BREXIT talks are expected to begin in earnest in May after Theresa May revealed she will formally trigger the process next Wednesday.
The move ensures Mrs May meets her self-imposed deadline of triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty by the end of March and paves the way for talks to start before the first anniversary of the EU referendum result.
Negotiations will not immediately begin as the 27 other EU states will first need to agree their position at a summit likely to take place at the end of April.
Brussels officials will also want to delay talks until after the French elections on May 7 fearing they could help the cause of Front Nationale leader Marine Le Pen who has vowed to take France out of the EU.
The Government will also be content to have local elections safely out of the way before discussions get underway.
Mrs May will deliver a statement to MPs next Wednesday as Article 50 is triggered and today visited Swansea as part of a nationwide tour before Brexit talks begin.
She said: “I am very clear that I want to ensure we get the best possible deal for the United Kingdom that works for everyone across the United Kingdom and all parts of the UK when we enter these negotiations.
“I have set out my objectives. These include getting a good free trade deal. They include putting issues like continuing working together on issues like security at the core of what we are doing.
“We are going to be out there, negotiating hard, delivering on what the British people voted for.”
Mrs May’s official spokesman said Britain wants to start withdrawal negotiations “promptly”, but accepts that “it is right that the 27 have a chance to agree their position” before talks start.
The announcement came shortly after Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker warned that Britain may have to abandon its hopes of a trade deal if it rejects the terms offered by the EU - which are widely expected to include a “divorce bill” of as much as £50 billion.
The UK will have “the choice to eat what’s on the table or not come to the table at all”, Mr Juncker told German newspaper Bild am Sonntag.
He predicted that Britain’s experience of withdrawal will bring the other 27 member states closer together, as they “see from the UK’s example that leaving the EU is a bad idea (and) fall in love with each other again and renew their vows with the European Union”.
An early stumbling block in the discussions is likely to be the order issues are tackled.
EU officials are expected to press for the question of how much Britain will have to pay on leaving, a bill which could run to £50bn, to be addressed first.
Mrs May has pledged she will seek early agreement on the future of EU nationals in the UK amid criticism the government is using them as bargaining chips.
Opponents of Britain leaving the EU insisted they would continue to fight to persuade voters to change their mind.
Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said: “Theresa May is embarking on an extreme and divisive Brexit. She has rushed this through without a plan, and without a clue.
“On the day Theresa May is travelling the country claiming she wants to bring the United Kingdom together, she lets it be known she is about to unleash division and bitterness.
“She has chosen the hardest and most divisive form of Brexit, choosing to take us out of the single market before she has even tried to negotiate.
“That’s why we believe the people should have the final say over the Conservative Brexit deal.”
Labour’s leadership voted to support the Brexit Bill which gave Mrs May the power to trigger Article 50.
But Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer signalled the party could still try and block the deal struck with Brussels.
He said: “If the Prime Minister does not come back with the right deal or even comes back with no deal, then of course we would consider voting against it.”
The Brexit discussions are supposed to be completed within two years but it is widely expected they will need to be extended or a transitional deal agreed.