UK begins Brexit process, triggers Article 50 to leave EU

Britain files for divorce from EU
Britain files for divorce from EU 02:21

Last Updated Mar 29, 2017 10:31 AM EDT

UNITED KINGDOM -- The United Kingdom formally triggered Article 50 and began the process of leaving the European Union on Wednesday, CBS News correspondent Jonathan Vigliotti reports. The move will end a 44-year relationship, and Britain’s breakup with the EU may not be pretty.

The divorce papers were filed at European Union headquarters in Brussels, after British Prime Minister Theresa May signed an official letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk on Tuesday.

In a statement, May said, “It is my fierce determination to get the right deal for every single person in this country.” She added that this included EU nationals living in Britain, who had “made this country their home.”

Explaining Brexit vote 00:24

Tusk held up the letter signalling the UK’s intention to leave the EU on Wednesday, saying “We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye.”

British Cable news displayed countdown clocks Wednesday morning, which showed each passing second of the 730 days the separation was expected to take.

The 2-year process could cost as much as $65 billion, and the UK’s international trading relationships and free passage to the 27 other member nations were on the line. 

“These negotiations are the most important negotiations that Britain has been involved in since the Second World War,” lawmaker Keir Starmer told CBS News.

“I think, of course, this changes the nature [of the relationship] that Britain has with other countries,” he said.

Not everyone was feeling good about a potential settlement. By Wednesday, some financial institutions in London, like Goldman Sachs, had already announced plans to move employees.

U.K.'s brexit plan 04:09

The referendum to leave the European Union, known as Brexit, was narrowly passed last summer, with some who voted for the UK to leave the EU saying they were tricked by politicians who oversold non-existent healthcare benefits and promised to stop immigration, Vigliotti reports.

And some who wanted Britain to remain in the EU took to the streets on Wednesday to protest the move.

However, Prime Minister May promised to create a “positive vision” for independent Britain, and she had already found a helping hand in U.S. President Donald Trump, who told her Brexit would be “wonderful.”

“The English are split down the middle, MPs are walking out of the [House of] Commons because they don’t like the reality of what they’re facing,” Scottish member of parliament Alex Salmond told CBS News.

“So Theresa May has divided … these islands. “The only person she’s not fighting off is Donald trump,” he said.

Members of the EU were aiming to make sure they came out of the negotiations on top, Vigliotti reports. Their aim was to discourage other member nations from following in the UK’s path and send the message: When you’re on your own, it’s a cold world.