Theresa May has triggered Article 50 and begun the two year countdown to the United Kingdom leaving the European Union.
Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, formally notified Brussels of the decision at 12.25pm today when he handed over a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council.
In her letter to Tusk, the prime minister said: “We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe - and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent.”
Tusk told a press conference in Brussels: “There’s no reason to pretend this is a happy day - neither in Brussels or London.
“There is nothing to win in this process and I am talking about both sides. In essence, this is about damage control.”
He said his message to the UK was: “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”
May will now enter formal exit negotiations with EU leaders over what the UK’s future relationship with the bloc will look like.
The letter states: “The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.”
May said that in the case that no deal is reached and Britain leaves without a deal, “both sides would of course cope with the change”, but added: “It is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.”
Speaking in the House of Commons moments after the letter was delivered, May told MPs: “Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people.
“The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. This is an historic moment form which there can be no turning back, Britain is leaving the European Union.”
She said “now is the time for us to come together, to be united across this House and across this country” to work for the “best possible deal”.
Jeremy Corbyn said May was taking the UK in a direction that was “both reckless and damaging”.
“If the prime minister is to unite the country as she says she aims to do, the government needs to listen, consult and represent the whole country, not just the hardline Tory ideologues on her own benches,” he said.
“Britain is going to change as a result of leaving the EU. The question is how.”
May signed the Article 50 letter in the Cabinet room on Tuesday afternoon while sitting next to a Union flag and under a portrait of Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole.
The decision, following last June’s referendum result, will bring to an end the UK’s 40-year membership of the EU.