EU 'ready' for UK to trigger exit process
By Eszter Zalan
The EU has said it was "ready to begin negotiations" on Britain’s departure from the bloc after the British government said on Monday (20 March) it would trigger the official exit procedure on 29 March.
"We are ready to begin negotiations, we are waiting for the letter," said European Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas.
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"Everything is ready on this side."
Schinas spoke after the British government earlier the same day confirmed that it would invoke Article 50 of the EU treaty, which governs the divorce procedure, on 29 March.
European Council president Donald Tusk also responded quickly to London's announcement, saying in a tweet that he would put forward the negotiation guidelines within 48 hours of receiving the letter.
The guidelines will then be studied by EU capitals, and the text tweaked, as in normal EU summit preparations.
Sources said EU leaders would not be ready to tackle the issue at a previously planned summit on 6 April, as it would take four to six weeks to get ready after they received the UK’s notification.
The 27 EU leaders, minus the UK, will most likely get together in early May instead.
One thing to watch as preparations unfold is the French election, which will produce a new president on 7 May.
Diplomats would likely want to avoid an 11 May date, when a new president had already been chosen, but not yet inaugurated.
The guidelines - a short and broad political document that will outline the principles of the negotiation mandate for the EU side - are already being prepared by Tusk's office.
Different scenarios are being drawn up in the text, sources said, depending on what British leader Theresa May says in her letter of 29 March.
"It depends on what the UK wants," an EU source said.
"This needs to be well-prepared, lawyers, experts will have to negotiate this," a second source added.
After the 27 leaders agree on the guidelines, the EU commission will, 24 hours later, put forward the formal recommendation for the negotiating directives.
These will be more detailed and will give the green light for Michel Barnier, the EU executive's negotiator, to start talks with the UK.
The directives will also have to be approved by a council of EU affairs ministers, who will meet on 16 May.