Closed UK triggers Article 50 – as it happened

Holding image for blog

UK Prime Minister Theresa May has triggered Article 50, the process informing the EU of the UK’s intention to leave. Unless both sides agree to an extension, the notification will start a two-year period to agree a divorce deal before the bloc’s treaties cease to apply to Britain.

Key points

  • Theresa May tells MPs she has acted “on the democratic will of the British peoples”
  • European Council president Donald Tusk says “this is about damage control”
  • An annotated version of the Article 50 letter is here
  • Click here
    for an explainer on what happens next
  • For the FT’s indepth coverage visit our Brexit page

Good morning and welcome to our coverage of this momentous day in British history. In about two hours time the letter from UK prime minister Theresa May, triggering the Article 50 divorce process, will be handed over to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council. On taking possession of the letter, Mr Tusk will have triggered the two-year period in which the UK and the remaining 27 EU member states, along with the European Parliament, must try to reach a deal. If there is no deal then the UK will crash out of the world’s largest trading bloc on standard World Trade Organisation rules.

We have already heard the positive and the negative view of how the UK will fare in these talks this morning.

Philip Hammond, the chancellor, has been sounding optimistic. He told the BBC Today programme this morning that he is “confident we will be able to negotiate a customs arrangement with the European Union that makes the borders between our countries, as frictionless as possible.”

He added: ““I am very confident that we will not get an outcome that is a worst case outcome for everybody. That would be ridiculous.”

But former Cabinet secretary Gus O’Donnell (pictured below on the left next to David Cameron) warned on Wednesday morning that the Article 50 exit process had been designed by EU member states that wanted to deter other countries from leaving the bloc.

“We are in a plane being flown by members of the EU, and we’re about to jump out, and we’ve got a parachute that was designed by the people flying the plane, and they have designed it in a way to deter anybody else jumping out,” Lord O’Donnell told the BBC.

Our colleague Kate Allen has this article on the choreography of the big day.

“The letter that takes Britain out of the EU began its historic journey in Downing Street on Tuesday evening. There, Theresa May signed it before it was set to be transported by a government official to Brussels, where it was handed over to the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow.

The Brexit department said the letter had to be physically taken to Brussels, rather than transmitted digitally, because it bears what civil servants call a “wet signature” — the stroke of Mrs May’s pen. Sir Tim arrived at the Europa building in Brussels at shortly after 10am local time on Wednesday morning, carrying the letter from Mrs May. He greeted waiting press but did not make any comment.”

You may remember that Sir Tim has only been our man in Brussels since January, when his predecessor – Sir Ivan Rogers – quit. Pro-Brexit ministers thought Sir Ivan was too pessimistic about Britain’s prospects outside the bloc.

Downing St has been cagey about the precise mechanism by which the letter was transported to Brussels: but Sun political editor Tom Newton Dunn says it was carried by an official via Eurostar.

So what are the timings today?

Events kick off with prime minister’s questions at noon. This may be a treading-water exercise before the real event…

At 12.30pm (BST) when the prime minister stays in the Commons chamber for her big statement on the triggering of Article 50…

Meanwhile in Brussels at about 12.20pm (BST) Sir Tim Barrow will arrive at the Europa building — known in Brussels as the “Space Egg” (below) – to present the letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council…

Soon afterwards Mr Tusk is expected to make a statement to the press at 12:45pm London time, ie 1.45 in local time….

Meanwhile MPs will debate for about two hours after the prime minister has sat down.

The image of Theresa May signing the letter setting Article 50 into motion dominates front pages in the UK today, accompanied by blanket coverage.

In Europe, things are a bit more muted. In Germany, the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung and Die Welt are leading with stories on Article 50. The Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung’s main story, entitled ‘The Losers from Brexit’, discusses the repercussions for Germany:

But Die Welt does not hold back, the headline next to a picture of Theresa May signing the letter that will trigger Article 50, gives a nod to Margaret Thatcher but reads: “The Iron Lady of Little Britain”

The French press is mainly convulsed with the news that Manuel Valls, the Socialist politician and former prime minister, has said he will vote for Emmanuel Macron in the upcoming presidential election.

Today will see a renewed focus on the key negotiators on both sides of the EU-UK divide. David Davis, the Brexit secretary, was Britain’s Europe minister between 1994 and 1997 under John Major’s premiership. Who was his French counterpart at the time? None other than Michel Barnier, who is now the chief negotiator for the commission.

The Guardian has dug out an old book written by Davis many moons ago when he was a young sugar industry executive.

His golden rules do not sound very compromising. They include “quick negotiations are very bad for one party or the other” and “losers make the first concession on major issues”.

“Do not make the first major concession, make piecemeal concessions with a declining concession pattern and keep all concessions low,” advises the confident-sounding author after a career spent haggling over corporate restructurings at Tate & Lyle. “Make the opposition work for their concessions, and when the deal is struck make them feel that they have done well.”

Here’s a selection of front pages from the UK today:

In contrast to the front pages in the UK today, just over 44 years ago when the UK joined what was then the European Economic Community on 1 January 1973, the FT placed a slightly different emphasis on the big news of the day:

So the prime minister has left Downing St in a silver Jaguar.

Back to the papers on 1 January 1973 when the UK joined the EEC (now the EU) more patient readers of the FT who got as far as page 15 would have found an op ed by prime minister Edward Heath:

While the Guardian left readers in no doubt what they thought the big story of the day was:

Ipsos MORI, the pollsters, have published some research suggesting that Brexit now has overwhelming salience for the voting public. It wasn’t so long ago that the EU was low down in such polls, behind issues such as the NHS, schools and immigration. Here’s what they say:

The March 2017 Ipsos MORI/Economist Issues Index shows a new record in the proportion who see the EU/Brexit as one of the biggest issues facing Britain. Half (51%) now cite it as an issue, six percentage points higher than February and the highest score since records began in September 1974. Fieldwork was conducted 10-19 March, prior to the attack outside Parliament on the 22nd this month.

One third (36%) of the public name Brexit as the single biggest issue facing Britain – a seven percentage point rise from last month’s score, and twenty-three percentage points higher than the next single biggest issue – the NHS, on 13%.

