Prime Minister Theresa May officially initiated Britain’s separation from the European Union Wednesday, proclaiming that there was “no turning back.”
May’s notification that Britain would leave the union it joined in 1973 was delivered by Tim Barrow, Britain’s permanent representative to the EU, in the form of a hand-written letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk.
“The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union,” May, who was an initial opponent of Brexit, announced in parliament nine months after the citizens of Britain voted to leave the bloc. “This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back.”
May now has two years to negotiate the terms of Britain’s departure from the EU before it goes into effect in late March 2019. Negotiations will include difficult discussions with 27 other EU states on finance, trade, security and other complex issues.
At stake is the future of Britain’s $2.6 trillion economy, the world’s fifth largest, and London’s position as one of the top two global financial centers.
Britain’s exit is yet another threat to the stability of the EU which is already shaky in the wake of successive crises over debt and refugees. EU leaders claim that it is not their intent to punish Britain, but they face the challenge of nationalist, anti-EU parties rising up across Europe. Officials contend that they cannot afford to offer London generous terms that might encourage other member states to follow Britain’s lead.
May faces additional challenges within Britain where internal strains could lead to its own break-up. The Brexit referendum saw England and Wales voting to leave the EU, while Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to stay.
An independence referendum has been demanded by Scottish nationalists, but May has refused them. Rival parties in Northern Ireland are mired in a major political crisis and Sinn Fein nationalists are calling for a vote on leaving the UK and uniting with the Republic of Ireland.
May said that initiating Brexit would bring a day of celebration for some and one of disappointment for others.
“Now that the decision to leave has been made and the process is under way, it is time to come together,” she said.
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