LONDON — In one of the most consequential diplomatic events in Britain since World War II, Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday sent formal notice of the country’s intention to withdraw from the European Union, starting a tortuous two-year divorce littered with pitfalls for both sides.
Speaking in Parliament, Mrs. May said she was invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, putting Britain on track to leave the European Union in 2019 and raising a host of thorny issues involved in untangling a four-decade relationship.
In addition to a welter of trade and customs matters, the Conservative government faces the prospect of a new independence referendum in Scotland, where a majority voted to remain in the European Union, and deep worries about the 1998 Good Friday peace agreement in Northern Ireland.
Just before 12:30 p.m., Britain’s top envoy to the European Union, Tim Barrow, walked to the office of Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, and handed him a letter with the official notification. Mr. Tusk then posted on Twitter acknowledging receipt of the letter.
“The Article 50 process is now underway,” she added, “and, in accordance with the wishes of the British people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.”
She added: “This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back.” She cited the “enduring power of the British spirit.” And she painted a vision of a “truly global Britain, the best friend and neighbor to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe, too.”
With this step, Mrs. May enters what William Hague, a former foreign secretary, called “the most complex divorce ever in history.” She begins the process with limited leverage, having made clear that establishing control of immigration takes priority over membership in the European Union’s single market or customs union.
As a result, analysts say, she has frequently stressed her willingness to walk away from the table if a good deal proves elusive, leaving European Union negotiators wondering whether she is serious or trying to bluff her way into a stronger negotiating position.
Source: New York Times