UK's secret letter of divorce to be hand-delivered to president of EU
A letter personally signed by British Prime Minister Theresa May, so secret that even some of her senior ministers have not seen it, crossed the English Channel last night to begin the Brexit process.
Tim Barrow, Britain's ambassador to the EU, will deliver it by hand to EU President Donald Tusk, who will be waiting in his office.
All this will happen about 1.30pm in Belgium, just as Mrs May is about to stand up and address the House of Commons.
The instant the letter changes hands marks the moment the UK has officially served its partner of four decades with divorce papers.
The invocation of Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty triggers two years of negotiations to secure Britain's departure from the bloc. Mrs May herself considers it "one of the most important documents" in Britain's recent history.
After she posed for a picture signing it yesterday, the letter, which runs to several pages, was taken to Belgium by a civil servant accompanied by a guard, to ensure there could be no last-minute hitches today. It is now in the possession of Mr Barrow.
Mrs May chose to sign the letter in her seat at the Cabinet table, a portrait of Robert Walpole, considered Britain's first prime minister, looking down upon her and with a union flag planted by her side for the occasion.
While the letter was in transit last night, Mrs May made "goodwill" phone calls to key European leaders including Mr Tusk, German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker.
Before the letter is handed over, Mrs May will chair a special breakfast meeting with her cabinet. At noon, she'll take part in her weekly question-and-answer session with MPs in the House of Commons. She will then give a statement on Article 50.
Over in Brussels, Mr Tusk will be reading her letter and then giving a statement at 1.45pm local time.
However, the Brexit process was further complicated yesterday when the Scottish parliament backed a bid to hold a new independence referendum in 2018 or 2019.
But Mrs May's government immediately rejected the idea, saying it would not negotiate on the matter.
The Scottish legislature in Edinburgh voted by a majority of 69 to 59 to give First Minister Nicola Sturgeon a mandate to formally seek permission from the British parliament in London to prepare for a referendum in late 2018 or early 2019.
"The people of Scotland should have the right to choose between Brexit, possibly a very hard Brexit, or becoming an independent country able to chart our own course," Ms Sturgeon said.