Britain's May to launch EU divorce proceedings on March 29

Mon Mar 20, 2017 1:55pm EDT
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By William James, Elizabeth Piper and Gabriela Baczynska

LONDON/BRUSSELS (Reuters) - Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Britain's divorce proceedings with the European Union on March 29, launching two years of negotiations that will reshape the future of the country and Europe.

May's government said her permanent envoy to the EU had informed European Council President Donald Tusk of the date when Britain intends to invoke Article 50 of its Lisbon Treaty - the mechanism for starting its exit after a referendum last June in which Britons voted by a 52-48 percent margin to leave the bloc.

The EU said it was ready to begin the negotiations and within 48 hours of the trigger on March 29, Tusk will send the other 27 member states his draft negotiating guidelines, which means that talks could start at the earliest in May.

Sterling slipped from a three-week high against the dollar on what Brexit minister David Davis described as a move taking Britain to "the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation".

May said she would negotiate for "everyone across the United Kingdom and all parts of the UK".

"We're going to be out there, negotiating hard, delivering on what the British people voted for," she told reporters.

The 60-year-old leader hopes to negotiate terms that keep trade, financial and political relations with EU member states as close as possible after Brexit, but also satisfy euroskeptics in her Conservative Party who demand a complete break from an institution they say has stolen British sovereignty.

It will be a difficult and ambitious balancing act. Talks on departing the prosperous club Britain joined in 1973 are likely to be the most complex London has held since World War Two, with other EU leaders saying they will not give May an easy ride.   Continued...

The Elizabeth Tower, commonly known as Big Ben, together with walkers are seen reflected in a puddle in London, Britain, March 20, 2017.  REUTERS/Toby Melville