U.K. Initiates ‘Brexit’ and Wades Into a Thorny Thicket

She added: “This is an historic moment from which there can be no turning back.” She cited the “enduring power of the British spirit.” And she painted a vision of a “truly global Britain, the best friend and neighbor to our European partners, but a country that reaches beyond the borders of Europe, too.”

With this step, Mrs. May enters what William Hague, a former foreign secretary, called “the most complex divorce ever in history,” with limited leverage, having made clear that establishing control of immigration takes priority over membership in the European Union’s single market or customs union.

As a result, analysts say, she has frequently stressed her willingness to walk away from the table if a good deal proves elusive, leaving European Union negotiators wondering whether she is serious or trying to bluff her way into a stronger negotiating position.

“I think they would prefer a deal,” Anand Menon, a professor of European politics and foreign affairs at King’s College London, said of the British government, noting the high economic stakes. Nevertheless, he said, “I still think they are readier to walk out than most people accept.”


Britain’s top envoy to the European Union, Tim Barrow, left, delivered Mrs. May’s letter giving notice of the country’s intention to leave the European Union to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, in Brussels on Wednesday.

Yves Herman/Reuters

Given her negotiating “red lines,” the difference between whatever deal Mrs. May can secure and no deal at all may turn out to be relatively small. Blaming the Europeans for a collapse of the talks might be easier, politically, than bringing a weak agreement to Parliament.

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