LONDON (AP) — The Latest on Brexit (all times local):
The president of the European Parliament is warning Britain against taking any unilateral action that might contravene EU laws before it leaves the bloc in two years.
Antonio Tajani said Wednesday that Britain must "fully respect its treaty obligations until the very last day of membership."
Tajani added: "Unilateral decisions affecting the rights of EU citizens any time before the U.K.'s withdrawal ... would be contrary to the treaties and therefore illegal."
He says the EU and Britain must finalize the terms of their divorce agreement, including how much money London owes, before discussing trade or other issues.
Tajani said this is "the precondition for any potential future European Union-U.K. partnership. This is not negotiable."
Lithuania's defense minister says Brexit is "very bad for European Union," but predicts it won't affect Europe's security.
Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis described Britain's departure from the bloc as "an additional element to the EU crisis." But he does not think it will weaken defense since European security is guaranteed by the NATO alliance.
Karoblis says: "If speaking of classic security aspects — NATO's collective system of defense — there we have full assurances that the U.K. will remain in Europe. And this has been said very clearly."
Lithuania, which was part of the Soviet Union, joined both NATO and the EU in 2004.
Germany's foreign minister predicts a bumpy road for the negotiations between Britain and the EU over the United Kingdom's decision to leave the bloc.
Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said Wednesday: "The negotiations certainly won't be easy for either side."
Gabriel told reporters in Berlin that "we will certainly see a whole row of points of conflict" in the upcoming talks over the so-called Brexit.
But he says he hopes the split won't result in a "total rift" between Britain and the remaining 27 members of the EU.
He also stressed Germany's position that safeguarding the interests of EU citizens currently living in Britain should be "at the forefront" of the negotiations.
Czech Prime Minister Bohuslav Sobotka says a priority for his government in negotiating a deal with Britain as it leaves the EU will be the rights of Czech citizens currently living and working in Britain.
Sobotka says those citizens have "acquired certain rights that have something to do with the fact that they come from a European Union member state, and we don't want them to lose their rights in the future."
Noting that Britain is an important export market for the Czech Republic's economy, he said he wants to make sure future trade relations between the EU and Britain don't change that.
Sobotka acknowledged Brexit is "a unique experience" that will require countries to consider new approaches.
Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy says he is aiming to minimize investor uncertainty now that Britain has begun divorce proceedings from the European Union.
Speaking in Malta, Rajoy said Wednesday was a disappointing day for Europe.
He says: "Spain's priority is to minimize uncertainty in relation to investment in place between Spain and the U.K."
Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat, who holds the rotating EU presidency, said at a press conference alongside Rajoy that Brexit marked "a big leap into the unknown for everyone."
Muscat says: "It's a sad day for Europe. Nobody can rejoice about what happened today. There are consequences for everyone; the bloc will work to find a way to mitigate these consequences."
Chancellor Angela Merkel says Germany will push for the impact of Brexit on Germans and other European Union citizens living in Britain to be as minimal as possible. She says she wants Britain and the EU to remain "close partners."
Merkel said during a speech in Berlin that the divorce talks triggered Wednesday must first focus on undoing in an orderly fashion four decades of ties between Britain and the EU.
She said: "Only when these questions are cleared up can we subsequently — but hopefully soon — talk about our future relationship."
Merkel also says the remaining EU member nations will negotiate with Britain "in a fair and constructive manner."
She says: "I hope that the British government will also approach the talks in this spirit." She added that British Prime Minister Theresa May had assured her it would in a phone conversation Tuesday.
Portuguese President Marcelo Rebelo de Sousa says that Britain, Portugal's oldest ally through the Windsor Treaty of 1386, "will continue to be a European country, a fundamental pillar of peace and security on the Old Continent, and a cultural and economic reference for Europe and Europeans."
Rebelo de Sousa said in a statement posted on the presidency's website Wednesday that Portugal remains "fully committed, without hesitation" to the European Union.
He says Portugal has great ambitions for the bloc, aiming to make it "a model for our society, based on peace, progress and well-being."
UK Independence Party members who serve in the European Union's lawmaking body celebrated the official launch of Britain's exit from the bloc in style.
Soon after Britain delivered a letter to EU Council President Donald Tusk triggering the Brexit process, UKIP member Ray Finch cut a big cake at the Old Hack bar across the street from the European Parliament.
UKIP and its former leader, Nigel Farage, were a driving force in the successful referendum approving the U.K.'s departure from the EU.
Finch, who represents the party in Brussels, said: "We're bringing back hope and freedom and justice for all of the peoples of the EU, and we're going to start in the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland."
