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PM May: Brexit Process to Start by End of Next March

FILE- Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing street in London, July 20, 2016. On her first visit to China as Britain’s prime minister, Theresa May will try to reassure Beijing that she wants to strengthen ties despite her delay on a decis

The British prime minister says Britain will formally start the process of leaving the European Union by the end of March, 2017.

Theresa May made the announcement Sunday in an interview with BBC television.

"This marks the first stage in the UK becoming a sovereign and independent country once again," May told The Sunday Times.

Before Sunday's announcement, May had only said Britain would not trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty before the end of the year. Article 50 is the treaty clause that would start a two-year countdown for Britain's formal exit.

In the run-up to Britain’s referendum on whether to remain in the European Union, opponents of Brexit warned that leaving the bloc would lead to economic peril, but the country’s economy appears to have performed strongly since the vote, undermining predictions of gloom and doom.

Some leading Brexiters had called for a quick, sharp break with the EU - or a “hard Brexit," pointing to the buoyant stock market and strong figures for jobs and retail sales as evidence the government should not delay invoking Article 50.

Among them, former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, had said Article 50 should be invoked before Christmas, despite May repeatedly saying otherwise. Smith recently blasted the current state of the EU, saying the bloc is in a “complete mess.”

Other leading Brexiters have recently formed a new pressure group called Change Britain, which aims, according to the organizers, to help “deliver the UK’s referendum result in the most effective way.”

Some Brexiters want a total break; others - along with many in the Remain camp — hope Britain can negotiate a deal along the lines of Norway and remain a member of the Single Market, enjoying free trade with EU members.

And some Remainers are still holding out hope that Britain will not — in the end — leave. They are placing their hopes on High Court challenges to the referendum due to be heard this month, or they argue a change of government before the exit period is complete could lead to a reversal. Legal experts say the judicial challenges are a long shot.