Meanwhile what is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier up to? He’s in Valletta holding talks with Malta’s prime minister, according to the latter’s spokesman on Twitter. Malta currently holds the rotating presidency of the Council of the European Union.

For those of you who can’t access Twitter, it reads:

Chief Brexit negotiator @MichelBarnier meets @JosephMuscat_JM in #Valletta. Says “this is Day1 of a very long and difficult road’ #BrexitDay

Nigel Farage, the former leader of Ukip, has spoken, saying the UK is passing “the point of no return”:

In contrast Michael Gove, his fellow Brexiter, is silent on the subject in the Twittersphere.

The Twitter feed of Boris Johnson, who also campaigned for Leave, is also quiet though as Mr Johnson is foreign rather than Brexit secretary that is not unsurprising.

Meanwhile in the currency markets, the FT’s Michael Hunter reports that sterling is trading around “pivotal levels”:

Sterling rebounded from its lows and was near crucial market levels for traders on Wednesday, as the UK formally notified Brussels of its intention to leave the EU.

After early selling sent the pound below $1.24 to the US dollar, the currency climbed back towards its 50-day moving average of $1.2427 against the world’s reserve currency. In mid-session trade, it was down 0.1 per cent at $1.2438.

Moving averages are widely-followed measures of momentum that investors use to track price trends over various durations. When market price either rises or falls through such technical levels, it can be taken as an important signal that accelerates the current trend.

“We need to watch these levels carefully as a nudge lower could bring back speculative and trend-focused short sellers to the pound again,” said Koon Chow, FX strategist at UBP.

“This a developing negative sign for the pound,’’ he said, adding ‘’sterling bears have had a tough time since October, but they are still out there and watching closely.”

Meanwhile, a quick recap – for those who missed it – about the vellum row. Some Tory MPs were furious that the Brexit Act will not be printed on traditional goat skin because of an austerity exercise designed to save £100,000 a year.

Our Brussels bureau has got a whiff of what the draft statement of the prepared response from the remaining EU 27 member states to the UK’s Article 50 letter:

Here’s an excerpt from the story on FastFT:

The 27 remaining EU member states will pledge to act “as one” in the Brexit negotiation with the UK after Theresa May activates formal talks on Wednesday to withdraw from the bloc.

In a draft statement to be issued after Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, receives the Article 50 notification, the EU27 will say that their first priority is to “minimise the uncertainty” caused by the UK move for citizens, business and member states.

“Therefore, we will start by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal,” said the draft.

A diplomat said some elements of the draft remain to be finalised in light of the actual text of Mrs May’s letter, which will be delivered to Mr Tusk at about 1.20pm (CET) in Brussels by Tim Barrow, the UK ambassador to the EU.

A reference to the possible collapse of the talks remains to be settled definitively, said the diplomat. The draft said the EU would be ready to deal with failure in the talks “even though we do not desire it.”

Nicola Sturgeon has a visit to a Glasgow-based IT firm creating jobs in Scotland to cheer herself up this morning. But the First Minister of Scotland made herself plain beforehand:

For those who cannot read the tweet, it says: “Today, the PM will take the UK over a cliff with no idea of the landing place. Scotland didn’t vote for it and our voice has been ignored.”

On one level, today’s theatrics are just a precursor to a long, grinding negotiation of dizzying complexity. Both sides are going to have to address everything from the EU divorce bill to the eventual trade deal and future regulation of an array of different industries. Each one poses its own unique, difficult challenges.

Take aviation, for example.

As the FT reported this week…

British airlines could face severe restrictions on European flights immediately after a “hard” Brexit, the European Commission has warned, as the UK prepares for the formal process of leaving the EU. Commission officials recently told British airline representatives that under a transitional deal after a hard Brexit UK carriers would be able to operate only direct flights between the UK and the EU, according to two people familiar with the discussions. Under such restrictions, airlines such as easyJet and BMI, which currently fly between destinations in the continental EU, such as Milan to Munich, would not be able to operate such routes without changing their status. Should Britain also impose the same restrictions on EU airlines, Ryanair could be prevented from operating intra-UK flights. The probability of a hard Brexit has risen since Theresa May, prime minister, made clear her plans to leave the EU’s single market and end the authority of the European Court of Justice over British courts. But one big question is whether the UK will accept European aviation law, over which the ECJ has the ultimate say. EasyJet has said since last year’s referendum that it intends to set up a new EU-based company with a European air operators’ certificate to handle intra-EU flights. The company has said it expects the process to cost £10m over two years.

Peter Campbell, the FT’s Motor Industry correspondent, has this from carmaker Ford:

Ford has warned that the competitiveness of the UK’s auto industry will be put “at risk” if Britain leaves the EU without a deal that provides access to the market, in its starkest warning over the future of British production yet.

“No deal would be the very worst case for the UK auto industry and would put at risk the competitiveness of the industry,” “Jim Farley, Ford president for Europe, Middle East and Africa warned on Wednesday.

Ford runs two engine plants in the UK, at Bridgend and Dagenham, which export engines to the continent where they are assembled into vehicles.

It already expects to cut 1,100 jobs from its Bridgend plant (pictured below) by 2021, leaving just 600 employees and casting doubt over the future viability of the site

The US carmaker also said on Wednesday that a transitional deal that allows existing rules to carry on until a new trade deal is formed is “critical”.

The company has vowed to do whatever it takes to remain profitable in Europe, and has not ruled out cutting costs or even closing more plants

In a statement Mr Farley said:

We need an ambitious Brexit deal that maintains strong EU and UK economies, and creates a competitive and investment-friendly environment. Any deal must include securing tariff-free trade with the wider Customs Union and not just the EU27, whilst retaining access to the best talent and resources. Given the short timeframe for negotiations, it also is critical that a transitional period is put in place to ensure that customers are not penalized and to maintain free trade. No deal would be the very worst case for the UK auto industry and would put at risk the competitiveness of the industry.

This is from Vincent Boland, our correspondent in Dublin:

“The Guardian’s front page has generated more comment on social media in Ireland than Theresa May’s letter triggering Article 50. The paper has a jigsaw map of Europe with Britain and Northern Ireland missing – and also various bits of the Republic of Ireland – which is not leaving the EU.

