Monday

26th Jun 2017

UK launches first exit in EU history

  • British prime minister Theresa May leaving an EU summit (Photo: Consilium)

This is the firing of the starting pistol that negotiators and observers have been waiting for.

The UK officially invokes Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty on Wednesday (29 March) to withdraw its membership of the European Union.

Dear EUobserver reader

Subscribe now for unrestricted access to EUobserver.

Sign up for 30 days' free trial, no obligation. Full subscription only 15 € / month or 150 € / year.

  1. Unlimited access on desktop and mobile
  2. All premium articles, analysis, commentary and investigations
  3. EUobserver archives

EUobserver is the only independent news media covering EU affairs in Brussels and all 28 member states.

♡ We value your support.

If you already have an account click here to login.

British prime minister Theresa May signed the letter on Tuesday evening, and talked on the phone with European Council president Donald Tusk, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and German chancellor Angela Merkel.

"In separate calls, they agreed that a strong EU was in everyone’s interests and that the UK would remain a close and committed ally," May's office said in a statement.

"They also agreed on the importance of entering into negotiations in a constructive and positive spirit, and of ensuring a smooth and orderly exit process."

It is a historic moment, as the UK is the first EU member to leave the 28-strong club, after 52 percent of the voters who turned up to the referendum last June chose to do so.

Sir Tim Barrow, the UK’s permanent representative to the EU, will hand the letter triggering formal negotiations to Tusk at around 1.30pm on Wednesday. Tusk will then give a press statement in Brussels shortly before 2pm.

May will address the UK parliament at the same time, calling for unity.

Clock ticking

At that moment, with the handing over of the letter, the clock will start ticking. The UK will be automatically out of the EU in two years, unless all of the other 27 member states unanimously agree to continue talks.

48 hours after May's letter is received, depending on the actual content of the letter and the intentions of the UK, Tusk will start circulating a document among the member states - the "negotiating guidelines."

EU leaders are set to agree on the basic political principles of the negotiations in a special summit on 29 April.

Within a day of the summit, the European Commission had promised to come forward with the so-called "negotiating directives" - a set of more detailed rules for the talks - which will also give a mandate to the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, to start talks on behalf of the 27.

The directives will then be adopted by the EU affairs ministers in the Council of the EU.

The actual negotiations could start at the end of May. Legally, the UK will still be an EU member state for the next two years with all of the accompanying rights and responsibilities.

Parlez-vous anglais ?

The talks will take place in Brussels, but the language they will be held in is still unclear.

Barnier is French, but the UK negotiators will speak English. Once the negotiations start, Barnier and UK Brexit minister David Davis need to agree on the principles, and working groups will hammer out the legal texts.

Barnier has said talks should be wrapped up in 18 months to give enough time for the divorce settlement to be adopted by the member states and the European Parliament.

He has also outlined that the terms of "orderly withdrawal" need to be settled first before negotiations on the future relations, and especially a trade agreement, can begin. Any discussion on a transitional agreement could only start when the two sides have an idea about the type of future relationship they are aiming for.

It means there would only be a few months to agree on the most contentious topics, such as the legal status of EU citizens living in the UK, and UK citizens living in the EU; the status of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland; and settling the bill from the UK's previous financial commitments.

If the two sides do not come to an agreement on the terms of the divorce within the two-year time limit, the UK would have to leave without a deal, unless the 27 agree to continue talks.

Barnier has warned that a "no deal" scenario would hurt the UK badly, saying it could slow down trade, disrupt air traffic, and suspend the movement of nuclear materials.

And while the UK had nine months to prepare, we know little of the sort of relationship the country is aiming for, except that prime minister Theresa May has opted for a "hard Brexit" - leaving the EU's single market, the EU's customs union and the European Court of Justice's jurisdiction - to please her Conservative party's hardliners.

Historic mistake

Manfred Weber, the leader of the largest political group in European Parliament, the centre-right European People's Party group, did not mince words on Tuesday (28 March).

He told journalists that it was a "historic mistake" for the UK to leave the EU but that he respected the decision of the British voters. He said that it was not the length of UK's letter, but its substance that counts.

"For nine months we only had messages from London on what they don’t want, want they don’t like, hopefully tomorrow [Wednesday] we will have a better idea [of] what they like and want," he said.

The European Parliament will vote on a resolution next week to set out its red lines on Brexit. Weber has said his group supports Barnier's strategy of first agreeing on citizens, the financial liabilities, and the Irish border.

