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Theresa May signs letter to trigger Brexit

Wednesday, Mar 29, 2017,12:51 IST By anju A A A

London | Britain is set to formally file for a divorce from the EU after Prime Minister Theresa May today signed a letter to notify the economic bloc about the country’s intention to initiate a two-year negotiation process for its departure.

The letter, giving official notification to other 27 European Union (EU) members that Britain has invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, will be delivered to European Council President Donald Tusk by British ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow today.

It sets the clock for the two-year negotiation process for Britain’s relationship with the EU as a non-member.

Over the next two years, the terms of the settlement will be thrashed out between Britain and its 27 counterparts.

It follows a referendum in June 2016 in favour of Brexit.

Unless that time-frame is extended, Britain will leave the economic bloc by March 29, 2019.

Last night, the prime minister spoke by telephone to Tusk, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

Negotiations are expected to begin in mid-May. The UK government says it wants to carry out both separation and trade talks at the same time, but EU chiefs say the two issues must be handled separately.

May is scheduled to chair a cabinet meeting today before making a statement in the House of Commons confirming the countdown to the UK’s departure from the EU has begun.

She will promise to “represent every person in the whole United Kingdom” during the negotiations, including EU nationals, who are worried about their future following Brexit.

The UK has said it wants an “early agreement” to guarantee the rights of EU citizens living in the country and those of British nationals living abroad.

Other issues which are likely to be discussed are things like cross-border security arrangements, the European Arrest Warrant, moving EU agencies which have their headquarters in the UK and the UK’s contribution to pensions of EU civil servants – part of a wider “divorce bill” which some reports have suggested could run to 50 billion pounds, BBC said.

May will say now is the time for national unity to achieve the best possible Brexit deal.

Yesteday, Scotland’s semi-autonomous parliament backed a call by its nationalist government for a new referendum on independence before Brexit. Scotland is particularly concerned about leaving Europe’s single market.

Britain as a whole voted to leave the bloc in the June referendum, but Scots voted by a large margin to stay.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said his party respected the decision to leave the EU and would hold the government to account “every step of the way”.

He said: “Britain is going to change as a result. The question is how.”

Corbyn warned it would be “a national failure of historic proportions” if May does not secure protection for workers’ rights.

The Lib Dems claimed May was “pulling the trigger that will set in motion a chain of events which will change this country forever, and doing so without a proper plan”, but the Leave Means Leave campaign congratulated her on sticking to her timetable of invoking Article 50 before the end of March.

May was forced to consult Parliament before invoking Article 50 after the government lost a legal challenge in the Supreme Court, but it secured the backing of most MPs earlier this month.