Theresa May will officially trigger the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union on March 29, it was confirmed today.
The Prime Minister will send a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk activating Article 50 next Wednesday, starting the clock on two years of intense negotiations.
The PM’s spokesman announced this morning that May will make a statement to the House of Commons on the same day to notify MPs she has begun Brexit talks.
The UK’s permanent representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, informed Tusk’s office of the Government’s intention to formally trigger the exit process at around 10.30am today, Downing Street said.
The PM’s spokesman said “advance notice” of the timing was to “help everybody on all sides” prepare for the event itself.
Once Article 50 is triggered, Tusk is expected to provide an initial response to the Prime Minister within 48 hours, and the remaining EU 27 countries will then put together a timetable for negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal to take place.
Downing Street today said: “We want negotiations to start promptly, but it’s obviously right the 27 have an opportunity to agree their position.”
Tusk took to Twitter to confirm that by the end of March 31, he would have the “draft Brexit guidelines” ready.
In a statement this morning, Brexit Secretary David Davis said: “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.”
Once Article 50 is triggered, the UK and EU have two years to negotiate the terms of separation.
One of the key items up for discussion is the size of the UK’s ‘divorce bill’ - the amount required to fund previously agreed EU budget plans and pensions.
The final bill has been estimated as between €15billion and €60billion.
Alongside the separation negotiations, the UK is hoping to strike a comprehensive free trade deal with the EU within the two year period.
Reacting to the announcement, Lib Dem leader Tim Farron accused the Prime Minister of being “about to unleash division and bitterness”.
He said: “Theresa May is embarking on an extreme and divisive Brexit. She has rushed this through without a plan, and without a clue.”
Tory MP Royston Smith took to Twitter to say the fate of EU and British nationals should be the first deal done in the negotiation.
This afternoon, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer MP said the announcement of the Article 50 date was “a hugely significant moment for the whole country.”
He said: “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.”