Article 50: Britain serves divorce papers on EU

The six-page letter, signed in ink by the Prime Minister, was hand-delivered to Mr Tusk in his Brussels office by United Kingdom permanent representative Sir Tim Barrow at around 12.20pm just minutes before Mrs May made a statement to MPs on her plans.

But for Britons who voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the bloc in a referendum nine months ago, it was a time for celebration.

May wants to leave the EU's single market to reduce the number of people allowed into Britain to work.

The start of the Brexit process is a historic moment from which there can be no turning back, May said in a statement to the House of Commons.

Even if some terms of divorce are not agreed, the United Kingdom will fall out of the union on March 29, 2019.

This step, taken in accordance with Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, will pave the way for the two-year Brexit negotiations between London and Brussels.

Chancellor Philip Hammond warned that there would be "consequences" for Britain in leaving the European Union, saying the Government recognised that "we can't cherry-pick, we can't have our cake and eat it". National parliaments may also vote on it.

World stock markets climbed Wednesday as strong USA economic reports shored up investor confidence, but British shares weakened as uncertainty rose ahead of the U.K.'s formal request to leave the European Union. More problematically, substantive disagreements exist between the member states over the future goals of the European Union project - and especially whether they should loosen or deepen their integration. Leaders of those nations will then meet on April 29 to finalize their negotiating platform before instructing the EU's chief negotiator, French diplomat Michel Barnier. "Therefore, it is important that the upcoming negotiations focus on delivering a result that benefits citizens and businesses on both sides". The Sun, which is Britain's most popular newspaper, went as far as to beam headlines "SEE EU LATER" and "DOVER AND OUT" onto the iconic White Cliffs of Dover, a landmark often seen as representative of Britain's independence and separateness from the rest of Europe.

The guidelines will include the three "divorce" issues the European Union wants to deal with before talks on any future trade deal: Britain's exit bill, the rights of European Union citizens in Britain and vice versa; and the flashpoint border in Northern Ireland.

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Both Britain and the European Union say a top priority will be guaranteeing the rights of 3 million European Union citizens living in Britain, and 1 million Britons living elsewhere in the bloc. "I am ambitious for Britain and the objectives I've set out for these negotiations remain".

Hilary Benn, chairman of Parliament's Brexit committee, said last year's referendum "determined we're leaving, but it did not determine the way in which we leave, and the nature of the new relationship with our friends and neighbors in Europe".

Do you think Britain will be better after Brexit? The Libération newspaper led with the headline: "We miss you already!"

Barnier said: "Today is the first day in a very long and hard road". In Northern Ireland, rival parties have been unable to end a major political crisis for over two months and Sinn Fein nationalists are demanding a vote on leaving the UK and uniting with the Republic of Ireland.

  • Leroy Wright