'No turning back' as Theresa May triggers Brexit in 'historic moment'
Prime Minister Theresa May has kicked off the two-year process of Britain's withdrawal from the European Union in what she said was "an historic moment from which there can be no turning back".
Minutes after a letter informing the European Council of the UK's intention to leave, Mrs May told the House of Commons that the Government was acting on "the democratic will of the British people" expressed in last year's referendum vote for Brexit.
The historic declaration under Article 50 of the EU treaties - signed by Mrs May on Tuesday - was personally hand-delivered to EC president Donald Tusk in Brussels by the UK's permanent representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow.
Describing EU withdrawal as one of the "great turning points in our national story", Mrs May told MPs: "Today, the Government acts on the democratic will of the British people and it acts too on the clear and convincing position of this House."
Mrs May said: "The Article 50 process is now under way and, in accordance with the wishes of the British people, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union.
"This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back. Britain is leaving the European Union.
"We are going to make our own decisions and our own laws, we are going to take control of the things that matter most to us, and we are going to take this opportunity to build a stronger, fairer Britain - a country that our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.
"That is our ambition and our opportunity."
The first official announcement that Article 50 had been triggered came minutes before Mrs May's statement, as Mr Tusk sent out a message on Twitter while she was taking her regular weekly session of Prime Minister's Questions.
Accompanied by a photograph of the handover of the letter, Mr Tusk wrote: "After nine months the UK has delivered. #Brexit."
Mrs May said leaving the EU was a "unique opportunity" to "shape a brighter future" for the UK.
She said that while the UK would remain the "best friend and neighbour" to its EU partners, it would also look beyond the borders of Europe.
"We can choose to say the task ahead is too great, we can choose to turn our face to the past and believe it can't be done, or we can look forward with optimism and hope and to believe in the enduring power of the British spirit," she said.
"I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead."
Mrs May said the Article 50 letter set out:
:: That the "deep and special partnership" sought by the UK was in the interests of both Britain and the EU;
:: That the UK will approach the talks in a "spirit of sincere co-operation";
:: That the terms of the future partnership should be agreed alongside those of withdrawal within the two-year Article 50 timetable.
The Prime Minister confirmed that the final deal agreed between the UK and the EU would be put to a vote of both Houses of Parliament "before it comes into force".
She also stressed that the Government's plans would end the jurisdiction of the European Court.
"We will take control over our own laws and bring an end to the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in Britain," she said.
Laws would be made in the four nations of the UK and interpreted by judges "not in Luxembourg but in courts across this country".
The Prime Minister said the repatriation of responsibilities from Brussels would lead to a "significant increase" in the decision-making power of the devolved administration.
And she insisted there would be "no return to the borders of the past" on the frontier between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Immigration would be "managed" to serve the national interest, with an early deal sought on the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the Continent.
The Prime Minister acknowledged that her plans to leave the single market and customs union would have consequences for the UK but the "bold and ambitious free trade agreement" would protect trade.
She said: " We understand that there will be consequences for the UK of leaving the EU. We know that we will lose influence over the rules that affect the European economy.
"We know that UK companies that trade with the EU will have to align with rules agreed by institutions of which we are no longer a part, just as we do in other overseas markets. We accept that.
"However, we approach these talks constructively, respectfully, and in a spirit of sincere co-operation."
In a plea for unity following the"divisive" referendum, Mrs May vowed to represent "every person in the UK" in the talks.
"Let us come together and work together," she said.
"Let us together choose to believe in Britain with optimism and hope.
"For if we do, we can make the most of the opportunities ahead.
"We can together make a success of this moment.
"And we can together build a stronger, fairer, better Britain - a Britain our children and grandchildren are proud to call home."
In a press conference in Brussels, Mr Tusk sent a message to the UK: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."
Mr Tusk said that the invoking of Article 50 was not a happy occasion and that the two-year negotiation ahead would be a matter of "damage control".
"There is nothing to win in this process - and I am talking about both sides," he said.
"In essence, this is about damage control."
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said Theresa May's plans for Brexit were potentially "reckless and damaging" as he responded to the Prime Minister's statement in the Commons.
Mr Corbyn said: "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."
He added: "The direction the Prime Minister is threatening to take this country in is both reckless and damaging.
"Labour will not give this Government a free hand to use Brexit to attack rights, protections and cut services."