As Richard Chambers tweeted: “Jesus. They really are leaving. And by the looks of things, they’re taking Donegal and Dundalk with them.” As well as large swathes of Cavan and Monaghan – and even Wicklow, which is south of Dublin.

The tweets brought a response from Katharine Viner, the Guardian’s editor: “Bloody jigsaws.”

The reaction chimes with general hostility in the Irish papers to the triggering of Brexit, which is likely to have very negative consequences for Ireland, north and south of the border.

Denis Staunton, London correspondent of the Irish Times, writes that the UK has begun “a lonely journey out of the EU, drunk on a notion of sovereignty and all puffed up with no place to go.”"

Airline Ryanair also used Article 50 Day to issue an apocalyptical warning, saying that unless all parties get a move on there was a “distinct possibility of no flights between Europe and the UK for a period from March 2019 in the absence of a bilateral deal.” It points out that summer 2019 schedules must be released a year from now.

This seems highly unlikely, although it does underscore how loudly the clock is ticking for some businesses.

PMQs has begun and Theresa May is answering questions. She uses her first response to make a sweeping comment on Brexit, saying that leaving was the “decision of the people of the United Kingdom”. She also claims, not for the first time, that the vote in June 2016 was a call to make the UK a country that “works for everyone, not just the privileged few.”

Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, has begun his questions by pressing Mrs May over reductions in police numbers since 2010. Corbyn claims that there are now 20,000 fewer police officers and 12,000 fewer on the front line. That is despite police being protected in the most recent comprehensive spending review. Clearly the issue is highly sensitive after the murder last week of PC Keith Palmer just inside the gates of Parliament.

The FT’s Jim Brunsden is in Malta where as we noted earlier Michel Barnier, the EU chief Brexit negotiator spent some time with the country’s PM as he currently holds the rotating EU presidency. He managed to grab a few words with Mr Barnier on the sidelines of conference of Europe’s centre right parties.

He told the FT: “I’m ready,” adding: “I want to succeed, I want to get a deal.”

But warned that “in the common interest of the UK and the EU, there are some conditions” for getting an agreement.

Back to PMQs. With Corbyn not asking about Brexit, it falls to Angus Robertson, leader of the Scottish National Party in Westminster, to press the prime minister. He accuses her of pressing ahead with triggering A50 without getting a genuine “UK-wide agreement” with other parts of the UK. “There is no agreement,” he insists.

A few reactions from around the EU already;

In a statement from the Foreign Ministry, Germany has insisted the UK will remain a “close partner and friend” despite the decision to leave the European Union, but that “being a close friend is not the same as being part of the family.”

It added it was “daring” for Britain to decide to leave amid “uncertainty and restlessness” in the world.

It says the primary objective of negotiations with Britain will to be to minimise uncertainties for citizens, the economy and the EU.

Meanwhile there has been a little speculation about the pen used by Theresa May to sign Article 50. It appears to be a Parker Duofold, made by a US company that previously manufactered pens in England….but has since moved manufacturing to France. Ministers will be hoping that is not an omen.

More reaction from around the EU, this time Croatia:

Croatia’s prime minister says that his country will be the least affected by the British exit from the European Union because it was the last to join in 2013.

Andrej Plenkovic (picture below) says that “both our analysis and the analysis by the European Commission have confirmed that.”

The Hina news agency also quoted Plenkovic as saying that Brexit was a “big, huge mistake” whose negative consequences will be felt primarily in Britain.

He added that “no one can tell at this moment” when negotiations between the EU and Britain will end, and what kind of an agreement they will produce.

Plenkovic said that “it’s a scenario unseen so far.” He also said the EU should remain “inclusive” to not discourage future candidates striving to join the bloc.

Emoticon The BBC has reported that the Article 50 letter has been formally handed over to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, officially triggering the two-year negotiating period before Brexit.

At last, a question during PMQs related to Brexit from Labour MP Tulip Siddiq on spending pledges made during the Leave campaign last year. Theresa May simply responded: “When this country leaves the European Union we will have control of our budgets and we will decide how that money is spent.”

Donald Tusk has just taken to Twitter to confirm receipt of the letter:

For those who can’t access Twitter, it reads: After nine months the UK has delivered. #Brexit

Tusk’s official President of the European Council Twitter feed has also posted a photo of Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, handing over the letter:

Theresa May is beginning her statement. “Today the government acts on the democratic will of the British people….and this House.”

She says the letter has been handed over, confirming the government’s intention to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty. That process is now “underway”, she says: “The United Kingdom is now leaving the European Union. This is a historic moment from which there is no turning back.”

Theresa May in parliament: “I choose to believe in Britain and that our best days lie ahead.”

Leaving the EU presents Britain with a “unique opportunity”, she says. “It is a chance for us to step back and ask what kind of country we want to be….I want the UK to emerge from this period of change stronger, fairer….secure, prosperous country, a magnet for international talent.”

The gist of May’s message is that Britain will use this opportunity to rebuild links with countries outside the EU. Meanwhile there will still be strong co-operation on economic affairs and security with the bloc, she adds. “Now more and ever the world needs the liberal democratic values of Europe.” Some cynical MPs laugh at this point.

The PM insists once again that Britain is leaving the institutions of the EU but is not leaving Europe. That is, of course, a simple statement of fact.

Theresa May: “We will do all we can to help the European Union prosper and succeed.”

As expected, May confirms that tomorrow will see the publication of a white paper setting out plans for the “Great Repeal Bill” which will transfer various EU laws on to the UK statute book.

But she is being cagey about which powers will be devolved from the EU to Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. She says they will have a significant increase in decision-making power. However she has not yet answered the question of whether Scotland will take control of its own fisheries and agriculture.

Workers rights will be fully protected and maintained, the prime minister says – indeed the government will “build on” those rights. That will not go down brilliantly with those Eurosceptic MPs who see Brexit as an opportunity to slash all red tape.

Theresa May is really stressing the security cooperation with Europe. It is one of the areas that the UK has a key role to play. Along with France, the UK is Europe’s strongest military power and also has one of the best intelligence-gathering apparatus in the world.

