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- March 14, 2017
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Prime Minister Theresa May has won the right to launch divorce proceedings with the European Union and begin two years of talks that will shape the future of Britain and Europe.
May, who was appointed prime minister shortly after Britain voted to leave the EU in June, faced down attempts in both the lower and upper houses of parliament to add conditions to legislation giving her right to launch the divorce.
Both houses backed the so-called Brexit bill and after securing symbolic approval from Queen Elizabeth, which could come early today, May has the right to begin what could be Britain’s most complex negotiations since World War Two.
The date of when she will trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty and start the divorce has all but overshadowed new complications to the talks: Scotland’s demand for a new independence referendum and a call by Northern Ireland’s largest party for a vote on splitting with Britain.
Her spokesman dismissed as “speculation” media reports that the prime minister would launch the talks on Tuesday, and instead gave the biggest hint yet it would be toward the end of the month: “I have said ‘end’ many times but it would seem I didn’t put it in capital letters quite strongly enough.”
But whenever May decides to launch the talks, her government will have to weigh up competing demands during the two years of talks provided for by Article 50, which envisages a deal on divorce terms while taking account of the framework for its future relationship with the Union.
May has revealed little of her strategy but has a long wish list – wanting to win a free trade deal, maintain security cooperation, regain control over immigration and restore sovereignty over British laws.
The EU has balked at her demands, saying they amount to “having your cake and eating it”, and May’s government acknowledges it is a bold opening position.
Britain’s commitments to pay into the EU budget — which officials in the bloc estimate to reach around 60 billion euros — are shaping up to be one of the first, and possibly the most contentious parts, of the divorce talks.