Britain has finally started talks to leave the European Union after the Brexit referendum voted ibn favour of the split.
Nine months and a few days after the referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May has written to European Council president Donald Tusk.
Her six-page missive basically said thanks for having us, but we’re off and would like to remain friends with economic benefits.
The letter, probably one of the most important documents in recent British history, was personally delivered by Brussels ambassador Tim Barrow to Tusk at lunchtime on Wednesday, March 29.
Delivery set in motion Britain’s departure from the EU – the first nation to do so.
Close and committed allies
The letter is effectively two year’s written notice of Britain’s intention to leave the EU as required under Article 50 of the Treaty of Lisbon.
Although Article 50 lays out a two-year timetable for uncoupling from the EU, there is no going back once the article is triggered.
May wrote: “This letter sets out the approach of Her Majesty’s Government to the discussions we will have about the United Kingdom’s departure from the European Union and about the deep and special partnership we hope to enjoy – as your closest friend and neighbour – with the European Union once we leave.
“We believe that these objectives are in the interests not only of the United Kingdom but of the European Union and the wider world too.”
On the eve of pushing the Brexit button, May spoke to Tusk and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
A Downing Street spokesman said: “In separate calls, they agreed that a strong EU was in everyone’s interest and that the UK would remain a close and committed ally.
Fair and friendly talks
“They also agreed on the importance of entering into negotiations in a constructive and positive spirit, and of ensuring a smooth and orderly exit process.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker insisted talks would be “fair and friendly”.
In Brussels, London mayor Sadiq Khan urged the EU not to punish Britain for pulling out.
Khan met EU lead negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, and warned any deal which damages Britain’s financial services will also impact Europe.
“I say this with friendship and all due respect – but a bad Brexit deal that hurts London would hurt the European Union too,” he said.
Tusk will give the EU’s initial response to May’s letter within 48 hours, publishing a draft version of the EU’s priorities for talks.