March 29 (UPI) -- British Ambassador to the European Union Tim Barrow delivered a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk formally initiating the country's departure from the economic bloc.
"What can I add to this? We already miss you," Tusk said in a tweet joining his formal statement after receiving the notification from British Prime Minister Theresa May triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which gives Britain and the EU two years to reach an agreement on the departure.
Unless Britain and all 27 remaining EU member states agree to extend the deadline, Britain will leave the EU on March 29, 2019.
In the letter delivered Wednesday, May told Tusk that Britain's decision to leave the EU was "no rejection of the values we share as fellow Europeans. Nor was it an attempt to do harm to the European Union or any of the remaining member states."
"On the contrary, the United Kingdom wants the European Union to succeed and prosper. Instead, the referendum was a vote to restore, as we see it, our national self-determination," May wrote in the letter. "We are leaving the European Union, but we are not leaving Europe -- and we want to remain committed partners and allies to our friends across the continent."
Brexit -- a portmanteau of "British exit" from the EU -- was the result of a referendum held June 23 in which citizens were asked if the British government should withdraw from the European Union economic bloc. British citizens decided to leave in a 52 percent vote.
The EU said its first step will be to adopt guidelines for negotiations by the European Council with Britain so the bloc will "act as one and preserve its interests."
"Our first priority will be to minimize the uncertainty caused by the decision of the United Kingdom for our citizens, businesses and member states," the European Council said in a statement. "Therefore, we will start by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal."
While speaking to the British Parliament, May said Britain has a "unique opportunity" to "shape a brighter future." While speaking to EU members, Tusk held up May's letter and said: "We already miss you. Thank you and goodbye."
"There is no reason to pretend that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels, nor in London," Tusk said in a statement. "After all, most Europeans, including almost half the British voters wish that we would stay together, not drift apart. As for me, I will not pretend that I am happy today."