It's official: Brexit has begun.
On Wednesday, Britain's ambassador to the European Union, Sir Tim Barrow, delivered Theresa May's Brexit letter to the President of the European Council Donald Tusk. The memorable meeting marked the beginning of Britain's withdrawal process from the EU and will now be known as the starting point for a two year negotiating period.
In a speech following the letter delivery, the Prime Minister told the House of Commons there is "no turning back."
"Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people," May said. "This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back."
For Tusk, it was a more sombre day. There is "no reason to pretend this is a happy day," he told reporters in Brussels and in a message to Britain, he said: "We already miss you."
In her six-page letter to Tusk, May stressed that Britons want to remain "committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent" and emphasized that the Leave referendum vote was "no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans."
She added, "Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination. We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe – and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent."
May also used the message to set out seven negotiation principles for the exit process. These are:
- We should engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation
- We should always put our citizens first
- We should work towards securing a comprehensive agreement
- We should work together to minimise disruption and give as much certainty as possible.
- We must pay attention to the UK's unique relationship with the Republic of Ireland and the importance of the peace process in Northern Ireland
- We should begin technical talks on detailed policy areas as soon as possible, but we should prioritise the biggest challenges
- We should continue to work together to advance and protect our shared European values
May signed the Britain's departure letter to Donald Tusk sitting at No10's Cabinet Room table on Tuesday. Downing Street has since published the historic document, which can be read in full here.