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Britain starts out on historic Brexit

By Xinhua | China Daily | Updated: 2017-03-31 07:55

Govt does not expect to pay Brussels $62b over process, minister says

LONDON - Wednesday will be remembered as the starting point for Brexit, when the decision by more than 17 million British people to leave the European Union became a reality and London and Brussels became the focal points in a day of high political drama on both sides of the English Channel.

On Wednesday afternoon, in the Brussels headquarters of the EU, British Ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow handed a letter to Donald Tusk, president of the European Council.

The 6-page letter, signed by British Prime Minister Theresa May, officially kick-started a two-year period of negotiations for a new working relationship between London and Brussels.

"That decision was no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans," the letter reads. "The UK wants the EU to succeed and prosper."

Minutes later, May announced that Brexit had been triggered.

'No turning back'

It is "a historic moment from which there can be no turning back," May, in a black suit, said in a resolute voice. "We will be after a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU."

The historic move came 44 years after Britain first joined the EU, and just nine months after a national referendum in Britain in which 52 percent of voters chose Brexit.

On Thursday, Brexit minister David Davis said he did not expect Britain to have to pay 50 billion pounds ($62 billion) to the EU as part of the Brexit process and said the era of huge sums being paid to Brussels was coming to an end.

British media reports have suggested that Britain could have to pay around 50 to 60 billion pounds in order to honor existing budget commitments as it negotiates its departure from the bloc.

Scotland voted remain, with First Minister Nicola Sturgeon of the Scottish Nationalist Party demanding a new independence referendum.

Northern Ireland also wanted to remain in the EU.

Londoners voted remain along with a number of major English cities, but the majority of voters in England backed leaving.

Joy, sadness

It is a day of celebration for some and disappointment for others.

President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker has said he is "deeply sad" at Britain beginning the process of its departure from the EU.

Tusk, who received May's letter, said in Brussels: "We already miss the UK."

He said his goal is an ordinary withdrawal and that he will circulate draft guidelines for the EU's negotiating stance on Friday.

Former UK Independent Party leader Nigel Farage said: "The impossible dream is happening. Today we pass the point of no return."

The dust will take a while to settle as the Brexit debate continues, with little sign that May's plea for unity had been heeded.

Pro-remain organizations and individuals continued to fight their corner. Outside the parliament, dozens of protesters against Brexit were waving signs, shouting slogans and singing Ode to Joy, the anthem of both the Council of Europe and the EU.

In London, where nearly 300 international banks have branches, a sense of uncertainty could be easily felt.

Cremeut Labit, a French national working in the financial quarter of London, said he felt regretful about Brexit.

"There is going to be a period of uncertainty," he said. "We need to be cautious before taking every step."

 Britain starts out on historic Brexit

Protesters hold banners while standing outside the House of Commons in central London on Wednesday.Matt Dunham / Associated Press


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