European Union governments complained U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan to begin Brexit negotiations by April still lacks detail and signaled she will not get the informal talks she’s seeking before then.
May said on Sunday for the first time that she will trigger the U.K.’s two-year withdrawal from the EU in the first quarter and told the BBC that by giving such a timetable she hoped her EU counterparts will allow “some preparatory work” to ensure a “smoother process.”
That request received short shrift on the continent as politicians reiterated that May must invoke Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty — which details how a nation leaves the EU — before they engage. Investors may worry that raises the likelihood of a rupture rather than an easy break.
“No negotiations without notification,” said Raimundas Karoblis, Lithuania’s vice-minister for foreign affairs. “The U.K. must say officially first what the Kingdom wants.”
Czech Foreign Minister Lubomir Zaoralek told the state newswire CTK that “we are not much farther than we were before.”
“We still haven’t been clearly told by Britain what it wants to do,” he said. “This is one of their many assurances, and I actually still don’t know whether they’ll really do it.”
The latest comments came a day after European Council President Donald Tusk said on Twitter that while he welcomed the clarity from May, the remaining 27 members of the EU “will engage to safeguard its interests” only when Article 50 is triggered.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, which will hold the EU’s rotating presidency in early 2017, said the link between tariff-free trade and single market membership “cannot be decoupled.”
Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Charlie Flanagan told RTE that the negotiations will involve “give and take.” While welcoming the clarity on Brexit timing, he said that avoiding the reintroduction of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic — a key concern of the Irish government — would be a “challenge.”
In a report published on Monday, Charles Grant of the Center for European Reform said the 27 remaining members of the EU are taking a hard line because they worry early talks would allow the British to “sow divisions among them” by meeting with individual governments.
“The talks format is EU-27 vs the U.K.,” said Lithuania’s Karoblis. “No talks with individual member states i.e. not to separate but to consolidate the EU stance.”