BRUSSELS Prime Minister Theresa May said she was glad the other 27 EU national leaders will meet without her after a summit on Thursday to discuss how to negotiate Britain's withdrawal from the Union.
"I welcome the fact that the other leaders will be meeting to discuss Brexit tonight as we are going to invoke Article 50, trigger the negotiations by the end of March next year," she told reporters.
"It's right that the other leaders prepare for those negotiations as we have been preparing. We will be leaving the EU. We want that to be as smooth and as orderly a process as possible. It's not just in our interests, it's in the interests of the rest of Europe as well."
She did not answer a question on whether she thought it would take up to 10 years for Britain to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU. The BBC led news bulletins on Thursday, quoting Britain's EU envoy as saying that it could take that long.
That time scale has been widely cited by European leaders and officials throughout discussions Brexit and is in line with the time taken to negotiate similar far-reaching global trade pacts.
(Reporting by Alastair Macdonald; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)