May to launch Brexit talks on March 29
American Vogue released portraits of Theresa May, UK prime minister, yesterday, photographed for the magazine by Annie Leibovitz.
The pictures came as Sir Tim Barrow, Britain’s ambassador to the EU, announced that Mrs May would formally launch negotiations for the UK’s exit from the bloc on March 29, triggering a two-year divorce process.
Sir Tim told Donald Tusk, EU Council president, of the prime minister’s intention. Mr Tusk said he would present “draft Brexit guidelines” to the remaining 27 members of the EU within 48 hours of receiving formal notification.
Sir Tim told British MPs it was “time to get on” with the negotiations.
Theresa May’s government yesterday set March 29 as the date for formal notification of the start of the two-year Brexit negotiations, so ending a period during which the rest of the EU could do little more than watch.
David Davis, the UK’s Brexit secretary, said the move would initiate the most important negotiation for his country for a generation, with the government aiming to secure“a new, positive partnership”between the UK and the EU.
Brexit is scheduled to take place by March 29 2019 unless all member states agree to extend divorce talks. But the other 27 members of the bloc are henceforth set to have much more control over the timing and structure of the negotiations.
In the wake of the UK’s vote last June to leave, senior EU officials were convinced Britain would refuse to trigger the formal divorce process because of the tactical drawbacks of working to a two-year deadline.
Instead, they expected London to try to first negotiate exit terms, then invoke Article 50 for only a“juridical minute ”.
In London triggering Article 50 became a political battle cry for Brexiters worried about backtracking from leaving the EU. By contrast, officials in Brussels were concerned the UK would sidestep the clause — a principal reason for the EU’s uncompromising mantra of “no negotiation without notification ”.
“The [EU-27 leaders] understood that their strongest chip is time pressure,” said one of the principal figures involved in EU B rex it preparations .“They did not want to give that away .”
The EU’s next attempt to maximise its leverage will be through its guidelines for Brexit, which lay out the bloc’s priorities for talks. This public document is expected to be adopted by EU-27 leaders in late April or early May. Although its content will depend on Mrs May’s notification letter, some recent drafts run to around six pages, according to diplomats.
Much of the detail will be left to separate, confidential negotiating guidelines, which will take a further month to agree. But for some EU diplomats, the release of the public guidelines will be a critical moment. “This is our best chance to sober up the Brits,” said one senior EU diplomat from an anglophile northern state.
One of the main possible causes of tension is EU officials’ push to delay talks on a future trade deal until Britain has agreed principles on an exit bill of some €60bn and the rights of EU migrants.
“It’s the British position that the negotiation for leaving and the negotiation for a future arrangement will happen in parallel, whereas it was the European position up to now that this would be sequenced,” said Michael Noonan, the Irish finance minister. “That difference has to be overcome.”
Some EU officials strike a more uncompromising line. “What people are worried about is that the talks could drag on and on and on,” said Johan Van Overtveldt, Belgium’s finance minister. “Even those who don’t want to punish the UK will be very careful not to give Britain too good a deal.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’ s chief negotiator, wants member states to bolster his hand by issuing a directive that covers only the exit bill and citizens’ rights. When formal talks start in late May or June, Mr Barnier could then say talks on trade were simply beyond his mandate, according to EU officials.
Such tactics may open up the first cracks in EU-27 unity. Some member states and even some European Commission officials are less concerned about the exit bill and would not want the divorce to poison future EU-UK ties.
Britain is banking on Mr Barnier being overruled. Mr Davis claims there is “slight schizophrenia” on the EU side: “Most of them, nearly all of them, are sympathetic [to the UK case for parallel talks] but there will be an issue of not breaking the solidarity of 27.”
Mats Persson, a former Downing Street adviser now advising on trade for EY, noted an emerging “mismatch in perceptions” that could kill the process.
“Neither side is thinking the other would ever risk a no-deal scenario because of damage to trade, financial stability and geopolitics ,” he said.
“In reality there are players on both sides who are genuinely contemplating this option.”
Michel Barnier: EU chief negotiator wants to focus on the exit bill and citizens’ rights rather than trade