UK Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger the EU exit process on March 29, setting Britain on an uncharted course to become the first member state to leave the bloc.
May will invoke Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, launching two years of negotiations on the terms of divorce and future relations with the remaining 27 EU nations.
The move comes nine months after the UK decided to leave EU in a divisive referendum with 51.9 percent Britons voting for ‘leave’ against 48.1 percent for ‘stay’.
May’s government said her permanent envoy to the EU had informed European Council President Donald Tusk of the date when Britain intends to trigger the divorce process.
European Commission ready for talks
The European Commission said it was ready to begin the negotiations. Within 48 hours of the trigger date, Tusk will send the other 27 member states his draft negotiating guidelines.
The Pound Sterling fell half a cent 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”.
Britain is one of the oldest and largest members of the 28-nation bloc, and its departure has raised fears for the EU’s future as eurosceptic movements gain support across the continent.
May, 60, hopes to negotiate terms that keep trade, financial and political relations with EU member states as close as possible.
The deal would have to be agreed by all the EU’s national and some regional parliaments.
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.
With nationalism and anti-establishment, anti-immigrant sentiment spreading across Western Europe, the EU leadership in Brussels is anxious to avoid encouraging others in the 28-member bloc to bolt.
At the same time, May faces threats by Scottish nationalists to call a new independence referendum that could break up the United Kingdom.
EU Sees Brexit Summit in Late April or Early May
The EU has yet to set a date for a summit to respond to Britain’s notice of withdrawal but it should be between four and six weeks after March 29, an EU source said on Monday.
Speaking after London’s announcement to trigger Brexit process next week, the source said this did not leave enough time to convene the other 27 leaders on April 6-7, dates that had been pencilled in for a meeting.
EU officials have previously said that a notification just before May’s self-imposed end-March deadline could mean a summit in early May was the most likely timing.