British leader says United Kingdom 'not leaving Europe'

"As we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can - and must - bring us together", May said.

"We already miss you", EU President Donald Tusk said in Brussels, after receiving the letter formally notifying him of Britain's intention to leave.

Minutes after European Council president, Donald Tusk, confirmed receipt, Mrs May rose in the Commons to share the news with MPs.

The draft report cited by Reuters, suggests the European Union should allow for transitional arrangements and even prolong the negotiating period to three years, while also allowing for a change of heart.

The prime minister called the handover of the official letter triggering Article 50 a "great national moment".

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Mr Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the United Kingdom would remain a "close and committed ally". "We need the whole transition period of two, three, four years to fill in the content of this new association agreement for the future".

The momentous move, which comes just days after the European Union celebrated its 60th birthday, leaves Britain deeply divided and has thrown a question mark over the future of the 28-nation bloc which rose from the ashes of World War II.

The Prime Minister repeatedly refused to rule out that Britain would pay an exit fee - estimated by the European Union to be as much as £50billion - which must be paid when the United Kingdom leaves the European Union in March 2019.

Tusk responded to May's letter by saying, "There's no reason to pretend that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels nor in London". They wanted to remain in the EU.

"And on the other hand, a good trade deal, a fair trade deal".

He said the "simple truth" was that without a "parallel deal" with the EU, Britain would no longer be a member of the Europol crime-fighting agency or take part in the European Arrest Warrant system.

Denmark's prime minister Lars Loekke Rasmussen said in a statement that Britain's "goodbye" to the European Union is "incredibly sad", adding that he expects "many bumps on the road".

"Whatever future the UK-EU relationship looks like, we want the UK to remain a strong leader in Europe", he said.

"We were in the European Union for reasons of utility rather than emotion".

"We want to make sure that we are ending the jurisdiction of the European court of justice and that we are able to control movement of people coming from the EU", the PM said during a special BBC programme on Brexit.

British business leaders are also increasingly alarmed about a "cliff edge" scenario in which Britain leaves the European bloc with no deal.

  • Leroy Wright