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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
"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."