Britain has begun the full exit from the European Union after Prime Minister Theresa May triggered Article 50. The UK permanent representative in the European Union thereafter handed the signed letter from the PM to the President of the EU, Donald Tusk. The six-page letter is the official signal that Britain will now begin exit negotiations with the EU just a few months after the British people voted to leave the European Union in a landmark referendum held on June 23, 2016. In a statement addressed to Parliament moments after the letter was handed over to the EU, Theresa May reinforced her call for unity in Britain as these negotiations begin.

Britain is expected to fully withdraw from the EU by 2019. Theresa May also confirmed that this decision is now irreversible and admitted that there will be some negative effects for the two years ahead. She added that she was aware that Brexit will affect Britain’s influence in the trade rules that govern the EU and that she is also conscious of the challenges Britain traders and companies will face now due to the exit. However, Theresa May assured the country that she will respect and implement the will of the people to the best of her ability.

In addition to this, the PM also reached out to those opposed to the Brexit saying that this was not the time to point fingers but to forge together as a country and move forward. Theresa May is expected to head the negotiation for the exit in the coming days. In her statement to the Parliament, the PM also sought to assure parliamentarians and the British people that she will hold dear the interest of everyone even as she and her negotiating team remain flexible with the kind of outcomes to be agreed by the EU.

What is Article 50?

Although the trigger of Article 50 has been much publicized, it’s not yet clear for many people what this means exactly. Article 50 is basically a formal trigger that can be applied by an EU member state to leave the union. Once the trigger is accepted, the country can leave the EU anytime after a deal for exit is agreed upon or after two years after serving the notice of exiting. The European Parliament will ratify this trigger before it’s finally granted.

Britain has made it clear that it wants to commence trade negotiations almost immediately even though EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier has cautioned that in order for such talks to happen, a proper and orderly exit has to be agreed on first. There are fears that this stance by the EU could affect the timelines in which Theresa May will have to negotiate all the important trade deals, especially if talks on an orderly withdrawal are protracted. In any case, though, it seems Britain has made their decision and it will be interesting to see in the coming few months the modalities of the exit and how they will affect the EU and the UK.