EU populists including French far-right leader Marine 
Le Pen hope the impulses that drove Britain to turn its back on the EU will be 
repeated across the continent.

   Many Britons who voted to leave were seeking to regain control of migration, 
by removing the U.K. from the EU's principle of free movement among member 
states.

   That is what worries many on the other side. Many British businesses rely on 
European workers, and about 3 million citizens of other EU states live in the 
U.K. --- and have been uncertain about their future since the referendum in 
June.

   Piotr Wierzbicki, a Polish engineer flying to London from Warsaw airport, 
said that the British "shot themselves in the foot" by voting to leave the EU.

   "It will be bad for their economy and it will be bad for the EU," he said.

   But David Kerr, a London electrician who voted to leave, said there was no 
going back.

   "I think people have spoken in the Brexit vote," he said. "You have to bow 
to the will of the people. It's a simple as that."


(KA)

 
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