LONDON: The UK will leave the European Union on March 29, 2019 at 11 pm (local time), British Prime Minister Theresa May announced today as she set out plans to enshrine in law the exact date and time for Britain’s exit from the economic bloc.
The prime minster said the EU Withdrawal Bill will be amended to formally commit to a Brexit date and time deadline before the amended version of the proposed legislation comes up for scrutiny by MPs in the House of Commons next week.
"Let no-one doubt our determination or question our resolve, Brexit is happening. It will be there in black and white on the front page of this historic piece of legislation: the United Kingdom will be leaving the EU on March 29, 2019 at 11 pm," she wrote in 'The Daily Telegraph' today.
The date marks the two-year cut off point after Britain invoked Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty to trigger the process of leaving the 28-member economic bloc on March 29 this year following a referendum in favour of Brexit in June 2016.
The EU Withdrawal Bill, which is intended to convert all existing EU laws into UK law to ensure there are no gaps in legislation on Brexit day, has already passed its second reading and now faces several attempts to amend it at the next part of its parliamentary journey – the committee stage.
May has warned Eurosceptics, in her own Conservative party and the Opposition, that while the government would listen to MPs if they had ideas for improving the bill, it would not tolerate any attempts to delay or halt the process.
"We will not tolerate attempts from any quarter to use the process of amendments to this Bill as a mechanism to try to block the democratic wishes of the British people by attempting to slow down or stop our departure from the European Union," she writes.
Her warning came as the former diplomat who had drafted Article 50 said that the Brexit process was reversible right up to the last minute.
Lord Kerr, a former UK ambassador to the EU, said suggestions by Brexiters in the UK Cabinet that Brexit was irreversible was misleading.
"At any stage we can change our minds if we want to, and if we did we know that our partners would actually be very pleased indeed,” said Kerr, now a cross-bench peer in the House of Lords.
He noted: “The Brexiters create the impression that is because of the way Article 50 is written that having sent in a letter on 29 March 2017 we must leave automatically on 29 March 2019 at the latest. That is not true.
"It is misleading to suggest that a decision that we are taking autonomously in this country about the timing of our departure, we are required to take by a provision of EU treaty law.” He also indicated that people had a right to change their mind over the decision.
“As new facts emerge, people are entitled to take a different view. And there’s nothing in Article 50 to stop them,” he said.
The debate comes as the UK’s Brexit secretary, David Davis, and the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, prepare to meet in Brussels for the second day of the latest round of talks before a make-or-break summit of European leaders next month.
With weeks of political crisis surrounding senior members of her Cabinet, including resignations by Priti Patel as international development minister and Michael Fallon as defence minister, Theresa May is under increasing pressure to be seen as tough on the Brexit process.
There have already been 300 amendments and 54 new clauses proposed for the crucial EU Withdrawal Bill and getting it through Parliament will not prove an easy task since the Conservatives lost their majority in the snap general election earlier this year.