Article 50 to be triggered on March 29

The Times, 20th March 2017.

Theresa May will trigger Britain’s exit from the European Union on March 29, Downing Street has revealed.

It marks the date that the prime minister will dispatch her letter to the European Council notifying it of Britain’s intention to leave the bloc, which begins the two-year Brexit process. It means that the UK’s membership of the EU will end on March 29, 2019.

Sir Tim Barrow, Britain’s ambassador to the EU, informed the office of European Council president, Donald Tusk, this morning of Mrs May’s plans.

Britain is keen to seek a comprehensive free-trade deal with the EU as part of the exit process. However, the European Council wants to sort out Britain’s “divorce bill” from the bloc before any future relationship is agreed. The status of EU nationals already in the UK is another issue that both sides want to deal with early on.

It comes amid warnings that Brexit will take up huge amounts of time in parliament, making it extremely hard for the government to secure legislation on other domestic issues.

As many as 15 new parliamentary bills may be needed due to Brexit, according to the respected Institute for Government (IFG). It warned that such huge emphasis on legislation related to legal EU withdrawal means Mrs May’s domestic agenda will take a hit.

Dr Hannah White, the IFG’s research director, told the BBC Radio Four Today programme: “The estimates we have heard are something between ten and 15 bills required in the next two parliamentary sessions. Normally, there are about 20 in a Queen’s Speech. So, that’s roughly the capacity that there is in government to draft these bills and, in terms of parliamentary time, to pass them.

“So, that takes a big chunk out of the government’s capacity to legislate. And its other priorities, its domestic priorities, will take a hit in the next couple of sessions.

“There will have to be some really tight prioritisation in government to work out what else is going to be done aside from the Brexit legislation.”

She said that the bills would be on top of the Great Repeal Bill, which will incorporate EU law into British law. The repeal bill is also expected to be hit by a series of rebellions by Tory MPs on both sides of the Brexit debate.

Mrs May had previously pledged to trigger the Article 50 process by the end of this month. The prime minister’s official spokesman said: “Earlier this morning, the UK permanent representative to the EU informed the office of Donald Tusk that it is the UK’s intention to trigger Article 50 on March 29.

“There will be a letter. She will notify [European Council chief] President Tusk in writing. The prime minister will give a statement to parliament as well.

“We have always been clear that we will trigger by the end of March and we have met that timetable.”

The spokesman said Britain wanted to start withdrawal negotiations “promptly”, but accepted that “it is right that the 27 have a chance to agree their position” before talks start.

Tim Farron, the Liberal Democrat leader, said: “Theresa May is embarking on an extreme and divisive Brexit. She has rushed this through without a plan, and without a clue.

“On the day Theresa May is travelling the country claiming she wants to bring the United Kingdom together, she lets it be known she is about to unleash division and bitterness.

“She has chosen the hardest and most divisive form of Brexit, choosing to take us out of the single market before she has even tried to negotiate. That’s why we believe the people should have the final say over the Conservative Brexit deal.”

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