Britain Will Trigger Article 50, Beginning EU Exit Process, by March 2017

Theresa May has been under pressure from EU officials, investors and members of her ruling Conservative Party to offer more detail on her plan for Britain's exit.

People hold banners during a 'March for Europe' demonstration against Britain's decision to leave the European Union, in central London, U.K., July 2, 2016.
Neil Hall, Reuters

Britain will trigger the formal divorce process from the European Union by the end of March 2017, Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday.

May told the BBC on Sunday that Britain would trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty early next year, setting the nation on a course to leave the 28-nation trading bloc by 2019.

The process can be extended beyond two years, if Britain and all other EU countries unanimously agree.

May made the comments ahead of her speech on the so-called British exit or Brexit at the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham.

Asked whether her government would prioritize immigration over access to tariff-free trade with EU countries in divorce talks with the bloc - something that has muted investment, May said only that she wanted to get the "right deal". 

"I want the right deal for trade in goods and services," she told the BBC's Andrew Marr Show when asked how important it was for British business to have tariff free access to the EU single market.

"What we are doing at the moment, what (Brexit minister) David Davis and his department are doing, is listening to businesses here in the U.K., listening to different sectors, finding out what it is that is most important to them." 

The former interior minister has been under pressure from EU officials, investors and members of her ruling Conservative Party to offer more detail on her plan for Britain's exit, beyond her catch phrase "Brexit means Brexit."

Speaking on the first day of her party's annual conference on Sunday, May will hope to put some of the criticism to rest by pledging to overturn the 1972 European Communities Act, the law allowed the accession of Britain to the European Economic Community, which later became the European Union.

"This marks the first stage in the U.K. becoming a sovereign and independent country once again. It will return power and authority to the elected institutions of our country. It means that the authority of EU law in Britain will end," she told the Sunday Times.