Theresa May concludes her historic address to the House of Commons – by declaring that “we can together make a success of this moment”. The prime minister says that together, the British people can make a country that “our children and grandchildren are proud to call home.”

Roger Blitz, the FT’s currency correspondent reports:

Mrs May began her Article 50 statement with the pound marginally up on the day against the dollar and 0.4 per cent higher on the euro, having earlier traded a third of a per cent lower.

Sterling is trading at around $1.2470 and Eur1.1560. Analysts have been expecting “sell the rumour, buy the fact” trading around the pound. The currency is trading slightly down on the start of the week.

Jeremy Corbyn is now responding on behalf of the Labour opposition party. He is making an argument against Theresa May’s line that “no deal is better than a bad deal”. He calls on the PM to protect jobs and living standards during talks with the EU. Labour will hold the government to account at every stage of the negotiations, he insists.

Corbyn also reminds the chamber that David Davis, Brexit secretary, has previously claimed that the UK, post-Brexit, can enjoy the same benefits as it now enjoys from the single market and customs union membership. Labour will hold the government to that promise, he says.

Corbyn also repeats his rather well-worn claim that many Tory MPs want to turn the UK into a “low wage tax haven.”

While the focus is on the UK Parliament, the FT’s Duncan Robinson reports an ominous warning from the European Parliament, which you will recall has a veto on any final deal along with the EU 27:

In an indication of the increasingly tough line being taken by MEPs, Manfred Weber, the German leader of largest centre-right bloc in the European Parliament, said: “EU has done everything to keep the British. From now on, only the interests of the remaining 440 million Europeans count for us.

The prime minister has just accused Labour’s front bench of being at loggerheads over Article 50. She pointed to this tweet, from shadow trade secretary Barry Gardiner, claiming May was “signing away our future”. That is at odds with Labour’s official position of support for Brexit.

The UK government has released the six page letter triggering Article 50. The full version can be read here

The FT’s Political Editor, George Parker, and Alex Barker, the FT’s Brussels bureau chief, will shortly begin to annotate the Article 50 letter. You can see that happen here.

As Theresa May began to speak an hour ago, London mayor Sadiq Khan was wrapping up a meeting with French presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, and put a positive gloss on events unfolding as the two were speaking:

For those who cannot read the tweet it says: Good meeting with French Presidential candidate @EmmanuelMacron to discuss continued close working between London & France post-Brexit.

Mr Macron acknowledged the formal triggering of Brexit and his meeting with Mr Khan, but said nothing more.

Donald Tusk has just held his press conference in Brussels acknowledges receipt of the letter and says “there is no reason to believe this is a happy day neither in Brussels nor in London.”

He says there is “nothing to win in this process . . . this is about damage control.” He says his mission is clear to protect the member states and the European Commission.

He adds: “Until the United Kingdom leaves the UK, EU law will continue to apply to and within the UK.”

He finished up by addressing the UK and says: “What can I say, we already miss you, thank you and good bye.”

The Commons debate on Article 50 is still ongoing. Angus Robertson, leader of the SNP in Parliament, says that all the rhetoric in the Commons cannot “paper over” the splits in the “so-called united” United Kingdom.

Theresa May hits back by pointing out that people in her own Maidenhead constituency backed Remain.

Despite that, she is respecting the national vote, she continues, saying it was a vote of the whole United Kingdom. She pointedly him that about 400k SNP supporters voted for Brexit.

More reaction from the European Parliament where another senior German MEP has issued a strongly worded statement – remember the parliament is a key player in this process as it has an effective veto on any deal. In this case, Markus Ferber, a senior MEP from Angela Merkel’s CDU/CSU, who is vice-chairman of the European Parliament’s Economic and Monetary Affairs Committe, has said:

The only thing the British government has been very clear about since the referendum is that they have nothing even vaguely resembling a plan. The ideas that have been pitched by members of the UK government ranged from de facto-membership of the EU to a clean cut and a future as an international pariah operating a tax haven. This kind of confusion on the British side of the negotiation table will certainly not make things easier. One thing is very clear, however: the UK might have succeeded in becoming a Member State with special privileges, but it must not succeed in becoming a 3rd country with special privileges. It will become very apparent that being a member of a strong European club is far cosier than being out there alone.

Here’s the official statement from the European Council, which is the body that provides overall political direction to the EU made up of the heads of state or government of each member state, along with its president – Donald Tusk – and the president of the European Commission – Jean-Claude Juncker:

Today, the European Council received a letter from the British Prime Minister, Theresa May, notifying the United Kingdom’s intention to leave the European Union. This notification follows the referendum of 23 June 2016 and starts the withdrawal process under Article 50 of the Treaty. 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.

For the European Union, the first step will now be the adoption of guidelines for the negotiations by the European Council. These guidelines will set out the overall positions and principles in light of which the Union, represented by the European Commission, will negotiate with the United Kingdom.

In these negotiations the Union will act as one and preserve its interests. 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.

We will approach these talks constructively and strive to find an agreement. In the future, we hope to have the United Kingdom as a close partner.

President Tusk has convened the European Council on 29 April 2017.

TIm Farron, leader of the Liberal Democrats, says his party is right to oppose Brexit. He says he wants to be able to look his children in the eye in the future and say he tried to prevent “calamity“.
The Liberal Democrats will not roll over as the official opposition has done,” he says in a jibe at the Labour party. Mrs May reminds him his party backed an EU referendum a few years ago.

The Irish government has issued a statement and it is worth bearing in mind that Ireland is the most exposed of the remaining EU27 member states to Brexit given the strong economic ties with the UK and the soft border with Northern Ireland.

Here are some excerpts from the full statement:

Although we regret the UK’s decision to leave the EU, it has been clear since the referendum last June that the British Government would follow this path.

It has been clear from the start that the UK’s departure from the Union will have significant economic, political and social implications for Ireland.

The Government has been working very hard for more than two years, even before the UK referendum, to engage with all sectors across the island of Ireland, to fully analyse our main areas of concern, and to develop our negotiating priorities.

These are to minimise the impact on our trade and the economy; to protect the Northern Ireland Peace Process, including through maintaining an open border; to continue the Common Travel Area with the UK; and to work for a positive future for the European Union.

