British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC) – Britain’s departure from the European Union is “an historic moment from which there can be no turning back”, Theresa May has told MPs.
The prime minister said it was a “unique opportunity” to “shape a brighter future” for the UK.
She was speaking after Britain’s EU ambassador formally triggered the two year countdown to the UK’s exit by handing over a letter in Brussels.
It follows June’s referendum which resulted in a vote to leave the EU.
In a statement in the Commons, the prime minister said: “Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people and it acts too on the clear and convincing position of this House.”
She added: “The Article 50 process is now under way and in accordance with the wishes of the British people the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.
“This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back.”
She said Britain would now make its own decisions and its own laws and “take control of the things that matter most to us – we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain, a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home”.
She told MPs that this marks “the moment for the country to come together”.
Mrs May said it was a “moment of celebration for some, disappointment for others” and promised to “represent every person in the whole United Kingdom” during the negotiations – including EU nationals, whose status after Brexit has yet to be settled.
She said that while the UK would remain the “best friend and neighbour” to its EU partners, it would also look beyond the borders of Europe.
“We can choose to say the task ahead is too great, we can choose to turn our face to the past and believe it can’t be done, or we can look forward with optimism and hope and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit,” she said.
“I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead.”
Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty gives both sides two years to reach agreement so, unless the UK and the 27 remaining EU member states agree to extend the deadline for talks, the UK will leave on 29 March 2019.
The six page letter from Mrs May triggering Article 50 was handed over to EU Council President Donald Tusk by the UK’s ambassador to the EU Sir Tim Barrow.
The letter calls for a “deep and special” partnership in the best interests of both the UK and the EU – but said the UK wanted to agree a trade deal alongside a withdrawal deal within the two year time table allowed by Article 50. EU chiefs have said the two issues should be handled separately.
A few minutes later a sombre-looking Donald Tusk held up Mrs May’s letter, saying: “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”
In a brief statement, he said it was not “a happy day” for him or for the EU and promised to begin arrangements for the UK’s “orderly withdrawal”.
He said the EU’s aim in negotiations was “damage limitation” and to “minimise costs” for EU citizens, businesses and member states.