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- Downing Street announces Article 50 process will be triggered next Wednesday
- Means Theresa May has kept to her promise of beginning Brexit by end of March
- PM will make statement to Commons after letter handed to European Council
By James Tapsfield, Political Editor For Mailonline and Tim Sculthorpe, Deputy Political Editor For Mailonline
Published: 07:30 EDT, 20 March 2017 | Updated: 07:36 EDT, 20 March 2017
Theresa May will take the historic step of triggering Brexit on March 29, Downing Street announced today.
The Prime Minister has informed the EU that it can expect the letter formally invoking Article 50 to begin the divorce proceedings on that date.
Mrs May will make a statement to the Commons the same day, No10 said.
The news comes as tensions escalate with Brussels ahead of the looming negotiations.
There are fears the talks could quickly turn nasty - with Downing Street insisting the PM is ready to 'walk away' if there is an attempt to punish us for leaving.
The PM's spokesman stressed today that the EU had promised to give its initial response within 48 hours of the move.
Asked whether the UK would definitely be out of the bloc by March 29, 2019, the spokesman said: 'We have said we expect this to be a two year process.
'We are confident that is what we will achieve.'
The two-year timeframe set out by EU treaties can only be extended with unanimous approval from all the remaining 27 EU member states.
'We are on the threshold of the most important negotiation for this country for a generation.
'The Government is clear in its aims: a deal that works for every nation and region of the UK and indeed for all of Europe – a new, positive partnership between the UK and our friends and allies in the European Union.'
Jean-Claude Junker has ramped up tensions by insisting no other countries will want to leave the EU after they see how badly Britain is punished.
The European Commission President voiced confidence that the 'example' of the UK would ensure the survival of the Brussels club.
He also threatened that Mrs May will have to accept demands from the EU for a divorce bill.
Asked by Bild am Sonntag newspaper he was concerned other member states will follow Britain's example in quitting, Mr Juncker said: 'No. Britain's example will make everyone realise that it's not worth leaving.'
He added: 'On the contrary, the remaining member states will fall in love with each other again and renew their vows with the European Union.'
Mr Juncker also said Britain would need to get used to being treated as a non-member.
EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the 'example' of Britain would ensure other countries did not leave the bloc
'Half memberships and cherry-picking aren't possible. In Europe you eat what's on the table or you don't sit at the table,' he added.
The EU is holding a summit this week to mark the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome.
Mrs May will not be attending in order to avoid overshadowing the event and aggravating tensions.
The 27 states are expected to declare that 'Europe is our common future' in a show of unity.