Thursday

28th Oct 2021

EU leaders to seek clarity on Brexit date

  • EU leaders will agree that the Brexit process should start as soon as possible, but they are likely to disagree on when it would be necessary. (Photo: Consillium)

When will Brexit actually happen?

At a summit in Brussels on Tuesday (28 June), EU leaders will discuss the issue amid disagreement over the timing of the legal process and even speculation that it may never happen.

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  • Article 50 will not be triggered "at this stage," Cameron said. (Photo: The European Union)

Article 50 of the EU treaty, which is the framework for the exit negotiations, will not be triggered "at this stage", British prime minister David Cameron said on Monday.

On Sunday, the 27 other EU countries had agreed that they would not push Cameron to notify the activation of Article 50 during the summit.

An EU diplomat said on Monday that there was “no British authority that is able" to do it at the moment.

The leaders, he said, would have to "reconcile two worries" – the fact that Cameron cannot launch the process, and the risk of uncertainty for the EU and UK's economies and for the good functioning of the EU.

They will try to deliver a message of stability for the financial markets and businesses in member states, and a basis for a short-term plan, another diplomat said.

They will agree that the process should start as soon as possible. But they are likely to disagree on when it would be necessary.

After a meeting in Berlin on Monday with Italian prime minister Matteo Renzi French president Francois Hollande and German chancellor Angela Merkel expressed different views.



While Hollande said there was "no time to lose", Merkel said that Britain needed "a certain amount of time to first analyse things".

Merkel set the tone on Saturday when she said that there was "no reason to fight now".

An EU source admitted that Friday's call by the presidents of the EU institutions to trigger Article 50 rapidly "however painful that process may be" was now "no longer valid".

"The stakes are far too high," a third EU diplomat explained. "There is an emerging convergence on not punishing the British."

Merkel, Hollande and Renzi said that there would be “no informal or formal talks on the exit of Britain until an application has been filed to leave the European Union”.

Officials in Brussels said that would also be the message of other leaders at the summit.

But Merkel refused to set a deadline for when Article 50 should be triggered, and some in London and Brussels are considering the possibility that it will never happen.

Time limit

On Monday, Cameron said the British voters' decision "must be accepted and the process of implementing the decision in the best possible way must now begin". But he left the decision to a future government in a few months.

A few hours later his health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, urged against invoking Article 50, because it "puts a time limit of two years on negotiations after which we could be thrown out with no deal at all".


"Before setting the clock ticking, we need to negotiate a deal and put it to the British people, either in a referendum or through the Conservative manifesto at a fresh general election," Hunt told the Daily Telegraph.

His call, the first from a minister, comes after several Conservative and Labour MPs floated the idea that the British parliament could try to overturn the referendum outcome, and officials in Scotland and Northern Ireland said their assemblies would block the process.

"If the Brits came back and said 'that was a joke', no one would tell them 'you still have to go'," the first diplomat in Brussels said.

"All 27 would prefer that the UK stays in the EU. But it's up to the British authorities, not to the EU, to clarify the situation," a senior EU official said.

'Hoping is human'

He noted that "nothing happened as expected", with Cameron refusing to trigger Article 50 just after the referendum and the Brexit campaign leaders appearing to have no plan for the future.

He said that "one should never say never" and that no Brexit was a possibility. "A sovereign decision can undo what another sovereign decision has done earlier."

Other officials are more sceptical about the possibility.

"To keep hoping is human," another diplomat said. "But the question has been so existential. The political reality is in contradiction with the human reflex of always having hope."

But if the UK keeps dragging its heels over invoking Article 50, "we'll have to think of something else", he said.

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