We already miss you: Britain’s exit from the EU is under way

Theresa May signs the letter notifying the EU that Article 50 has been triggered

Theresa May signs the letter notifying the EU that Article 50 has been triggered - Credit: PA

The Prime Minister has pulled the trigger on Article 50 signalling an end to the Brexit phoney war

Sir Tim Barrow hand delivers the Brexit letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk, in Brussels. Alexander Britton/PA Wire

Sir Tim Barrow hand delivers the Brexit letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk, in Brussels. Alexander Britton/PA Wire - Credit: PA

Article 50 has been triggered – but the battle for Britain's place in Europe has only just begun.

The letter, signed by Theresa May, that starts Britain's formal exit from the European Union has been hand-delivered by EU ambassador Sir Tim Barrow to European Council president Donald Tusk. After a brief conversation the men shook hands, an envelope was handed over and Article 50 was enacted.

The clock is now ticking on a two-year countdown to Britain crashing out of Europe with early indications suggesting May remains unwilling to budge on the free movement of people rules which could allow Britain continued access to the single market.

Tusk said it was not a happy occasion telling a press conference his message to the UK was: 'We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.'

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And attacking the PM during a robust response to her statement in a packed House of Commons Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn called the Government's plans for Brexit 'reckless and damaging'.

In her statement May called it 'an historic moment from which there can be no turning back'.

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Describing EU withdrawal as one of the 'great turning points in our national story', 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.'

In a statement that will be poured over by negotiators in Brussels May said leaving the EU was a 'unique opportunity' to 'shape a brighter future' for the UK adding that while the UK would remain the 'best friend and neighbour' to its EU partners, it would also look beyond the borders of Europe.

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'.

But Corbyn – in his strongest rebuttal of Brexit to date – said the Government must 'listen, consult and represent the whole country'. He also warned May his party would not give her a 'free hand' to use Brexit to attack rights and cut services.

Corbyn warned the PM that returning from Brussels at the end of the two-year period without a deal would have dire consequences for the UK.

He said: 'It would be a national failure of historic proportions if the Prime Minister comes back from Brussels without having secured protection for jobs and living standards.

'We will use every parliamentary opportunity to ensure this Government is held to account at every stage of the negotiations.'

Mr Corbyn also said the UK needed to retain full access to the single market to protect the UK economy.

'We all have an interest in ensuring the Prime Minister gets the best deal for this country,' he said. 'To safeguard jobs, living standards, we do need full access to the single market.

'Labour has set out our tests for this Government's Brexit negotiations and we will use all means possible to make sure we hold this Government to their word - on full access to the single market, on protecting Britain from being dragged into a race to the bottom, and ensuring our future relationship with the European Union is strong and co-operative, a relationship where we can work together to bring prosperity and peace to our continent.

'If the Prime Minister can deliver a deal that meets our tests, that'll be fine, we'll back her.

'More than ever, Britain needs a Government that can deliver for the whole country, not just the few, and that is the ultimate test of the Brexit deal that the Prime Minister must now secure.'

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