Brexit count­down be­gins

Bri­tain to start EU exit on March 29

The Niagara Falls Review - - WORLD NEWS - DANICA KIRKA and JILL LAWLESS

LONDON — Bri­tain will be­gin divorce pro­ceed­ings from the Euro­pean Union 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 neigh­bours.

Bri­tain’s am­bas­sador to the EU, Tim Bar­row, in­formed Euro­pean Coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald Tusk of the ex­act start date on Mon­day morn­ing.

“We are on the thresh­old of the most im­por­tant ne­go­ti­a­tion for this coun­try for a gen­er­a­tion,” Brexit Sec­re­tary David Davis said. “The gov­ern­ment is clear in its aims: A deal that works for ev­ery na­tion and re­gion of the U.K. and in­deed for all of Europe — a new, pos­i­tive part­ner­ship be­tween the U.K. and our friends and al­lies in the Euro­pean Union.”

The trig­ger for all this tu­mult is the in­nocu­ous-sound­ing Ar­ti­cle 50 of the EU’s Lis­bon Treaty, a never-be­fore-used mech­a­nism for with­draw­ing from the bloc. Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May, un­der the Ar­ti­cle, will no­tify Tusk of her na­tion’s in­ten­tions to leave the 28-na­tion bloc.

The ar­ti­cle stip­u­lates that the two sides will have un­til March 2019 to agree on a divorce set­tle­ment and — if pos­si­ble — es­tab­lish a new re­la­tion­ship be­tween Bri­tain, the world’s No. 5 econ­omy, and the EU, a vast sin­gle market con­tain­ing 500 mil­lion peo­ple.

The Euro­pean Com­mis­sion — the bloc’s leg­isla­tive arm — said it stood ready to help launch the ne­go­ti­a­tions.

“Ev­ery­thing is ready on this side,” com­mis­sion spokesman Mar­gari­tis Schi­nas said. Lead­ers of the 27 other EU na­tions will meet by the month of May to fi­nal­ize their ne­go­ti­at­ing guide­lines.

May’s 10 Down­ing Street of­fice said the prime min­is­ter will make a state­ment in the House of Com­mons on the day Ar­ti­cle 50 is trig­gered.

Bri­tons voted in a June ref­er­en­dum to leave the EU af­ter more than 40 years of mem­ber­ship. But May was not able to trig­ger the talks un­til last week, when the Bri­tish Par­lia­ment ap­proved a bill au­tho­riz­ing the start of Brexit ne­go­ti­a­tions.

But like any divorce, things may not go to plan.

The let­ter May sends next week will plunge Bri­tain into a pe­riod of in­tense un­cer­tainty. The coun­try doesn’t know what its fu­ture re­la­tion­ship with the bloc will look like — whether its busi­nesses will freely be able to trade with the rest of Europe, its students can study abroad or its pen­sion­ers will be al­lowed to re­tire eas­ily in other EU states. Those things have be­come part of life in the U.K. since it joined what was then called the Euro­pean Eco­nomic Com­mu­nity in 1973.

It’s also not clear what rights the es­ti­mated three mil­lion EU cit­i­zens al­ready work­ing and liv­ing in Bri­tain will re­tain.

And it’s not even cer­tain that the United King­dom — made up of Eng­land, Scot­land, Wales and North­ern Ire­land — will sur­vive the EU exit in­tact.

Scot­land’s na­tion­al­ist first min­is­ter, Ni­cola Stur­geon, is seek­ing a ref­er­en­dum on in­de­pen­dence within two years. In the same Brexit vote in which most Bri­tons chose to leave the EU, Scot­tish vot­ers mostly wanted to stay. Stur­geon says Scot­land mustn’t be “taken down a path that we do not want to go down with­out a choice.”

May has re­jected that sug­ges­tion, say­ing “now is not the time” for an­other ref­er­en­dum on Scot­tish in­de­pen­dence.

Pro-EU Labour Party Law­maker Pat McFad­den said Mon­day it is now up to May to de­liver the good deal for Bri­tain that she has promised.

“The phoney pe­riod is nearly over, and the real work of ne­go­ti­a­tions are about to be­gin,” McFad­den said.

Con­flicts are likely to arise soon. The EU wants Bri­tain to pay a hefty divorce bill — es­ti­mates have ranged up to $86 bil­lion CND — to cover pen­sion li­a­bil­i­ties for EU staff and other com­mit­ments to which the U.K. has agreed.

Bri­tish ne­go­tia­tors are sure to quib­ble over the size of that tab. For­eign Sec­re­tary Boris John­son said a “vast” bill is un­rea­son­able, and sug­gested that May should fol­low the “il­lus­tri­ous prece­dent” of for­mer Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Mar­garet Thatcher, who suc­cess­fully sought a re­bate from the bloc in 1984.

Ne­go­ti­a­tions will also soon hit a fun­da­men­tal topic: Bri­tain wants “fric­tion­less” free trade, but says it will re­store con­trols over im­mi­gra­tion, end­ing the right of EU cit­i­zens to live and work in Bri­tain. The EU, how­ever, says Bri­tain can’t have full ac­cess to the sin­gle market if it doesn’t ac­cept the free move­ment of its peo­ple, one of the bloc’s key prin­ci­ples.

May has sug­gested that if talks stall she could walk away, say­ing that “no deal for Bri­tain is bet­ter than a bad deal for Bri­tain.”

That prospect alarms many Bri­tish busi­nesses. If Bri­tain crashed out of the EU with­out a trade deal it would fall back onto World Trade Or­ga­ni­za­tion rules, lead­ing to tar­iffs and other bar­ri­ers to trade.

Par­lia­ment’s For­eign Af­fairs

MATT DUN­HAM/THE AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

A Union flag flies in front of the the London land­mark “Big Ben” at the Houses of Par­lia­ment in London, Mon­day. Bri­tain’s gov­ern­ment will be­gin the process of leav­ing the Euro­pean Union on March 29, start­ing the clock on the two years in which to com­plete the most im­por­tant ne­go­ti­a­tion for a gen­er­a­tion.

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