Dubai – The UK has triggered the formal two-year process of negotiations that will lead to Britain leaving the European Union after 44 years in a process popularly known as Brexit.
Britain voted to leave the EU last June, after a campaign that divided the country. In a close result, 52 percent voted for Brexit, while 48 percent wanted to stay in the EU.
UK Prime Minister Theresa May has signed a letter invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and officially notifying the EU of Britain’s decision to withdraw from the bloc was hand-delivered to European Council President Donald Tusk in Brussels by British Ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow on Wednesday.
The loss of a major member is destabilising for the EU, which is battling to contain a tide of nationalist and populist sentiment and faces unprecedented antipathy from the new US administration.
It cannot be sure what the UK government’s future relationship with the bloc will look like – whether businesses will freely be able to trade, students to study abroad, or pensioners to retire with ease in other EU states.
Those things have become part of life since the UK joined what was then called the European Economic Community in 1973.
Impact on the UK economy
In a speech to parliament designed to coincide with the letter’s delivery, May urged the country to come together as it embarks on a “momentous journey”.
“We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future. And, now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together,” she said.
May told MPs she wanted to represent “every person in the UK”, including EU nationals, in negotiations.
The prime minister acknowledged there would be “consequences” to leaving, and she said the UK accepts it cannot “cherry pick”, and stay in the single market without accepting free movement.
EU Council President Donald Tusk said there was “no reason to pretend this is a happy day”.
“We already miss you,” he said, adding there was “nothing to win” and that, now, the Brexit process was about damage control.