Ford Motor Co. has urged both Britain and the European Union to create an ambitious and investment-friendly deal as the U.K. embarks on the process of leaving the 28-nation bloc.
The comments by Jim Farley, Ford's president of Europe, are important because the company employs around 14,000 people in the Britain — and has a supply chain which employs around 90,000. Automakers like Ford are heavily exposed to any new tariffs resulting from Brexit.
Farley described the worst case scenario as reverting to World Trade Organization rules whereby there would be tariffs on trade.
He says, "no deal would be the very worst case for the U.K. auto industry and would put at risk the competitiveness of the industry."
Sweden's prime minister says that he wants "to see organized and result-oriented negotiations" with Britain, saying good relations with London were "important for Britain, for Europe and for Sweden."
Stefan Lofven said Wednesday Britain had been "a close and valuable partner in the European Union."
Latvian Foreign Minister Edgar Rinkevics tweeted "As UK has formally triggered Article 50 we should negotiate in a constructive way to forge a fair deal for both EU and UK."
Sweden's ambassador to Britain tweeted that "Swedes in the UK with concerns and questions related to Brexit are welcome to contact Swedish Embassy."
Poles, who have settled in large numbers in Britain in recent years, are expressing confusion and apprehension as Britain launched the process to leave the European Union.
They rue being cut off from Europe's most attractive job market and some even fear that weakened European unity leaves them more vulnerable to a belligerent Russia.
To be sure, some people in the proud Central European nation say they understand Britain's decision to seek greater national sovereignty, a priority for Poland's own nationalist government.
But most Poles have little to celebrate. After decades behind the Iron Curtain, they seized with relish the chance to immigrate for work or study to the UK after joining the EU in 2004, with about 1 million Poles there now, and are not sure what comes next.
The European Parliament will be insisting that it's against European Union law if Britain starts negotiating trade agreements with individual nations before it has fully withdrawn from the bloc.
In a resolution planned to be made public late Wednesday but obtained by The Associated Press, the legislators say that "it would be contrary to Union law for the United Kingdom to begin, in advance of its withdrawal, negotiations on possible trade agreements with third countries."
The resolution, warning against divisions among the remaining 27 members, goes further by adding that "any bilateral arrangement between one or several remaining Member States" and Britain without explicit agreement of the 27 would also go against EU treaties.
British Prime Minister Theresa May want would to have talks on a new trade relationship simultaneously with Brexit negotiations.
The foreign minister of Luxembourg says a fair solution following Brexit is in the interest of both the European Union and Britain.
Jean Asselborn said in Serbia's capital that "we cannot punish a country that wants to leave the European Union." But, he added that "when (British Prime Minister) Theresa May says no deal is better than a bad deal I think that's for both sides, not only for one side."
Asselborn explained that "with Brexit the European Union will lose a little bit of money, that's clear, because the contribution of the U.K. was substantial."
He also warned that "if you are a member of the European Union, you are member of the European Union until the last moment, and you have to fulfill your engagements."
Estonia's prime minister says that "we cannot allow ourselves to be paralyzed by Brexit" and "we must decisively move on together."
Juri Ratas says that "we accept this notice with regret in our hearts," adding the priority "is to reduce the insecurity of the people and companies that could be influenced by the United Kingdom's withdrawal."
In a separate statement, the Estonian government said that triggering Article 50 ended "uncertainty on the U.K.'s intentions on leaving the EU and the exit's timeframe."
French centrist presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron says his priority after Britain's formal request to leave the European Union would be to protect the bloc and European interests.
Speaking after meeting with London Mayor Sadiq Khan, Macron says that he also believes Britain and the EU will need to remain close, notably in defense, even if they have to rebuild their relationship. He also noted that Khan is mayor to 200,000 French citizens living in London and said he would work to determine how Brexit will affect them.
Macron said in English that in "some of them will decide to come back, I will be very happy to host them again, but, obviously, we will work together with the U.K. and we will work together with London because they live there."
A senior European diplomat says the European Union won't seek to punish Britain for leaving the bloc.
There has been speculation in the British press since last year's referendum on the so-called Brexit that the other 27 EU members could try to extract maximum suffering from the UK in order to discourage others from leaving.
The diplomat, who wasn't authorized to be quoted by name, dismissed such views Wednesday, noting that Britain will have to grapple with the fallout from its departure from the EU's single market.
"Leaving the common market will hurt a lot all on its own," he said.
—By Frank Jordans in Berlin.
European Union leaders say they will remain united and strive to protect the bloc's interest following Britain's decision to leave.
In a statement Wednesday the leaders said "the Union 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."
They said they would "start by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal."
The leaders will meet in Brussels in one month, on April 29.
