PM May tours Britain as countdown for Brexit starts

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LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May promised Britain bright prospects outside the European Union yesterday as she toured a country still divided about its future as the countdown to Brexit enters its final 12 months.

Britain is on course to leave the European Union at 2300 GMT on March 29, 2019, severing ties that helped define its national identity, its laws, and its international stature over 46 years of integration with European neighbors.

The people of Britain caused a major global shock in 2016 by voting narrowly to quit the EU after a fevered referendum campaign that sharpened regional divisions, pitted young against old and exposed a deep distrust between voters and the political establishment.

In the 21 months since the referendum, Ms May, who became prime minister in the resulting political chaos, has struggled to unite the country behind a single vision of Brexit.

Ms May will meet voters in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland to seek union between the four nations of the UK.

The EU maintains that by leaving its single market and customs union, Britain will be making trade more difficult.

EU Council President Donald Tusk has remarked that any trade deal with Britain would be the first in history to loosen economic links rather than strengthen them.

Britain’s economy has defied pre-referendum predictions of a swift plunge into recession, buoyed in part by stronger global growth.

But longer term forecasts show growth grinding lower over the next five years and lagging international rivals.

A transitional deal that effectively keeps Britain inside the EU single market until the end of 2020 has calmed anxious businesses and bought Ms May time to work out the details of post-Brexit policy.

Among those challenges will be holding together the UK, made up of four nations diverged at the referendum: Wales and England voted to leave the EU, Scotland and Northern Ireland voted to remain.

Scotland and Wales are drawing up contingency plans to protect their own interests in case they cannot reach agreement on how powers regained from Brussels are redistributed.

Northern Ireland is into a second year of a political crisis that has left it without a devolved administration, and the future management of its land border with EU-member Ireland is one of the thorniest issues outstanding in talks with Brussels.

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