We note that our particular concerns, including in relation to the Good Friday Agreement, have been acknowledged by Prime Minister May in her letter.

Now that Article 50 has been triggered, we will publish, before the European Council meeting on 29 April, a consolidated paper providing more detail about our priorities and our approach to the negotiations ahead.

We have been extremely active at both political and official level in engaging with every one of our EU partners and with the EU institutions, raising awareness of the unique circumstances in relation to Ireland, and the need to address these in the negotiations. It has also been invaluable to gain a first-hand sense of the objectives of others. We are confident that this intensive engagement has had a very positive impact.

There is no doubt that the negotiations ahead will be very challenging.

Ireland is well prepared for the challenges ahead. We will negotiate from a position of strength as an integral part of the EU 27 team, and will work with all our partners to achieve the best possible outcome.

Colin Ellis, chief credit officer for EMEA at ratings agency Moody’s, has noted that the triggering of Article 50 hasn’t changed much for companies today given there are no surprises:

Although the UK government’s decision to invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty represents an important milestone in the Brexit process, it is in line with the UK’s previously stated timetable and in itself doesn’t materially alter our credit analysis.

But he adds:

Our base case is that the UK and the EU will eventually come to an agreement to preserve most – but probably not all – of the current trading relationships. However, such an agreement would likely take years of negotiation, and there are clear downside risks. Substantial new tariff or non-tariff barriers, in particular, would have an adverse impact on UK sectors that trade extensively with the EU market.

Judging by my email intray, the special pleading has already begun from every possible industry and sector that you can imagine. It’s hard to imagine that the government will be able to please all or even most of them, giving the trade-offs and compromises coming down the line.

Here, for example – from our health expert Sarah Neville – is the BMA:

The British Medical Association is calling on the government to grant permanent residence to European doctors working in the UK as soon as possible, “to control the impact of Brexit on the NHS and protect patient care across the country”. Around 10,000 doctors working in the NHS qualified in the European Economic Area (EEA) – seven per cent of the workforce – with more working in public health and academic medicine, it says. Mark Porter, BMA council chair, says: “While Theresa May says Brexit means Brexit, for the thousands of European doctors working in the UK all it means is uncertainty as to whether they and their families will have the right to stay here.”

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has Tweeted a picture of his negotiating team (or at least whoever is running his account while he is attending to business in Malta has):

For those who can’t access Twitter, the Tweet reads:

Our #Brexit team is ready. We will work for #EU27 member states, EU institutions & citizens; together with all Commission services.

and here is the pic:

We aren’t going to bludgeon you with every statement from every lobby group, but this from the CBI should give you a flavour of the general mood. Business does not want to sound “killjoy” but is worried about the fine details of the negotiations.

Paul Drechsler, CBI President, said:

“The first six months are crucial as the UK heads into these challenging and unprecedented negotiations. Securing some early wins is therefore vital to set us on the right path.

“Most welcome of all would be the immediate guarantee of the right to remain for EU citizens here and UK nationals in Europe, which all governments agree is desirable.

“Businesses will welcome the upfront commitment to an implementation period to rule out cliff-edges for firms on both sides of the Channel – though more detail will be needed. Meanwhile, we must work constructively to design a means to maintain some influence over regulations affecting UK businesses in our biggest market.

Some comment from Frances O’Grady, general secretary of the TUC, who makes the case for protecting workers’ rights:

The Prime Minister must take all the time needed to get the best deal for Britain – not just the fastest deal. British workers and British jobs are relying on it.

The head of Britain’s trade union movement added:

The best deal will guarantee that hardworking Brits keep their hard-won rights at work – and that in the years to come they won’t miss out on new protections that Dutch, Spanish and German workers get. It must protect good jobs, with decent wages, by keeping our trade free from tariffs and unnecessary bureaucracy. And it must end the disgraceful uncertainty for workers from other EU nations who’ve made the UK their home.

The Brexit deal will define Britain’s future for a generation. We owe it to ourselves and our children to take the time needed to get it right.

The debate in the Commons is rather how you might expect, but there have been a few memorable moments here and there. Jacob Rees-Mogg, Eurosceptic Tory MP, quoting Sir Francis Drake, wishes luck to May – calling her a potential “21st Century Gloriana”.

Nigel Dodds, deputy leader of the DUP, has criticised those who “moan and whine” about Brexit. Alistair Burt, a Tory pro-EU MP, says he feels “a little sad” about today’s events.

Meanwhile Victoria Borwick, Tory MP for Kensington, was at one point wearing a Union Jack alice band, although it has since disappeared.

Yvette Cooper, chair of the home affairs select committee, wonders whether May could one day be remembered as the person who accidentally presided over the break-up of Britain. You’ll be unsurprised that Sir Bill Cash, one of the most enduring Eurosceptics in the Commons, has got in a question.

Cash declares that people are “regaining their birthright to govern themselves, which they fought and died for over generations.”

Impact on the City of London

A senior board member of Germany’s central bank has told Reuters that banks moving to the continent will likely settle in a number of cities rather than create one new financial hub to rival London, Andreas Dombret said in an interview authorized for release on Wednesday, the day British Prime Minister Theresa May was due to formally launch two years of divorce negotiations.

“Many banks interested in Frankfurt have knocked on our door and I’ve had a lot of interesting discussions,” said Dombret, the Bundesbank’s top supervision expert.

“I do not expect all banks to move to the same city on the continent. They will certainly spread out a little bit.”

Here’s a video clip of Theresa May confirming she has triggered Article 50

The European Commission has issued a Q&A on Article 50 and the next steps towards – for the full version click here

And we have a short excerpt from Donald Tusk’s statement earlier:

The British Bankers’ Association has come out calling for a “phased process of implementation” as their members fret about the shape of the Brexit deal.

In December the FT reported that the BBA had drafted a report calling for the government to bring in a transition arrangement, giving UK-based banks access to the EU for several years after the UK’s departure.

Chief executive Anthony Browne said:

All existing EU member states have a mutual interest in securing a smooth exit and a new partnership that recognises the close ties between our financial systems. As we enter this next phase, it’s crucial that firms are confident they will be able to serve their customers once the UK has left the EU.

