Britain to start EU exit process before end of March: Theresa May

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at a hotel on the eve of her Conservative party's annual conference on Oct 1, 2016.
Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at a hotel on the eve of her Conservative party's annual conference on Oct 1, 2016.PHOTO: AFP

LONDON (AFP, REUTERS) – Prime Minister Theresa May said Sunday  (Oct 2) that Britain would start the formal process for leaving the European Union by the end of March 2017.

Before now May has only said that Britain would not trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty – which sets a maximum two-year clock ticking until a country’s departure from the 28-member bloc – before the end of this year.

May said she would be giving further details during her speech Sunday to her governing centre-right Conservative Party’s on the opening day of its annual conference in Birmingham, central England.

In a move to ease fears among her ruling Conservatives that she may delay the divorce, May will tell members at the party’s annual conference in Birmingham, central England, that she is determined to move on with the process and win the “right deal”.


Invoking Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty will give Britain just a two-year period to clinch one of the most complex deals in Europe since World War II with the other 27 members of the EU.

“We will trigger before the end of March next year,” May told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show.

“Now that they know what our timing is going to be ... (I hope) that we’ll be able to have some preparatory work so that once the trigger comes we have a smoother process of negotiation,” May said.

Earlier she announced a “Great Repeal Bill” to end the authority of EU law once Britain leaves the union.

The legislation will overturn laws that make EU regulations supreme, enshrine all EU rules in domestic law and confirm the British parliament can amend them as it wants.

“This marks the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again,” May told The Sunday Times newspaper.

“It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country. It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end.” 

But even members of her own Conservative Party said that what May has billed as the ‘Great Repeal Act’ was little more than a technicality, used to paint the picture that May was moving on with Brexit to satisfy impatient voices.

“It is very technical and it’s not a big deal,” said Anna Soubry, a Conservative who is the former small business minister. “But triggering Brexit as early as March really concerns me, it troubles me hugely,” she told ITV television.

Meanwhile, Britain's transport minister and leading Brexit campaigner Chris Grayling said it will be looking to keep some European Union laws, including on workers’ rights and the environment, once it has left the bloc.  

“There’s some things we’ll want to keep: in the area of the environment, for example, in the area of workers’ rights. There are other things that we’ll want to get rid of,” Grayling told ITV.

Grayling said the Great Repeal Bill would go through Britain’s parliament between May 2017 and May 2018.

May was clear that she had to deliver on what Britain wanted and that meant limiting migration into the country, while trying to balance the need of businesses for tariff-free access to the EU’s single market.

“I want the right deal for trade in goods and services and what we are doing at the moment ... is listening to businesses here in the UK, listening to different sectors, finding out what it is that is most important to them,” she said.

“To me it’s not just about leaving the EU, it is about that essential question of the trust that people can have in their politicians. The people have spoken, we will deliver on that.”