The United Kingdom will formally begin the formal Brexit negotiation process by the end of March 2017, Theresa May has said.
The PM’s announcement on triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, according to BBC means the UK looks set to leave the EU by the summer of 2019.
Mrs May also promised a bill to remove the European Communities Act 1972 from the statute book.
She told the Tory Party conference the government would strike a deal with the EU as an “independent sovereign” UK.
In her first Conservative Party conference speech as prime minister, Mrs May repeated that the UK would be leaving the EU and attacked those who “have still not accepted the result of the referendum”.
But she said there would be no “blow by blow” account of the negotiations.
“Every stray word and every hyped up media report is going to make it harder for us to get the right deal for Britain,” she said.
Brexit campaigners have been calling for Article 50 – which begins a two-year negotiation process – to be triggered as soon as possible.
Speaking on BBC One’s The Andrew Marr Show earlier, Mrs May, who had previously only said she would not trigger it this year, ended speculation about the government’s timetable, saying this would be done by “the first quarter of 2017”.
Theresa May likes to talk about “getting on with it” and that is what today’s announcements are intended to show.
For more than three months since the referendum, she has said little about how she will deliver the vote of the British people.
That much-repeated phrase “Brexit means Brexit” sounded increasingly meaningless as the pressure mounted for her to say when, how and on what terms Britain would leave the EU.
Now we have some answers to the first two questions.
Article 50 will be triggered by the end of March next year, beginning the formal negotiations with our EU partners, which will have to be completed by the end of March 2019, though the departure date could be later than that.
This will leave the prime minister with just over a year to explain and sell the Brexit arrangements to the public before the next election, which must be held in 2020.
Mrs May said the process of leaving the EU would be “quite complex” but said she hoped there would now be “preparatory work” with the remaining EU members so that “once the trigger comes we will have a smoother process of negotiation”.
She added: “It’s not just important for the UK, but important for Europe as a whole that we’re able to do this in the best possible way so we have the least disruption for businesses, and when we leave the EU we have a smooth transition from the EU.”
The PM also said June’s vote to leave the EU had been a “clear message from the British people that they want us to control movement of people coming into the UK”.
The repeal of the 1972 Act will not take effect until the UK leaves the EU under Article 50.
It will be contained in a “Great Repeal Bill”, promised in the next Queen’s Speech, which will also enshrine all existing EU law into British law.
This will allow the government to seek to keep, amend or cancel any legislation once Brexit has been completed. The repeal bill will also end the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in the UK.
Mrs May said this was an “important step”, adding: “What we are doing with the Great Repeal Bill is repealing that European Communities Act.
The PM dismissed claims that MPs should get a vote before Article 50 is triggered, saying this would be “up to the government alone”.
She also said there was no such thing as a choice between “soft Brexit” and “hard Brexit”, which have been used to describe the extent the UK could compromise on free movement in order to maintain trade links with the EU.
Transport secretary Chris Grayling – the former justice secretary who campaigned for Brexit – said there would be an “evolution not a revolution” in UK law once it leaves the EU.
He gave the example of child benefit being paid to children living overseas as an example of legislation that could be scrapped, while some environmental regulations could be retained.
Asked whether the process could take many years to complete, he said: “It will take us as long as we choose it to take.”