The President of the European Council quickly rejected Theresa May’s call for an early start to preliminary Brexit talks.
Alongside the Prime Minister’s announcement today, that Article 50 would be triggered by the end of March, Ms May said she would request for withdrawal negotiations to get underway.
Ms May told the BBC: “The remaining members of the EU have to decide what the process of negotiation is.
“I hope, and I’ll be saying to them that now that they know what our timing is going to be – it’s not an exact date but they know it’ll be in the first quarter of next year – that we’ll be able to have some preparatory work, so that once the trigger comes we have a smoother process of negotiation.”
Ms May said it was important for all of the EU that Brexit was achieved “in the best possible way so we have the least disruption for businesses”.
In a tweet a few hours later, Donald Tusk welcomed the Prime Minister’s announcement for bringing “welcome clarity on start of Brexit talks”.
But he added: “Once Article 50’s triggered, EU27 will engage to safeguard its interests.”
EU leaders and officials have consistently argued that, legally, they cannot open the exit negotiations with the UK until Article 50 has been invoked.
Mr Tusk’s stance came after, last month, he put pressure on Ms May to start the Article 50 process “as soon as possible”, when they met in Downing Street.
The European Council President then revealed he had been told that would happen “early next year” – a claim rejected by No 10, but effectively confirmed by the Prime Minister today.
For Labour, Emily Thornberry, the Shadow Foreign Secretary, said the timing of the Article 50 declaration was “meaningless” without clarity on the nature of Britain’s future relationship with the EU.
She said: “This is exactly the same mistake David Cameron made with his proposed renegotiation last year – working to an artificial, self-imposed timetable, with a flawed Plan A of what he wanted to achieve and no Plan B whatsoever.
“Unless Theresa May starts spelling out the Government’s plan on free trade, on free movement, on budget contributions, and a host of other issues, we will have to conclude she is only interested in achieving headlines not providing solutions.”
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