Britain looks set to leave the European Union by summer 2019 after triggering the formal process to pull out before the end of March next year, Theresa May has said.
The Prime Minister said Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will be triggered in the first three months of 2017, marking the start of the two-year process to enact Brexit.
The process can be extended beyond two years if Britain and all other EU countries unanimously agree, but that prospect is seen as unlikely.
She made the announcement after revealing plans for a “Great Repeal Bill” to transpose all EU law applying to the UK into domestic law, ready for the day the country leaves the union.
Tory former minister Anna Soubry, who is on the liberal pro-Europe wing of the party, said triggering Article 50 so soon “really concerns” her and warned that the EU “holds all the cards” in the negotiation.
She warned that companies like Nissan will “pack up and leave” Britain if it cannot negotiate access to the single market and dismissed the repeal Bill as “very technical and not a big deal”.
Ms Soubry told Peston: “Triggering Brexit as early as March really concerns me, troubles me hugely, because we won’t have had the French elections, we won’t have had the German elections, and I’m sorry, it is going to take a lot of time and effort to disentangle ourselves and get the right deal.
“The other thing that’s got to be said is this - this idea that we hold the cards and that the EU is going to come to us and say ‘do you know what, we’ll give you pretty much what you want’, the idea we’re going to get anything like we’ve got now is rubbish.
“We’re going to get something worse, obviously we are, and we don’t hold the cards, the EU does.”
Labour shadow minister Jon Ashworth joined Ms Soubry in calling for more clarity over the Government’s Brexit strategy.
“Theresa May said she was providing ‘clarity’ but that’s exactly what we aren’t getting from the Tories,” he said.
“There were very few answers from her this morning either on the big questions facing us.
“She gave very little detail on her supposed big idea of a ‘Great Repeal Act’ other than it’s an ambition; there was no answer on what would be in it, how it would work or, vitally, how she intends to deliver Brexit while protecting our workers and businesses.”