Downing Street tonight issued a photograph of the Prime Minister signing the document that gives formal shape to the British people’s wish expressed last June to quit the EU.
The closely guarded letter formally notifying the EU of our intention to leave and setting out her Brexit principles was then being despatched to Brussels for UK ambassador Sir Tim Barrow to hand over in person to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council of member state governments.
It represents the long-awaited invoking of the EU’s Article 50 process for a member state to leave, starting the countdown for Britain to regain its independence in up to two years’ time.
Mrs May is expected to promise in a statement to MPs: “When I sit around the negotiating table in the months ahead, I will represent every person in the whole United Kingdom – young and old, rich and poor, city, town, country and all the villages and hamlets in between, yes, those EU nationals who have made this country their home.
“It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country.
“For as we face the opportunities ahead of us on this momentous journey, our shared values, interests and ambitions can – and must – bring us together.
“We all want to see a Britain that is stronger than it is today. We all want a country that is fairer so that everyone has the chance to succeed.
“We all want a nation that is safe and secure for our children and grandchildren.
“We all want to live in a truly Global Britain that gets out and builds relationships with old friends and new allies around the world.”
She will say that those ambitions should unite the country and that people should no longer be defined by whether they voted Leave or Remain in the referendum last year “but by our determination to make a success of the result”.
Amid fears the UK may be split by pro-EU Scotland and Northern Ireland seeking to leave, she will also declare: “We are one great union of people and nations with a proud history and a bright future.
“And now that the decision has been made to leave the EU, it is time to come together.”
Earlier today in the House of Commons, pro-Brexit Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said Mrs May’s “spirit of optimism and positivity” would secure a “great” Brexit deal.
The public are also in good heart as the Brexit process begins, a new opinion poll showed last night.
An ICM survey for the pro-Brexit Change Britain group asked more than 2,000 people if they agreed or not that the UK could be “stronger, fairer and more prosperous” outside the EU.
Half the respondents agreed that it would – nearly double the 26 per cent who disagreed.
Change Britain chair and Brexit-campaigning Labour MP Gisela Stuart said: “On this important day, Brits are confident that our best days lie ahead outside the EU.
“Brexit provides us with the opportunity for national renewal: to build a strong economy and resilient communities, spend taxpayers’ money on our priorities, create a fair immigration system and rebuild trust in our political system.
“The British people want a prosperous, independent UK.
“It is now our job to work together to deliver this.”
The Daily Express launched its momentous crusade for Britain to leave the EU on November 25, 2010, the first mainstream paper to back the move which culminated in last June’s referendum when people voted by 52 to 48 per cent to leave.
Ukip leader Paul Nuttall hailed the fact that Britain was at last leaving nearly a quarter of a century after his party was formed to make its long-mocked case for Brexit.
“Today the Government will finally act on the historic decision of the people of this country to leave the EU,” said Mr Nuttall.
“Finally, nine months after our vote the UK will formally inform the EU that we are leaving.
“Ukip is delighted that this is eventually happening.
“The nine months delay has, of course cost the taxpayer additional billions, and has allowed those who would block the democratic will of the people to do all they can to spread discord, but we are here now.
“While negotiations continue we will continue to be the ‘guard dogs of Brexit’, holding the Government’s feet to the fire at home and our MEPs will be working to ensure our friends on the Continent do not pull any fast ones.
“But today, for now, we wish the Government and the Prime Minister well.
“If they fail in this historic task, 17 million people are ready to act.”
John Longworth, co-chair of Leave Means Leave, praised the PM for meeting her self-imposed deadline of triggering Article 50 by the end of March, despite being taken to court to make her get Parliament’s approval and facing obstruction from “anti-British campaigners”.
Fellow co-chair Richard Tice said: “Theresa May’s triggering of Article 50 will be an historic moment.
“In theory, it means that Britain is now committed to leaving the EU, however many more battles lie ahead.
“Unpatriotic, pro-EU fanatics will continue to try to derail or, at the very least, delay Brexit by embarking on Project Fear Mark 2; in so doing they damage the strength of the Government’s negotiating position.”
A survey by pollsters YouGov found voters want Mrs May to press on with Brexit even if she cannot reach a deal with the EU on key aspects of trade, workplace rights and security. She has said that “no deal” would be better than a “bad deal” and that she is prepared to leave without one.
Nearly twice as many voters – 39 per cent – trust the Conservatives to make the right decisions in the process as the 20 per cent who back Labour’s stance.
Less than a third said Labour would be justified in its threat to oppose Brexit if six key conditions are not met.
A poll by Ipsos Mori for King’s College London found 70 per cent of Britons expect other countries to follow us out of the EU in the decade after Brexit – but split on whether that would be a good thing.
Although the Article 50 process entails up to two years of talks, in reality the negotiating period is shorter.
The other 27 EU member state governments will not meet until April 29 to agree a joint approach.
Key participants are likely to be distracted this year by the French presidential and German general elections, as well as summer holidays.
There is also pressure to conclude the framework of any agreement by autumn 2018, to give the European Parliament time to discuss and vote on it in time for Britain to leave in March 2019.
The document being delivered in Brussels today is the actual letter to which Mrs May put her name – known in civil service jargon as a “wet signature” to distinguish it from those seen on printed copies.
March 29th, 2017: Express