PM sets date for Brexit to get underway

Updated: 2016-10-03 16:37


  Comments() Print Mail Large Medium  Small

Theresa May makes it clear that the formal process will start rolling by end of March

PM sets date for Brexit to get underway

British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives ahead of the annual Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham on Saturday. [Photo by Toby Melville/Reuters]

British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will start the formal process by the end of March for the UK to leave the European Union.

Her comments put an end to the uncertainty surrounding Brexit by setting a date to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which begins the formal negotiation process.

Under the EU accession treaty, originally signed in 1972, the UK will have two years to leave after it formally tells the EU that it intends to do so.

May, speaking to the BBC ahead of her ruling Conservative Party's annual conference, said she intends to introduce a parliamentary act that will enshrine EU laws in British law.

She said this will allow a smooth transition and permit Parliament to later repeal the EU-based laws that it does not want, including freedom of movement.

She said, "I want to give a greater degree of clarity about the timetable we are following."

In June, Britons voted in a referendum to leave the EU, causing David Cameron to resign as prime minister,with May succeeding him.

May said: "This is about delivering for the British people, and this is not just about leaving the EU-it's about that essential trust people have in their politicians. The people have spoken, and we will deliver on that."

She stressed that British workers' rights, as laid down in EU law, would continue to be unaffected because of the parliamentary act that will be introduced at the end of the two-year mandatory exit period.

This has been seen as a direct rebuttal of the opposition Labour Party's position, which was that workers' rights would be endangered.

May indicated she was keen to seek a negotiated relationship with the EU on departure, including on trade, rather than the "hard exit" with no deal favored by some so-called Brexiteers in her party, which would leave the UK with no formal relationship with the EU.

Her decision means the UK will have formally left the EU before the next general election, due in May 2020.

"We'll be an independent country. Crucially, we still do want to have a good relationship with Europe and the European Union," she said.

After leaving, the UK will be free to strike a direct trade deal with China, something both Beijing and London have said is a priority.

For many of May's lawmakers, the announcement was well received, according to Reuters.

"The timing is just right," Conservative lawmaker Andrew Bridgen told the news agency, adding that voters had understood that May had needed some time to prepare her position.

Others said they feared that triggering Article 50 so early could put pressure on Britain, with elections in France and Germany next year that could see London's negotiating partners change amid the talks.

Reuters contributed to this story.