A man holds a banner as he protests in front of 10 Downing Street entrance in central London, Wednesday, March 29, 2017. Britain will begin divorce proceedings from the European Union later on March 29, starting the clock on two years of intense political and economic negotiations that will fundamentally change both the nation and its European neighbors. (AP Photo/Matt Dunham)

The Latest: Spain opens Brexit desk at London embassy

March 29, 2017 - 7:05 am

LONDON (AP) — The Latest on Brexit (all times local):

12 p.m.

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.

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11:50 a.m.

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.

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11:40 a.m.

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.

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11:05 a.m.

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."

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10:45 a.m.

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.

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8:50 a.m.

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."

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8:35 a.m.

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.

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8 a.m.

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.

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7 a.m.

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.

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