Ensuring trade negotiations are conducted in parallel with Article 50 and securing a phased process of implementation will be paramount in paving the way for a smooth exit that protects the interests of our customers and clients. We will continue to work with Government and regulators to support their negotiation strategy to agree a new partnership with the EU.

The FT’s Paul McClean reports from a party celebrating Brexit in Brussels:

MEPs from UKIP and other members of the Eurosceptic EFDD Group held a Brexit Party on Wednesday afternoon to commemorate the triggering of Article 50

Special Brexit cakes were cut, and cava corks were popped as the MEPs celebrated “the return of freedom and democracy”.

As one passerby heckled with cries of “Where’s our £350m for the NHS?”, UKIP MEP Ray Finch hit out at “Remoaner lies” and promised “the rest of the revolution will follow”

We have a further light-hearted report from Paul McClean on the Brexit party:

A somewhat surreal afternoon in the heart of Brussels’ European quarter. As Donald Tusk received the letter confirming the UK’s intention to withdraw from the EU, Eurosceptic MPs from Ukip and the Swedish Democrats gathered outside a pub to throw a “Brexit Party.”

International media swarmed round a table on which stood two shop-bought cakes, three bottles of €7 cava, and a miniature UK flag.

There was none of the ceremony with which Sir Tim Barrow handed over the UK’s letter – MEPs simply enjoyed a few pints courtesy of a bar tab set up by Ukip’s Ray Finch, smoked, and posed for photos in front of the chocolate and sponge cakes.

“Enjoy the sweet taste of freedom!” cried David Coburn, Ukip MEP for Scotland. “Thirsty. Ooh yeah,” he said, as the corks were finally popped on the Spanish cava.

“It’s like 1848 – the year of revolution in Europe. The British disease is spreading,” he added.

After five minutes of posing in front of the cakes – purchased from a local shop by Ukip staffers early on Wednesday – some MEPs began to get restless. “Who’s supposed to be cutting it?” asked Mr Coburn. “I want the chocolate one.” The cutter-in-chief was eventually found, and the speeches began.

“I’d always believed I would see this day,” said Mr Finch. “This will give other Eurosceptic MPs more heart.”

“This is a second D-day,” said Peter Lundgren of the Swedish Democrats. “Once again the UK is showing us the lead. We’ll miss our Ukip friends terribly – they are my absolute closest friends.”

And if there were fears that today marked the final two years of their highly-paid roles, the MEPs didn’t show it. “I’m hoping the Scots will put me in Westminster parliament,” said Mr Coburn.

“But there are plenty of things I want to do in life. I used to be a futures trader, but I’m a bit old for that now. So maybe basket weaving, perhaps.”

The FT photographer Charlie Bibby has taken his cue from a snap of the front pages of many of the UK papers on January 1 1973 (below), when the UK joined the then EEC

and updated the image with the same front pages today

Here, James Blitz – our Brexit editor – takes a look back to the politicians who led Britain into the EU (then called the European Community) more than four decades ago. Back then the media cheered on political leaders who thought the project would help the continent recover from the scars of World War 2.

“On Wednesday, Mrs May begins the process of repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, one of the most bitterly fought pieces of postwar legislation. Heath struggled to pass the bill because of the sizeable Conservative rebellion against entry into the Common Market led by Enoch Powell (who on Wednesday has his posthumous revenge). Young recalls how, on the night of October 28, 1971, after the bill passed its critical second reading in the Commons, many ministers celebrated by going to parties. The prime minister returned to Downing Street and sat alone in his flat, playing the first of Bach’s forty eight preludes and fugues. It was the triumph of his life, a cathartic victory — and one that is on Wednesday reversed by history.

Here you can watch former prime minister Heath signing the Treaty of Accession to the EEC in 1972 which set Britain on the path to membership.

Via the FT’s man in Berlin, Guy Chazan, here are some comments from German foreign minister Sigmar Gabriel.

Mr Gabriel (pictured below leaving the podium after making his statement) said it was good that what he called “the stalemate” – the nine month wait since the referendum last June – had come to an end and adds that “the EU-27 used the time up until the formal British application well”:

We know what we want, we have a clear, distinct negotiating position and can provide the EU Commission with a strong mandate.

And on those divorce talks:

The talks won’t be easy for either side. Bad feelings are understandable. Even now it’s still hard for many people to understand how anyone can believe that it’s better to be alone, precisely in these turbulent times between the worlds.

But that shouldn’t be the basis for forming our future relations. The sentence “Let’s stay friends!”, which sounds so empty when people get divorced, is the right one in this situation. Britain remains our neighbour, just as the EU is for the Brits. We need each other. We should do everything we can to ensure that we have good and friendly relations with London in the future.

Maybe it’s time to think about the politicians who paved the way for Brexit, and where they are today. Boris Johnson, now foreign secretary, has been in the House of Commons chamber. Michael Gove, former education secretary, has not been spotted.

Neither has David Cameron, the former prime minister, who took the rash decision to hold the referendum in the first place. (He stepped down as Tory leader and as an MP last summer). Cameron held the plebiscite thinking that he would easily win – a gamble that ended his own political career.
Here is a clip from his 2013 speech at Bloomberg when he first announced the plan.

But who deserves the real credit for making Brexit happen? Surely it has to be Nigel Farage, former leader of Ukip. Cameron made the decision to hold the referendum in a bid to quell dissent in his own party and – in theory – weaken Ukip. Today Farage is in a pub in Westminster (allowing easy media access) giving interviews to journalists. He is wearing Union Jack socks.

When Farage was first elected as an MEP, his party was not taken very seriously at all. Here is his maiden speech.

Even as recently as 2010 Farage was largely ignored during the general election: he nearly lost his life in an aviation accident. For him the Out vote last summer was a huge personal and professional triumph – even if his former party seems now to be in a gradual process of disintegration.

Here is a reminder of his post-Brexit “you’re not laughing any more” speech in the European Parliament.

Our colleague Andy Bounds in Manchester has been hearing from Lord Mandelson, former EU trade commissioner.

