Theresa May signs letter triggering Brexit

The letter will be hand delivered to the president of the European Council tomorrow to trigger Article 50

Theresa May signs letter triggering Brexit

British Prime Minister Theresa May signs the Article 50 letter, as she prepares to trigger the Brexit process, 28-Mar-2017. Image: Christopher Furlong/PA Wire/PA Images

Updated 22:30

The British Prime Minister has called on the UK to seize what she called its “historic opportunity” as she signs the letter that will formally begin the Brexit process.

The letter will be hand delivered to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council tomorrow to trigger Article 50, beginning the UK’s journey out of the European Union.

Mrs May will then address the British Parliament to announce the move tomorrow afternoon.

Speaking to businesses leaders and foreign investors in Birmingham today, Mrs May said the divorce marks "one of the most significant moments" in the UK’s recent history.

She said a “global Britain” could build alliances outside of the EU – but also spoke of a “deep and special partnership” with the EU following Brexit.

"Tomorrow we begin the negotiations to secure a new deep and special partnership with the European Union," she said.

“As we do so, I am determined that we should also seize this historic opportunity to get out into the world and to shape an even bigger role for a global Britain,” she said.

“This means not just building new alliances but going even further in working with  old friends who have stood alongside us for centuries.”

Mrs May was speaking as the Qatari government announced a further €5.76bn investment in the UK.

Article 50

After Article 50 is triggered, European and British negotiating teams will have two years to agree the terms of the divorce – unless both sides can agree on an extension.

EU officials have insisted that the terms of the UKs exit must be settled before talks on a new relationship can begin – with one of the European Parliament’s largest groups today warning that the proposed time-frame makes reaching a successful agreement, “a kind of a mission impossible.”   

Manfred Weber, the head of the Christian Democratic EPP group told the Associated Press that negotiating trade deals between the EU and other countries generally takes years to complete – pointing out that the proposed deal with Canada took over half a decade to agree.

Mr Weber warned that, as and from tomorrow, the European Parliament will be looking out for interests of the remaining 27 member states, “and no longer those of Britain.”

Held accountable

Mrs May has come under increased pressure from a cross-party group of pro-remain MPs who have insisted that she must be held accountable if she fails to achieve her goals in the negotiations with Europe.

The group of politicians said “a clear direction of travel” for the negotiations has been set by the British government and warned that negotiators will now have to deliver.

They said the government had promised that leaving the EU would be “cost-free,” that trade will be enhanced rather than hampered, that there will be major savings from the EU budget, that core arrangements with the EU will remain unchanged and the integrity of the UK will be protected.

They warned that there is “no mandate” for a hard-Brexit and insisted that responsibility for the outcome of negotiations now rests with Mrs May's government.

While European leaders have insisted the UK will not be “punished” for leaving the EU,  they warned that certain agreed commitments must be honoured.

The cost of meeting these obligations has been estimated at close to €60bn.

Meanwhile the Scottish Parliament today voted to seek a new referendum on independence from the UK – with plans to seek readmission into the EU if the referendum is successful.