The UK government has formally served divorce papers on the European Union, signaling the beginning of the end of a relationship that has endured for 44 years.
Theresa May, the British Prime Minister, confirmed that the UK had triggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, beginning a legal process that must end in two years’ time with Britain leaving the EU.
“This is an historic moment for which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union,” May told the House of Commons in London.
A few minutes earlier in Brussels, the British Permanent Representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, delivered a six-page formal letter of notification to Donald Tusk, the President of the European Council, in Brussels.
“The Article 50 process is now under way, and in accordance with the British people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union,” May said.
At the headquarters of the European Council Wednesday morning, Barrow emerged from a black Jaguar holding a briefcase containing the letter signed by May in Downing Street on Tuesday night. His route had been kept secret in an effort to avoid any attempts to intercept the letter.
“After nine months the UK has delivered,” Tusk said on Twitter, moments after the letter was handed over.
This official start to the Brexit process comes nine months after the UK voted in a hotly contested referendum that exposed deep divisions across the country.
The Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, one of the leading figures in the referendum campaign, expressed his delight at the outcome. “It’s a great day,” he said as he left a meeting of the Cabinet in Downing Street.
Tusk: ‘We already miss you’
The split is expected to be bitter — EU leaders will not want to make leaving their union seem easy, to deter other countries that might be mulling a referendum of their own.
After receiving the letter, Tusk struck a gloomy note. “There is no reason to pretend that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels nor in London. After all, most Europeans, – including almost half the British voters, wished that we would stay together, not drift apart. As for me, I will not pretend that I am happy today,” Tusk said.
But he added that Brexit had made the 27 other nations in the EU more determined and united.
“And what can I add to this? We already miss you.”( CNN / IM )