Weber warned that leaving the EU "will be costly", but that the UK will have to respect its previous commitments made to the EU budget whose size and shape it has heavily influenced.

He insisted that the promise of the Brexit campaigners that it would be positive for the UK budget was "not correct".

He also said he did not think it was possible to finish the negotiations within 18 months.

On Wednesday, the countdown begins.

"We are ready, Michel Barnier is ready, his team is ready," a European Commission spokesman said.

Analysis

EU's Article 50: the rules for Brexit

Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty contains the rules that a member state wishing to leave the EU must follow. But it has never been used and leaves many unanswered questions on Brexit.

Theresa May outlines 'hard Brexit'

The British prime minister confirms that the UK will leave the single market when it leaves the EU and will seek a new trade deal.

Tusk: No deal on Brexit would hit UK hardest

The European Council president warned the UK against getting cosying up to the idea of having no Brexit deal at the end of the divorce negotiations, as the EU gears up for receiving PM May's notification.

Brussels history museum takes European angle

A new museum on the history of Europe attempts to tell the story of the continent from the 19th century revolutionary movements to Brexit without a national perspective.

'Unhappy' day as UK delivers Brexit letter

European Council chief Donald Tusk said that "damage control" starts for the EU, as British PM Theresa May has invoked Article 50 nine months after the UK voted to leave the bloc.

Focus

UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'

British academics want to guarantee residency and work rights for their EU staff, as well as "enhanced mobility opportunities" for UK and EU students, mostly by keeping British participation in EU funding programs.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. EPSUOn Public Services Day, Stop Austerity! Workers Need a Pay Rise!
  2. EGBAOnline Gambling: The EU Court Rejects Closed Licensing Regimes In Member States
  3. World VisionFaces of Today, Leaders of Tomorrow: Join the Debate on Violence Against Girls - 29 June
  4. ECR GroupThe EU Must Better Protect Industry from Unfair Competition
  5. Malta EU 2017Better Protection for Workers From Cancer-Causing Substances
  6. EPSUAfter 9 Years of Austerity Europe's Public Sector Workers Deserve a Pay Rise!
  7. Dialogue PlatformGlobalised Religions and the Dialogue Imperative. Join the Debate!
  8. UNICEFEU Trust Fund Contribution to UNICEF's Syria Crisis Response Reaches Nearly €200 Million
  9. EUSEW17Bringing Buildings Into the Circular Economy. Discuss at EU Sustainable Energy Week
  10. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceCan an Ideal Body Weight Lead to Premature Death?
  11. Malta EU 2017End of Roaming Charges: What Does It Entail?
  12. World VisionWorld Refugee Day, a Dark Reminder of the Reality of Children on the Move

Latest News

  1. Macron’s investment screening idea watered down by leaders
  2. Leaders unimpressed by May’s offer to EU citizens
  3. New Irish PM praises unscripted nature of EU summits
  4. EU extends sanctions on Russia
  5. UK's universities set 'Brexit wish list'
  6. Decision on post-Brexit home for EU agencies postponed
  7. May's offer on citizens’ rights dismissed as ‘pathetic’
  8. 'Historic' defence plan gets launch date at EU summit

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. European Social Services ConferenceDriving Innovation in the Social Sector I 26-28 June
  2. Dialogue PlatformMuslims Have Unique Responsibility to Fight Terror: Opinon From Fethullah Gülen
  3. EUSEW17Check out This Useful Infographic on How to Stay Sustainable and Energy Efficient.
  4. Counter BalanceEuropean Parliament Criticises the Juncker Plan's Implementation
  5. The Idealist QuarterlyDoes Europe Really Still Need Feminism? After-Work Chat on 22 June
  6. EUSEW17Create an Energy Day Event Before the End of June. Join the Call for Clean Energy
  7. UNICEF1 in 5 Children in Rich Countries Lives in Relative Income Poverty, 1 in 8 Faces Food Insecurity
  8. International Partnership for Human Rights26 NGOs Call on Interpol Not to Intervene Versus Azerbaijani Human Rights Defenders
  9. Malta EU 2017Significant Boost in Financing for SMEs and Entrepreneurs Under New Agreement
  10. World VisionYoung People Rise up as EU Signs Consensus for Development at EU Development Days
  11. ILGA-EuropeLGBTI Activists and Businesses Fighting Inequality Together
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Prime Ministers Respond to Trump on Paris Agreement