The one-time Labour cabinet minister – who was a key figure in the Remain campaign – said trade with the bloc would remain our “bread and butter” and said a new trade agreement should take top priority.

“A divorce settlement is more likely than not within two years but a replacement trade deal that will secure our future in the European market will take much longer than that,” he told reporters. Mrs May’s letter called for parallel talks on Brexit and trade.

“My advice to the government is: deal with the divorce as quickly as possible because it is not a top priority and concentrate instead of negotiating a replacement trade deal because so much of what we sell and buy is to and from the European single market. That is where our bread and butter lies.”

Whatever sum the EU demands as the price for the UK’s commitments “will boil down to very little” compared with the importance of a new trade deal, he said.

He earlier told an audience at Manchester Metropolitan University, where he is chancellor, that Article 50 talks would be “the most complicated policy challenge any Western country has attempted in our lifetime”. There would need to be a transitional arrangement as a new trade deal would take some time.

George Parker, the FT’s political correspondent, has three takeaways as the dust settles on the contents of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Article 50 letter:

1) There has been a lot of focus on the explicit linking in the PM’s letter of trade and security. Part of an attempt to create some goodwill around the talks, but with an obvious threat (probably idle) hanging in the air

2) Constructive language: there has been a notable shift in tone from the PM. Augmented by comments this morning from Philip Hammond, the chancellor who is seen by eurosceptic Tories as overly pessimistic on Brexit, who said: “You can’t have your cake and eat it”. This was a clear rebuke of foreign secretary Boris Johnson, who campaigned for the UK to leave the EU and has indicated that Britain would not need to compromise in order to maintain access to the EU single market.

3) Interesting stress on financial services in the letter – and the need to develop a framework to address “regulatory dumping” by the UK after any trade deal in reference to the position taken by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. This could result in a big bust up with Tory right later.

A reminder that we are expecting a statement from the Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s coordinator for the negotiations with the UK, at about 16:15 BST.

The importance of the European Parliament in any final approval of a deal with the UK cannot be underestimated as it has an effective veto.

This is what the deal needs to gain approval, according to the European Commission fact sheet on Article 50:

The negotiated agreement would need to be adopted by a qualified majority of 72% of the remaining 27 Member States, representing 65% of the population. The final agreement would also need to be approved by the European Parliament, voting by a simple majority.

FT commentator Martin Wolf wrote yesterday about the pitfalls ahead for Britain as it enters the complex Brexit negotiations. Here is a link.

And here is a flavour of his thinking:

Brexiters will also learn that geography is political destiny. The UK can never be a non-European country. It will always be intimately affected by developments on the continent. But now, faced with a threatening Russia, an indifferent US, a chaotic Middle East, a rising China and the global threats of climate change, it is removing its voice from the system that organises its continent. The UK is no longer in the 19th century. It is in the 21st. Isolation will not be splendid — it will be isolation.

So, what next? Well, tomorrow will see the publication of a white paper setting out the government’s “Great Repeal Bill”.

It’s worth going back to this analysis by David Allen Green on how the government hopes to transfer thousands of EU laws on to the UK statute book.

“Voltaire once said that the Holy Roman Empire was neither Holy, nor Roman, nor an Empire (“ni saint, ni romain, ni empire“). Much the same can be said of the UK government’s Great Repeal Bill, which is to be the main legislative basis of the practical process of Brexit. There is not yet a bill. There is no draft bill for consultation. There is not even a white paper, although there was news on Monday that one is on its way — a draft is, it seems, in circulation in Whitehall. It is about 50 pages long and will, it is said, be published when the Article 50 notification is made. The bill is not about repeal, at least not primarily. Its primary purpose will be to place into local UK law almost the entirety of currently applicable EU law.

Here’s a reminder of the UK’s trade relations with the rest of the world in two charts, which we have “borrowed” from Martin Wolf’s analysis that my colleague Jim Pickard linked to in his post at 3:51pm:

Lord Heseltine, one of the great Europhile Tories, is sounding sorrowful on Sky News as he is asked about Brexit. He says the Brexit vote is linked to the rise of Donald Trump and the support for Marine Le Pen in France: “The British people are fed up with eight years of economic stagnation, and there is deep unease about immigration.” Heseltine was recently sacked by Downing St from an advisory position after he voted against his own government over the Article 50 bill in the House of Lords.

Frans Timmermans, vice president of the European Commission, has penned this op ed for the FT, in which writes:

I was 12 when the UK joined [the EEC], I was in an English school. So at an early age I knew full well that my kin, the Dutch, are much less like the Brits than we like to think and much closer to Germans, Belgians and Danes than we know.

And since then I have also known that Britain is different, has a different attitude towards European co-operation, and more than others feels the need to assert not just its uniqueness but also in the geographical distance of the British Isles from the continent.

He concludes:

We no longer point guns at each other; we fight it out at a conference table. And we will continue to do so when the UK is no longer a member state but, I hope, still a friend. The UK is leaving the EU, but not Europe.

You can read the full piece here

Looking back at the build-up to Brexit, it is clear that even some of the politicians in the Remain camp were at times half-hearted in their backing for the EU.

Take David Cameron himself. The former PM claimed in this article that keeping the UK together was “a thousand times more important” to him than remaining in the EU.

And here’s a reminder of when Cameron criticised the “completely unacceptable” sudden demand for extra money from the EU, saying he felt “downright anger”.

You can’t blame voters for feeling surprised when the PM abandoned his apparent ambivalence and suddenly struck a pro-EU note in the final months before the referendum.

The press conference by Antonio Tajani, the president of the European Parliament, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s coordinator for the negotiations with the UK, has started.

Mr Tajani says “this is the first time a member state has decided to leave us . . . today is not a good day for Europe.

He adds that the Article 50 trigger is the start of a “difficult” period of negiations and says the European Parliament’s role is to protect the EU citizens. He says the parliament must ensure an “orderly exit” which he says is prerequisite for an good future partnerships between the EU and the UK.

He thanks Mrs May for committing to the principle that the UK will remain subordinate to EU laws during the negotiation process. He says not reaching a deal on European citizens is “no deal at all” and says the UK must agree to pay what it owes. He adds a “no deal scenario” would be “disastrous especially for the United Kingdom.”