European Union Council President Donald Tusk says he will have a proposal for a negotiating mandate ready for the member states by Friday, only two days after Britain triggered the negotiating mandate for divorce proceedings.
Tusk said that he would "share guidelines for negotiations" with the 27 member states when he is in Valletta, Malta, on Friday.
Once those are delivered, the 27 member states will have to come up with definitive guidelines at a summit on April 29 in Brussels.
Later, those guidelines will have to be poured into strict legal text and real negotiations could be expected to start in the second half of May.
Germany's foreign minister says that the phrase "Let's stay friends" should be a motto for the divorce proceedings between Britain and the European Union.
But Sigmar Gabriel also made clear Wednesday that the EU negotiating team will have Berlin's full support in asserting "our common interests."
Gabriel said in a statement that "hard feelings may be understandable." He added that "for many, it is perhaps still hard to understand today how one can expect to be better off alone between worlds, particularly in these turbulent times," but that sentiment can't be the basis for future relations.
He added that "we need each other. We should do everything to nurture good and friendly relations with London in the future."
The European Union's top official says that "we already miss you," moments after he received the official letter from British Prime Minister Theresa May triggering Brexit talks.
But European Council President Donald Tusk says that the withdrawal also "has made us, the community of 27, more determined and more united than before" to make "the difficult negotiations ahead" a success.
Tusk said that "there is nothing to win in this process." He added that: "our goal is clear: to minimize the cost for the EU citizens, businesses and member states. "
He said "we have all the tools to achieve this."
British Prime Minister Theresa May offered a polite and conciliatory statement in the letter to the European Union triggering Brexit talks.
May said in the letter that "we should engage with one another constructively and respectfully, in a spirit of sincere cooperation."
May says it is in the "best interests of both the United Kingdom and the European Union that we should use the forthcoming process to deliver these objectives in a fair and orderly manner, and with as little disruption as possible on each side."
The British leader offered a wish that Europe remain "strong and prosperous," and capable of defending itself from security threats.
Denmark's prime minister says Britain's "goodbye" to the European Union is "incredibly sad," adding he expects "many bumps on the road."
Lars Loekke Rasmussen said in a statement that he hopes "the divorce" will take place in "an orderly fashion."
He said that Britain's decision to leave the EU and the inner Market "will have consequences."
The Danish government leader said "rights and responsibilities go hand in hand in the European Union. You cannot have one without the other."
The head of the European Parliament's biggest political bloc says Britain's decision to leave the European Union is a mistake that will damage the U.K. and the EU.
European People's Party chairman Manfred Weber said Wednesday that "history will show that Brexit is a tremendous mistake. It will create a lot of damage for both sides."
But he said the parliament will respect the choice of British voters to leave and that "the negotiations should follow two steps: first we need to agree on the divorce settlement, then we will talk about the new relationship."
Britain's prime minister is offering a broad outline of her plans for the process of leaving the European Union, saying she hopes for a deal for Brexit in two years.
Theresa May says that while she aims for a deal in two years, she aims for a "phased process" of implementation.
The British leader offered her plans after a letter triggering Article 50 of the European Union treaty was handed to the EU's top official, Donald Tusk.
Britain's prime minister says that the U.K. has triggered the process of leaving the European Union.
Theresa May told the House of Commons that Britain has triggered the "EU divorce process" that "acts on the democratic will of the British people."
She made the comments after a letter triggering Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty was handed to the EU's top official, Donald Tusk.
The European Union's top official says he has received the letter from Britain, formally triggering two years of Brexit talks.
European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted that "after nine months the UK has delivered," referring to the time since the outcome of Britain's June 23 referendum to leave the EU.
He later posted a photo of him receiving the letter from Britain's EU envoy Tim Barrow.
The photo shows Tusk accepting the letter, which was signed by British Prime Minister Theresa May, with two hands at the European Council's headquarters.
British Prime Minister Theresa May is speaking to the House of Commons as anticipation builds before a key decision on leaving the European Union.
May says that the moment is upon us when the country is set to start the process of leaving the European Union. The decision follows a June 23 referendum.
May says that "today we do give effect to the democratic decision of the people of the United Kingdom who voted for us to leave the European Union."
Spain's Foreign Ministry has opened a special desk at its embassy in London to resolve doubts concerning the effects of Brexit on Spaniards living in Britain and Northern Ireland.
A ministry statement Wednesday said the desk will provide information on issues such as residence permits, health care, pensions, education and grants.
There are some 132,000 Spaniards registered as living in Britain and Northern Ireland, and 2 million visited in 2015.
British authorities say 11,000 Spanish students are studying in universities there.
