Instead he made clear that the government’s focus was set to turn solidly towards the country’s EU exit, which is now guaranteed to be complete by the end of March 2019.
The president of the European council, Donald Tusk, responded quickly to say that he would distribute his response to the British government within 48 hours of next Wednesday. But sources made clear that it would take “four to six weeks” for the other 27 countries in the EU to reach consensus and start the more formal process.
May’s decision to spell out the starting date came after Jean-Claude Juncker claimed that “Britain’s example will make everyone else realise that it’s not worth leaving”.
And lead negotiator, Michel Barnier, hinted on Twitter that the EU27 were preparing to impose customs controls, despite May’s determination to secure “frictionless trade”.