He says a good deal must include a commitment to the peace process in Northern Ireland.

Mr Tajani again reminds the UK that the four freedoms – he free movement of goods, capital, services, and people – are not negotiable.

He says cooperation on security matters should continue “whether there is a deal or not.”

Meanwhile Angela Merkel, the German chancellor, has rejected the idea that we can negotiate the EU divorce deal at the same time as the trade deal. Of course, this has been the European position for months, so at one level it is not a surprise. Yet it is an unwelcome reminder of how the EU27 may not play to Britain’s rules of engagement.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s coordinator for the negotiations with the UK, reminds everyone that it is the European Parliament, which has the final say on any deal negotiated with the UK. He says a draft resolution laying out the EP stance on negotations will be released after the press conference.

He says the first issue that requires agreement is the guarantee of EU citizens rights after Brexit. As yet that issue has not been revolved.

Mr Verhofstadt says the European Parliament objects to the UK reaching any separate trade deals with other countries being negotiated before a Brexit deal has been reached. He says individual member states among the EU27 must also avoid the temptation of doing deals with the UK.

Verhofstadt says European Parliament will “never accept” a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland and that the the Good Friday Agreement must be respected in full in the negotiations.

He adds that sectoral agreements “destroying the single market” will not be allowed. He says the deal that should be done between the EU27 and the UK is an “association agreement” as laid down in Article 217 of the Lisbon Treaty. More details on that article here.

Meanwhile Amber Rudd has been quizzed as to why the Article 50 letter seems to link ongoing security co-operation with getting a good economic deal.

She has insisted that the UK is not threatening the bloc. “There are two separate items here: one is on security, the other is on the economy,” she said earlier – referring to them as “separate pillars”.

But that is not how it appears to others. Rudd also added that Britain is currently the largest contributor to Europol – and if Britain left it would take our information with us. “This isn’t controversial.”

Nick Macpherson, former permanent secretary at the Treasury, is sceptical. He has said on Twitter that it is “not a credible threat” to link co-operation on security to a trade deal.

Kate Allen, our political correspondent, has a different explanation for why May has linked economic and security issues together:

“Mrs May’s decision to link a trade deal with security cooperation has been interpreted primarily as a message to Brussels, but it can also be seen as a warning to the hardline Eurosceptics on her own backbenches.

In recent days a succession of Leave campaigners have talked up the consequences of Britain leaving the EU without a trade agreement and sliding onto WTO terms, which include tariffs.

But in the Article 50 letter Mrs May wrote: “A failure to reach agreement would mean our cooperation in the fight against crime and terrorism would be weakened.”

As a long-serving home secretary, she knows this subject in detail.

Dominic Grieve, a pro-Remain Tory MP who chairs Parliament’s intelligence and security committee, said in response to the letter that “contrary to the opinion of hard Brexit supporters … our EU membership strengthens our security”.

Britain must avoid crashing out of the bloc without a deal because “our security will be put at risk”, he warned.

Linking an exit deal with security cooperation in this way makes life more difficult for the Eurosceptics who have argued that trading on WTO terms would not be so bad onto the spot, as it pushes them to explain how Britain would be safer without EU security and crime cooperation.”

Article 50 is reversible but only with agreement of all EU member states

The press conference at the European Parliament had now gone to questions and one that has been asked more than once is whether Article 50 is reversible. Guy Verhofstadt says it is reversible but once it has been revoked it needs the agreement of all EU member states to do so. He says he would not like to see revocation used as stalling tactic in negotiations.

Separately, Mr Verhofstadt called Theresa May’s letter “a step in the right direction”.

Vincent Boland, the FT’s Ireland correspondent, has just sent this report from a press conference by the Irish foreign minister Charlie Flanagan (pictured below on the left shaking hands with David Davis, the UK Brexit secretary, at a meeting last September).

Ireland will not be an advocate for the UK in the forthcoming negotiations on Britain’s departure from the EU and will be a committed member of the EU 27 on the other side of the table, the Irish foreign minister has said.

Ireland joined the then European Economic Community in 1973 alongside the UK, and Britain’s vote to leave the EU has been greeted with dismay in Dublin, given the exceptionally close and unique relationship between them, based on trade, a shared border, common travel and labour markets, and centuries of history.

“I feel personally very sad. I am a committed European, and I think the British have made a bad decision” to leave the EU, foreign minister Charlie Flanagan said on Wednesday.

But he insisted Ireland would be playing for the EU in the forthcoming negotiations. “Ireland will not be a proxy for the UK in these negotiations, we will be firmly on the side of the EU 27,” he said.

He added, however, that he saw a “clear understanding” among his fellow EU foreign ministers that the Irish-British relationship deserved special consideration.

Ireland will be playing a difficult hand in the forthcoming negotiations, seeking to preserve especially an open border between the Republic and Northern Ireland, while also wanting to be seen as a committed continuing member of the bloc.

How would Margaret Thatcher feel today? It is a question that has been asked in recent months.

The former Tory prime minister, who died in April 2013, was in favour of remaining part of what was then called the European Economic Community when the UK held its first referendum on membership in 1975.

“The paramount case for being in,” said the newly appointed Tory leader, “is the political case for peace and security.”

In 1984 Thatcher secured Britain’s rebate, but the issue of the UK’s generous payments never truly went away. Meanwhile she also played a key role in driving the creation of the single market through the late 1980s and early 1990s.

By October, 1990, however, her concerns about over-reach by the bloc were growing stronger. Here is the famous clip of her telling Jacques Delors that she would not accept an increase in power and influence to Europe over Britain: “NO. NO. NO.”

Nile Gardiner, a former aide to the Iron Lady, said on Twitter today: “Lady Thatcher would have cherished this moment. A day to rejoice.”

Yet Lord Heseltine, her one-time nemesis – and a proud Europhile – told Talk Radio today that she would have seen Brexit as a “nightmare”.

And on that note, we are going to wrap up our live coverage of what will go down as an historic day in modern British history. The UK has triggered the two-year period that will see it leave the EU. The language on all sides has been conciliatory with repeated assurances that a deal is possible. How long that diplomatic tone continues remains to be seen. Thanks for joining us.