Monday 15 July 2019

It's April for May as Britain gears up to begin divorce from Europe

British PM Theresa May. Photo: AFP/Getty
British PM Theresa May. Photo: AFP/Getty

Colm Kelpie

UK Prime Minister Theresa May is planning to invoke Article 50 and trigger negotiations on Brexit by April of next year at the latest - despite a report suggesting a possible delay.

Ms May is said to be keen to kick-start the official talks with the European Commission ahead of German and French elections, according to the Bloomberg news agency, quoting unnamed British officials.

But she won't do it before the end of this year, Downing Street reiterated.

Sterling weakened on the back of the report, touching almost 87 pence against the euro.

The 'Sunday Times' last week carried a report claiming that Britain's exit from the European Union could be delayed until at least late 2019 because the government was too "chaotic" to start the two-year process early next year.

Ms May has previously said that she would not invoke Article 50 before the end of the year, signalling that the government and the civil service needed space to develop a strategy and approach.

Bloomberg reported that a summit of European leaders in March could provide the right setting for officially invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which allows for a country to leave the European Union.

The news agency quoted sources as saying she would like to do it by April.

European Council President Donald Tusk will visit Dublin next month for Brexit-related talks with Taoiseach Enda Kenny, ahead of an informal summit of EU leaders in Bratislava in Slovakia.

A spokeswoman for the Department of Taoiseach said yesterday that no date had yet been fixed for the visit, although it is expected to be early next month.

Mr Tusk will meet with Mr Kenny, before flying to London for talks with Ms May, as part of a tour of European capitals.

The Bratislava summit is due to take place on September 16 to discuss European reform in the wake of the Brexit vote. The UK will not be represented at the summit, as it will only be for the remaining 27 member states.

The 'Sunday Times' reported that Ms May might not invoke Article 50 until the end of next year because the new departments she has set up to handle the transition won't be up and running as soon as once hoped.

The chief Brexit negotiator, David Davis, and Trade Secretary Liam Fox are still in the process of hiring staff, while Mr Fox and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson have already squabbled over the roles their departments will play.

After some initially urged the UK to leave as quickly as possible following the June referendum, European leaders, including Germany's Angela Merkel, have since accepted that Britain will need time to decide how it wants to work with the EU in future. Their patience is likely to have limits, however.

Ms Merkel and French President Francois Hollande both face elections next year and are unlikely to want an extended period of uncertainty threatening their economies as they campaign for votes.

The first round of France's presidential ballot takes place next April, and Germany will probably hold a parliamentary election in September. (Additional reporting Bloomberg)

Irish Independent

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