Donald Tusk has bid an emotional farewell to the United Kingdom after Theresa May triggered Article 50 and begun the formal two year Brexit process.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, a downbeat president of the European Council told the people of the UK: “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”
“There’s no reason to pretend this is a happy day - neither in Brussels or London,” he said.
“There is nothing to win in this process and I am talking about both sides. In essence, this is about damage control.”
Tusk was speaking moments after Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s ambassador to the EU, formally notified Brussels of the Brexit decision at 12.25pm today when he handed over a letter signed by May.
Theresa May’s Article 50 letter in full:
In her letter to Tusk, the prime minister said: “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 will now enter formal exit negotiations with EU leaders over what the UK’s future relationship with the bloc will look like.
The letter states: “The United Kingdom wants to agree with the European Union a deep and special partnership that takes in both economic and security cooperation. To achieve this, we believe it is necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the EU.”
May said that in the case that no deal is reached and Britain leaves without a deal, “both sides would of course cope with the change”, but added: “It is not the outcome that either side should seek. We must therefore work hard to avoid that outcome.”
Speaking in the House of Commons moments after the letter was delivered, May told MPs: “Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people.
“The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. This is an historic moment form which there can be no turning back, Britain is leaving the European Union.”
She said “now is the time for us to come together, to be united across this House and across this country” to work for the “best possible deal”.
Jeremy Corbyn said May was taking the UK in a direction that was “both reckless and damaging” by pursuing a so-called hard Brexit.
“Britain is going to change as a result of leaving the EU. The question is how,” he told MPs. “If the prime minister is to unite the country as she says she aims to do, the government needs to listen, consult and represent the whole country, not just the hardline Tory ideologues on her own benches.”
May signed the Article 50 letter in the Cabinet room on Tuesday afternoon while sitting next to a Union flag and under a portrait of Britain’s first prime minister, Robert Walpole.
Speaking during his press conference, Tusk said:
“There is no reason to pretend that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels, nor in London. After all, most Europeans, including almost half the British voters wish that we would stay together, not drift apart. As for me I will not pretend that I am happy today.
But paradoxically there is also something positive in Brexit. Brexit has made us, the community of 27, more determined and more united than before. I am fully confident of this, especially after the Rome declaration, and today I can say that we will remain determined and united also in the future, also during the difficult negotiations ahead.
What can I add to this? We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”
The decision, following last June’s referendum result, will bring to an end the UK’s 40-year membership of the EU.
In its formal response to the letter, the European Council said it would approach divorce talks “constructively and strive to find an agreement”.
“We regret that the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but we are ready for the process that we now will have to follow. Our first priority will be to minimise the uncertainty caused by the decision of the United Kingdom for our citizens, businesses and Member States. Therefore, we will start by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal.”