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