Tens of thousands more Spaniards are understood to live in Britain there but are not registered.
The office's opening was timed to coincide with Britain's formal notification, expected soon, that it was beginning its exit from the European Union.
Germany's Foreign Ministry says Britain will remain a "close partner and friend" despite the decision to leave the European Union, but that "being a close friend is not the same as being part of the family."
The ministry said Wednesday that EU negotiations with Britain will initially be about exiting the bloc, and then, "on this basis the new relationship between Britain and the EU can be discussed."
The ministry said that it was "daring" for Britain to decide to leave amid "uncertainty and restlessness" in the world.
It says the primary objective of negotiations with Britain will to be to minimize uncertainties for citizens, the economy and the EU.
Croatia's prime minister says that his country will be the least affected by the British exit from the European Union because it was the last to join in 2013.
Andrej Plenkovic says that "both our analysis and the analysis by the European Commission have confirmed that."
The Hina news agency also quoted Plenkovic as saying that Brexit was a "big, huge mistake" whose negative consequences will be felt primarily in Britain.
He added that "no one can tell at this moment" when negotiations between the EU and Britain will end, and what kind of an agreement they will produce.
Plenkovic said that "it's a scenario unseen so far." He also said the EU should remain "inclusive" to not discourage future candidates striving to join the bloc.
The European Union presidency says it is "imperative" that Britain must be left with a worse option than membership once Brexit negotiations are over.
Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, which holds the EU presidency, said that negotiations must be transparent and honest.
He said: "Negotiations should be fair for both sides, but it is imperative that EU membership emerges as the superior option. EU will not be 27 different opinions on Brexit but one common vision."
Muscat spoke as he met with the EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, in Valletta, Malta.
Barnier said: "Today is the first day in a very long and difficult road. The EU will look to establish a fair agreement for the long term future of union members."
A powerful European Union commissioner says that the British letter to trigger two years of Brexit proceedings "is a negative message for Europe as a whole, for the U.K. especially."
Guenther Oettinger, a German who is EU commissioner for budget and human resources, said he expected "many difficult negotiations in the next weeks and months."
A letter signed by British Prime Minister Theresa May that formally triggers Brexit will be handed over to European Council President Donald Tusk in less than an hour.
The British pound is facing some selling pressure before the formal triggering of the country's two-year process to leave the European Union.
With just hours to go before the start of the Brexit process, the pound was 0.4 percent lower at $1.2398. Since the country voted to leave the EU in a referendum last June, the currency has suffered a steep decline, losing around 20 percent of its value as traders fret over the potential economic impact of the decision to leave the world's largest trading bloc.
Craig Erlam, senior market analyst at OANDA, thinks the pound is "likely to remain quite volatile" throughout Wednesday's trading session. However, he says that following some weakness in the run-up to the triggering of the Article 50 process that "it is worth being prepared for a possible case of traders selling the news and buying the fact today."
The EU official who will receive the letter from Britain that formally triggers Brexit says the handover will take place at 1:20 p.m. Brussels time (1120 GMT; 7:20 a.m. EDT)
European Council President Donald Tusk tweeted: "At 13.20 today, UK #Brexit notification letter (article 50) will be handed to me by Ambassador Tim Barrow."
The original timing was given as around 1130 GMT (7:30 a.m. EDT). A reason for the slight change in timing hasn't been given.
Barrow, who is Britain's EU envoy, is taking part in a routine meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday morning. He will take a break from the meeting and hand-deliver the letter signed by Prime Minister Theresa May that will formally trigger Brexit.
Britain's European Union envoy has arrived at his office in Brussels for a meeting, hours ahead of triggering Brexit.
Tim Barrow is taking part in a routine meeting of ambassadors on Wednesday morning.
Barrow will later take a break from the meeting and hand-deliver a letter signed by Prime Minister Theresa May at around 1130 GMT (7:30 a.m. EDT) to EU Council President Donald Tusk. The letter will formally trigger Brexit.
Britain is set to formally file for divorce from the European Union, ending a 44-year relationship following the decision made by U.K. voters in a referendum nine months ago.
Prime Minister Theresa May is due to announce in the House of Commons Wednesday afternoon that she has invoked Article 50 of the EU's key treaty, triggering a two-year countdown to Britain's exit.
At the same time, Britain's EU envoy, Tim Barrow, will hand-deliver a letter from May to EU Council President Donald Tusk.
May's office says she will tell lawmakers that the U.K. is embarking on a "momentous journey" and should unite to forge a "global Britain."
Britain and the EU have two years to unpick a tapestry of rules, regulations and agreements stitched over more than four decades.