Feuds and fault-lines loom in UK-EU showdown over Brexit

May's letter to European Council Donald Tusk states no fewer than seven times that she wants a "deep and special partnership" with the EU and waxes at length about the "broad" alliance she wants to form with the EU.

"Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people".

Nine months after Britons voted to leave, May notified EU Council President Donald Tusk in a letter that the United Kingdom is quitting the bloc.

Global banks such as Goldman Sachs are considering moving staff out of Britain due to Brexit, and some major companies and banks could use the Article 50 trigger date to update investors on their plans.

May is expected to address MPs in Parliament around the same time that Britain's ambassador Tim Barrow will hand over the letter to Tusk.

"After nine months the United Kingdom has delivered".

Within 48 hours of reading the letter, Tusk will send the 27 other states draft negotiating guidelines.

"There is no reason to pretend that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels nor in London", President Tusk said, waving Mrs May's six-page letter.

"But, paradoxically, there is also something positive in Brexit. Brexit has made us, the communuity of 27 more determined and more united than before", he added.

"We want to avoid a return to a hard border between our two countries", she said.

"It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country. For, as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can - and must - bring us together", she said. "Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination", May wrote in the letter. Britain remains our neighbour, like the European Union is for Britain.

"If, however, we leave the European Union without an agreement the default position is that we would have to trade on World Trade Organisation terms", she tells Tusk.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: "It will be a national failure of historic proportions if the Prime Minister comes back from Brussels without having secured protection for jobs and living standards".

The focus will now shift to No.9 Downing Street in London, which houses the Department for Exiting the European Union headed by Brexit minister David Davis.

Following the notification process, the Great Repeal Bill will be published in Parliament tomorrow to cover the political break from the economic bloc.

But there is a third possibility, in which Britain crashes out of the European Union without a deal.

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty is the legislation that must be invoked in order for any member state to leave the EU.

Last night, the British PM spoke by telephone to Tusk, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel to discuss the move.

Officials on both sides hope by 2019 either to have a deal, or an agreement to keep talking during a transitional period.

On the eve of Brexit, May, 60, has one of the toughest jobs of any recent British prime minister: holding Britain together in the face of renewed Scottish independence demands, while conducting arduous talks with 27 other European Union states on finance, trade, security and a host of other complex issues. 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.

The future status of around three million European Union citizens living in Britain and more than one million British nationals in other parts of the bloc has been a major source of discord since the referendum.

  • Salvatore Jensen