Wednesday

13th Dec 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.

Thank you for reading EUobserver!

Subscribe now for a 30 day free trial.

  1. €150 per year
  2. or €15 per month
  3. Cancel anytime

EUobserver is an independent, not-for-profit news organization that publishes daily news reports, analysis, and investigations from Brussels and the EU member states. We are an indispensable news source for anyone who wants to know what is going on in the EU.

We are mainly funded by advertising and subscription revenues. As advertising revenues are falling fast, we depend on subscription revenues to support our journalism.

For group, corporate or student subscriptions, please contact us. See also our full Terms of Use.

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.

News in Brief

  1. EU bank delays gas pipeline decision
  2. Hungary's leftwing parties join Jobbik in anti-Orban protest
  3. Barnier: EU will not accept UK backtracking on Brexit deal
  4. Puigdemont to return to Catalonia if elected
  5. Commission approves EasyJet partial takeover of Air Berlin
  6. EU medical command centre due next year
  7. Auditors: EU 'green' farm payments fail ecology criteria
  8. Austria gas explosion creates Italian energy 'emergency'

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. ACCACFOs Risk Losing Relevance If They Do Not Embrace Technology
  2. UNICEFMake the Digital World Safer for Children & Increase Access for the Most Disadvantaged
  3. European Jewish CongressWelcomes Recognition of Jerusalem as the Capital of Israel and Calls on EU States to Follow Suit
  4. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Boost Innovation Cooperation Under Horizon 2020
  5. European Gaming & Betting AssociationJuncker’s "Political" Commission Leaves Gambling Reforms to the Court
  6. AJC Transatlantic InstituteAJC Applauds U.S. Recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s Capital City
  7. EU2017EEEU Telecom Ministers Reached an Agreement on the 5G Roadmap
  8. European Friends of ArmeniaEU-Armenia Relations in the CEPA Era: What's Next?
  9. Mission of China to the EU16+1 Cooperation Injects New Vigour Into China-EU Ties
  10. EPSUEU Blacklist of Tax Havens Is a Sham
  11. EU2017EERole of Culture in Building Cohesive Societies in Europe
  12. ILGA EuropeCongratulations to Austria - Court Overturns Barriers to Equal Marriage

Latest News

  1. Last chance for Poland to return property to its rightful owners
  2. Commission attacks Tusk on 'anti-European' migrant plan
  3. Volkswagen tells EU: we will fail on our recall promise
  4. EU will not start Brexit future talks before March
  5. Bitcoin risky but 'limited phenomenon', says EU
  6. Panama Papers - start of sensible revolution in EU tax affairs?
  7. Lebanon crisis overshadows EU aid for Syrian refugees
  8. New Polish PM brings same old government

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. Centre Maurits CoppietersCelebrating Diversity, Citizenship and the European Project With Fundació Josep Irla
  2. European Healthy Lifestyle AllianceUnderstanding the Social Consequences of Obesity
  3. Union for the MediterraneanMediterranean Countries Commit to Strengthening Women's Role in Region
  4. Bio-Based IndustriesRegistration for BBI JU Stakeholder Forum about to close. Last chance to register!
  5. European Heart NetworkThe Time Is Ripe for Simplified Front-Of-Pack Nutrition Labelling
  6. Counter BalanceNew EU External Investment Plan Risks Sidelining Development Objectives
  7. EU2017EEEAS Calls for Eastern Partnership Countries to Enter EU Market Through Estonia
  8. Dialogue PlatformThe Turkey I No Longer Know
  9. World Vision7 Million Children at Risk in the DRC: Donor Meeting to Focus on Saving More Lives
  10. EPSU-Eurelectric-IndustriAllElectricity European Social Partners Stand up for Just Energy Transition
  11. European Friends of ArmeniaSignature of CEPA Marks a Fresh Start for EU-Armenia Relations
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Energy Ministers Pledge to Work More Closely at Nordic and EU Level