U.K. sets March 29 to be­gin exit talks

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - INTERNATIONAL - DANICA KIRKA AND JILL LAW­LESS In­for­ma­tion for this ar­ti­cle was con­trib­uted by Lorne Cook of The As­so­ci­ated Press.

LON­DON — Bri­tain will kick off di­vorce pro­ceed­ings from the Euro­pean Union on March 29, Bri­tain told the Euro­pean Coun­cil on Mon­day morn­ing.

“We are on the thresh­old of the most im­por­tant ne­go­ti­a­tion for this coun­try for a gen­er­a­tion,” exit 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 the talks — ex­pected to take two years — is 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 coun­cil Pres­i­dent Don­ald 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 May 1 to fi­nal­ize their ne­go­ti­at­ing guide­lines.

May’s No. 10 Downing St. 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 ne­go­ti­a­tions.

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 3 mil­lion EU ci­ti­zens al­ready work­ing and liv­ing in Bri­tain will re­tain.

And it’s not 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 vote in which most Bri­tons chose to leave the EU, Scot­tish vot­ers mostly wanted to stay. Stur­geon says Scot­land must not 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 La­bor Party law­maker Pat McFadden said Mon­day that it is now up to May to de­liver the good deal for Bri­tain that she has promised.

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

Con­flicts are ex­pected: The EU wants Bri­tain to pay a hefty di­vorce bill — es­ti­mates have ranged up to $64 bil­lion — to cover pen­sion li­a­bil­i­ties for EU staff and other com­mit­ments the U.K. has agreed to.

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 has alarmed 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.

AP/BEN BIRCHALL

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May and Welsh First Min­is­ter Car­wyn Jones at­tend a meet­ing Mon­day at Lib­erty Sta­dium in Swansea, Wales.

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