Thu, Jun 22, 2017 - Page 9 News List

What is the Brexit timetable and how might it change?

Negotiators will be working against the clock, but deal or no deal, the UK will leave the EU on March 29, 2019

By Jennifer Rankin  /  The Guardian, BRUSSELS

What is the anticipated timetable?

Almost a year after British voters asked to leave the EU, official exit talks started on Monday. British Secretary of State for Exiting the EU David Davis sat opposite Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, at the European Commission headquarters in Brussels. With a handshake for the cameras, the two men began a technically arduous journey that is to seal Britain’s fate for decades to come.

The purpose of these talks is to unwind Britain’s 44-year-old relationship with the EU and map out future ties. Negotiators will be working against the clock. Deal or no deal, the UK will leave the EU on March 29, 2019.

However, the time for serious negotiations is actually shorter: Barnier hopes to conclude talks in October next year to allow time for the European Parliament to ratify a deal.

What happens first?

For Brussels, Brexit is like a marital breakdown: First comes the divorce, then the new relationship.

The EU has long said that Britain will not be allowed to start trade talks until it agrees on an outline deal on citizens’ rights, money and the Irish border.

Davis had threatened “the row of the summer” over this timetable, but on Monday it became clear that he had conceded the point.

“It is not when it starts, it is how it finishes,” he said. “Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed.”

The British quickly discovered they had no leverage against an EU that had united on this point. The EU’s two-step sequence crystallized when Barnier visited the capitals of all the other 27 EU member states in winter last year. On this Brexit grand tour, the Irish pressed the case for prioritizing the border; Spain put Gibraltar on the table; and everyone wanted citizens’ rights and money sorted out quickly.

Barnier has his orders, agreed unanimously, after eight months of work. He cannot start trade talks without a fresh mandate from EU leaders. EU diplomats have never discussed a new mandate and had no intention of doing so.

Despite the loss of face, the UK might find that the EU sequence turns out to be convenient. British Prime Minister Theresa May did not win a mandate for her hard Brexit.

The political fight for a softer exit is expected to intensify. With so many unanswered questions about what Brexit means, getting started on formal negotiations and talking about citizens’ rights now suits the UK well.

When can Britain talk about trade?

Some Brussels observers think the EU is being too rigid and making unreasonable demands that trade is off the table. However, there is some flexibility: Trade talks can begin after “sufficient progress” on the divorce, a judgement EU leaders will make, in October or December, depending on how things are going.

If the UK passes the — deliberately ambiguous — “sufficient progress” test, talks can move on to trade and other areas, such as foreign policy, financial services, and police and judicial cooperation.

What are the sticking points?

Both sides on Monday repeated that they were prioritizing a rapid agreement on citizens’ rights to bring certainty for 3.5 million EU nationals in Britain and 1.2 million Britons on the continent.

However, the apparent consensus is deceptive: The EU is insisting that the European Court of Justice be the ultimate arbiter in resolving disputes on citizens’ rights, in theory extending the writ of the European court over Britain for a century. This role for the court would prove toxic for hardline Brexiters and is even controversial for some European jurists.

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