LONDON • British Prime Minister Theresa May kept up the suspense yesterday over when she would trigger Brexit, saying she would have the power to do so within days and it would happen by the end of this month.
After weeks of debate, Parliament on Monday approved a Bill empowering Mrs May to trigger Article 50 of the European Union's Lisbon Treaty, which would start a two-year countdown to Britain's departure from the bloc. The negotiations could be Britain's most complex since World War II.
Addressing MPs yesterday, Mrs May said the Bill could now receive formal assent from Queen Elizabeth II "in the coming days" - a process that would leave the Prime Minister free to start Brexit.
"We remain on track with the timetable I set out six months ago," Mrs May said, referring to her promise to trigger Article 50 by the end of March.
"I will return to this House before the end of this month to notify when I have formally triggered Article 50 and begun the process through which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union," she said. "This will be a defining moment for our whole country."
The pound took a beating yesterday, falling to an eight-week low against the dollar and a basket of currencies, hit by fears of a prolonged bout of political jousting over the terms of Britain's exit from the EU.
A DEFINING MOMENT
I will return to this House before the end of this month to notify when I have formally triggered Article 50 and begun the process through which the United Kingdom will leave the European Union. This will be a defining moment for our whole country.
BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY
Banks reported selling of the pound from the moment traders arrived at their desks in Europe yesterday.
"The triggering of Article 50 has been well telegraphed and is unlikely to cause a major stir for sterling in itself," said Mr John Wraith, the UBS head of United Kingdom rates strategy and economics. "It does, however, increase headline risk, particularly as the opening negotiating positions of the two sides are far apart."
Mrs May has revealed little of her strategy in the Brexit negotiations but has a long wish list - wanting to win a free-trade deal, maintain security cooperation, regain control over immigration and restore sovereignty over British laws.
The EU has baulked at her demands, saying they amount to "having your cake and eating it", and Mrs May's government acknowledges it is a bold opening position.
While the government has signalled areas for compromise and is keen to remind EU leaders of the benefits of cooperation, it is also preparing for the possibility of crashing out of the bloc with no deal.
Adding to the pressure, Mrs May faces calls for independence votes from Scotland and Northern Ireland. On Monday, Scotland's governing nationalists launched a fresh bid for independence. The British government has said a second referendum is unnecessary.
Mrs May said yesterday it was also "not right" to have a referendum on Northern Ireland splitting from the United Kingdom, a day after the province's largest Irish nationalist party called for such a vote "as soon as possible".
Sinn Fein has been regularly calling for a vote for Northern Ireland to leave the United Kingdom and unite with the Republic of Ireland since Britain voted to leave the EU in June while most voters in Northern Ireland voted to remain.
AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS