BREXIT will officially be triggered on Wednesday March 29 UK Prime Minister Theresa May has said.
Mrs May has told EU Council president Donald Tusk, via Britain’s ambassador to the EU, that she will invoke article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by writing to the Council to officially declare the UK wishes to leave.
She is expected to make a statement in the House of Commons on the same day.
That will set off a two-year countdown, so by the end of March 2019, Britain will leave with or without a deal, unless an extension is unanimously agreed between the UK and the other EU states.
The deal would have to be agreed by the UK and by the leaders of the 27 other EU states, acting by qualified majority: 16 out of 28 must approve it, and they must represent at least 65% of the population of the EU. The deal would also have to be ratified by European Parliament and Mrs May has promised a vote to the UK parliament.
She has said ‘no deal is better than a bad deal’.
Brexit Minister David Davis said: “We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation. The government is clear in its aims: a deal that works for every nation and region of the UK and indeed for all of Europe – a new, positive partnership between the UK and our friends and allies in the European Union."
Mrs May is visiting the four nations of the UK in a bid to create a sense of national unity for the government’s position before negotiations start.
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However Tim Farron, the leader of the Liberal Democrats whose membership has risen to record numbers on account of its appeal to ‘Remain’ voters due to a clear pro-Europe stance, said Mrs May is “embarking on an extreme and divisive Brexit” and has “rushed this through without a plan and without a clue”. He said rather than unity, Brexit would bring “division and bitterness”.
The Lib Dems want a second referendum on the terms of the deal achieved after negotiations, with the possibility of staying in the EU if they are not satisfactory.
There is some legal uncertainty over the reversibility of article 50 - a case in the High Court of Ireland is seeking to clarify this - however the British government's view is that if the parties cannot agree on terms, the UK will come out on World Trade Organisation trading terms, which a recent study found would be the least favourable position in terms of trade with Europe of any of the G20 world powers.
Unless otherwise agreed, British people in EU countries for less than five years could (at least initially) find themselves without residence rights. Those established on a permanent, legal footing in France for five years or more are considered to be in a stronger position, however it is not entirely clear, legally-speaking, what happens to the ‘permanent’ residence right obtained by EU expats after five years of legal residence if they then cease to be EU citizens (at present long-term British residents in France have the right, but not the obligation, to apply for cards proving this EU citizen permanent resident status).
Britons may have to apply for one of the various kinds of residence permit, at France’s discretion, similar to other citizens of ‘third countries’. For example, foreign people who have lived legally in France for five years or more may apply for a 10-year permit, at a fee of €269, on proof of French language skills, income at least equivalent to the Smic (€1,480 gross/month), health insurance and integration in France.
It is possible for non-Europeans who have previously held a 10-year card to apply for a permanent one when it expires, at the prefecture's discretion. Conditions include language skills and integration in France and not being considered a public danger (based on criminal record). Being aged 60 or more or having had two 10-year cards are factors which help make this easier to obtain.
It would however be hoped that, as there are as many French people in the UK as Britons in France, there would be a cooperative attitude between the two countries with regard to their expats.