BRITAIN is on course to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, after Downing Street yesterday confirmed Theresa May will formally start Brexit a week from tomorrow.

Bid for second Scotland referendum stalling as Brexit date is set

The Prime Minister will send a letter to top Eurocrat Donald Tusk next Wednesday demanding the triggering of the bloc’s – departure mechanism.

She will then make a statement to MPs to proclaim the 24-month exit process has begun.

Yesterday’s announcement means it is expected that the UK’s first day as a fully independent and sovereign nation will be March 29, 2019, with the exact changeover taking place when Parliament’s Big Ben bell strikes midnight the previous evening.

And with opposition parties in Scotland pointing out apparent “U-turn” on the timing of a second independence referendum, it now looks certain that the whole UK will leave the bloc in that historic moment. Scottish Labour leader Kezia Dugdale said: “You have seen a real change in Nicola Sturgeon’s language.

“She is no longer tied to the idea that it would happen before the UK left the EU; that’s a significant concession.”

The change will bring to an end 46 years of ties to Brussels which began when the UK joined the European Economic Community on January 1, 1973.

EU Exit Secretary David Davis said yesterday: “Last June, the -people of the UK made the historic decision to leave the EU. Next Wednesday, the Government will deliver on that decision and formally start the process by triggering Article 50. We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation.

There will be a letter. She will notify President Tusk in writing

Theresa May’s spokesperson

“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.”

But the SNP hit out at how the announcement was handled.

A spokesman for Ms Sturgeon said: “The fact the UK Government failed to properly and fully inform all of the devolved administrations on the plans for triggering Article 50 totally exposes as empty rhetoric Westminster’s language about equal partnership.”

And the party’s Europe spokesman, Stephen Gethins MP, said: “Today’s announcement shatters beyond repair any notion or position that the Prime Minister is seeking a UK-wide agreement.”

The Article 50 date was confirmed shortly after Sir Tim Barrow, the UK ambassador to Brussels, informed the office of European Council

President Donald Tusk about the timetable yesterday morning. Announcing the date, 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 President Tusk in writing. The Prime Minister will give a statement to Parliament as well.”

Mrs May wants talks to begin “promptly”. The spokesman also said she has firmly rejected calls for an early general election.

Some Tory MPs are understood to have been pressing for an election to exploit Labour’s dismal state under hard-Left leader Jeremy Corbyn.

But the spokesman yesterday said Mrs May has “no plans” to ask the Queen to trigger a poll by dissolving Parliament any sooner than the scheduled date of May 7, 2020.

He said: “There is no change in our position on an early general election, that there isn’t going to be one – it is not going to happen.”

Following the Brexit announcement, Mr Tusk yesterday promised to respond within 48 hours of receiving the letter by publishing a framework for the negotiations for an exit deal. The EU Council President said in a message on Twitter: “Within 48 hours of the UK triggering Article 50, I will present the draft Brexit guidelines to the EU27 member states.”

Officials yesterday declined to -discuss exactly when the UK will formally leave the EU while insisting the Prime Minister was determined to stick to the two-year timescale set out in Article 50.

Brexit campaigners now expect the changeover to take place at midnight on March 28, 2019 in keeping with that timetable. When Britain originally joined the EEC, a Union Flag was raised at midnight in Brussels to mark the moment.

Mrs May’s letter to Mr Tusk next week will mark the first time since the foundation of the European bloc 60 years ago that any member state has asked to leave.

Notification of the departure comes 279 days after the in-or-out referendum of June 23 last year delivered a 52 per cent – 48 per cent majority in favour of withdrawal.

International Development Secretary Priti Patel, a prominent Leave supporter, welcomed confirmation of the date. She said: “The important thing is that when we trigger Article 50 on March 29 we have a clear plan and we will be focusedon ensuring that plan works foreveryone across the UK.”

Belgian prime minister Charles Michel tweeted: “Clarity is in everyone’s interest. We hope the UK will continue to be a close partner of Belgium and EU.”

By coincidence, March 29 also marks the birthday of former prime minister and leading Brexit opponent Sir John Major.

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