Clock starts tick­ing on U. K.’ s EU with­drawal

The Denver Post - - FRONT PAGE - By Griff Witte and Michael Birn­baum

lon­don » The end came not with a bang but a let­ter.

Over six un­sen­ti­men­tal pages, Bri­tain said good­bye to the Euro­pean Union on Wed­nes­day, spell­ing out its hopes, wishes, threats and de­mands for di­vorce talks that will strain al­liances, roil economies and con­sume at­ten­tion across the con­ti­nent over the next two years.

Com­ing a lit­tle over nine months af­ter Bri­tish vot­ers stunned the world by choos­ing to with­draw from the EU, the hand- de­liv­ered let­ter in Brus­sels of­fi­cially trig­gered Ar­ti­cle 50, the bloc’s never be­fore-used es­cape hatch.

It also erased any lin­ger­ing doubts that Bri­tain is end­ing a part­ner­ship that has bound the coun­try to the con­ti­nent for nearly half a cen­tury.

“This is a his­toric mo­ment from which there can be no turn­ing back,” Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May con­fi­dently an­nounced to a mo­men­tar­ily hushed House of Com­mons be­fore de­bate turned rowdy.

In Brus­sels, a vis­i­bly up­set Euro­pean Coun­cil President Don­ald Tusk said there­was “no rea­son to pre­tend that this is a happy day.”

“Af­ter all,” he said, “most Euro­peans, in­clud­ing nearly half the Bri­tish vot­ers, wish that we would stay to­gether, not drift apart.”

The move in­stantly plunged Bri­tain and the 27 other EU na­tions into what will al­most cer­tainly be messy and ac­ri­mo­nious ne­go­ti­a­tions.

The talks will en­com­pass a dizzy­ing ar­ray of sub­jects, in­clud­ing trade terms, im­mi­gra­tion rules, fi­nan­cial reg­u­la­tions and, of course, money. Bri­tain joined the group that be­came the Euro­pean-Union in 1973, so decades of ties, pacts and ar­range­ments are part of the com­plex un­rav­el­ing.

For both sides, the stakes are enor­mous.

Bri­tain could be forced to re­ori­ent its econ­omy— the world’s fifth largest — if it loses fa­vor­able terms with its big­gest trade part­ner. It also may not sur­vive the de­par­ture in one piece, with Scot­land threat­en­ing to bolt.

What’s next

Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Theresa May says Brexit is an op­por­tu­nity to build an “in­de­pen­dent, self- gov­ern­ing, global Bri­tain.” Euro­pean Par­lia­ment chief ne­go­tia­tor Guy Ver­hof­s­tadt says it’s “a tragedy, a dis­as­ter, a catas­tro­phe.” As Bri­tain of­fi­cially starts the exit process with Wed­nes­day’s trig­ger­ing of Ar­ti­cle 50, here’s a look at some of the feuds and fault- lines: MONEY, MONEY, MONEY The EU says Bri­tain can’t leave with­out set­tling its bill, pay­ing up for the U. K.’ s share of staff pen­sions and projects it has al­ready agreed to fund. Euro­pean Com­mis­sion President Jean- Claude Juncker has put the figure at around 50 bil­lion eu­ros ($ 63 bil­lion). WHAT DO WE TALK ABOUT FIRST? Sub­stan­tive talks are un­likely to start un­til May at the ear­li­est— af­ter an April 29 sum­mit of 27 EU lead­ers to set­tle their ne­go­ti­at­ing stance, and af­ter France holds a May 7 pres­i­den­tial elec­tion. When David Davis and chief EU ne­go­tia­tor Michel Barnier fi­nally sit down face to face, their first de­ci­sion will be: What do we talk about? DEAL OR NO DEAL? Bri­tain has in­voked Ar­ti­cle 50 of the EU’s key treaty, set­ting a count­down clock tick­ing: In two years, the U. K. will cease to be a mem­ber of the bloc. Of­fi­cials on both sides hope by 2019 to have ei­ther a deal or an agree­ment to keep talk­ing dur­ing a tran­si­tional pe­riod. The As­so­ci­ated Press

The Euro­pean Union, which for decades has only ex­panded its in­te­gra­tive reach, faces per­haps an even greater ex­is­ten­tial threat. If Bri­tain is able to se­cure an at­trac­tive deal, other coun­tries con­tem­plat­ing their own de­par­tures could speed to­ward the ex­its.

From both sides of the English Chan­nel on Wed­nes­day, there were at­tempts to take the heat out ofwhat had be­come a griev­ance-filled split even be­fore it of­fi­cially got un­der­way.

The top diplo­mat for the Euro­pean Union’s most pow­er­ful mem­ber, Ger­many, said he wished Bri­tain well.

“The stale- sound­ing sen­tence used in pri­vate life af­ter a di­vorce, ‘ Let’s re­main friends,’ is right in this case,” said German For­eign Min­is­ter Sig­mar Gabriel.

May’s let­ter, mean­while, ratch­eted down ear­lier threats to walk away from talks and leave with no deal — an op­tion pop­u­larly know­nas “dirty Brexit”— if the EU of­fers are not to her lik­ing.

The let­ter urged the Euro­pean Union to let Bri­tain go “in a fair and or­derly man­ner, and with as lit­tle dis­rup­tion as pos­si­ble on each side.”

None­the­less, the let­ter also un­leashed some im­plicit threats. It raised, for in­stance, the specter that Bri­tain could re­duce its con­tri­bu­tions to Euro­pean in­tel­li­gence and se­cu­rity if Lon­don does not get what it wants in a trade deal.

“In se­cu­rity terms, a fail­ure to reach agree­ment would mean our co­op­er­a­tion in the fight against crime and ter­ror­ism would be weak­ened,” she wrote in a pas­sage that drew scorn from Euro­pean of­fi­cials who ac­cused her of us­ing se­cu­rity as a bar­gain­ing chip.

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