Theresa May’s call for Brexit negotiations to begin right away have hit instant opposition from European Union (EU) leaders who said there will be no talks until Britain triggers Article 50.
Speaking at the Conservative Party Conference on Sunday, the Prime Minister said that Britain will being the formal withdrawal process no later than the end of March, allowing some time for preliminary talks beforehand.
“Having voted to leave, I know that the public will soon expect to see, on the horizon, the point at which Britain does formally leave the European Union,” Mrs May said.
“So let me be absolutely clear. There will be no unnecessary delays in invoking Article Fifty. We will invoke it when we are ready. And we will be ready soon. We will invoke Article Fifty no later than the end of March next year.”
The Prime Minister hopes to begin negotiations before invoking Article 50 of the Lisbon treaty in the hope that it will allow UK negotiators more time to work out the best deal. Once the article is invoked, Britain has two years to negotiate an exit deal before its EU membership formally ends.
However, EU leaders have suggested are opposed to holding any talks with Britain before it triggers Article 50.
European Council President Donald Tusk welcomed the “clarity” Mrs May had provided, but said the 27 other EU member states would not hold any preparatory talks.
Taking to Twitter, Mr Tusk wrote: “PM May’s declaration brings welcome clarity on start of Brexit talks. Once Art. 50’s triggered, EU27 will engage to safeguard its interests.”
PM May's declaration brings welcome clarity on start of Brexit talks. Once Art. 50's triggered, EU27 will engage to safeguard its interests
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) October 2, 2016
The Times reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel is also against preliminary negotiations, and Berlin has said it will not start dealing with Britain until an EU-wide position is agreed.
Germany and France, the two most powerful nations in the EU other than Britain, both go to the polls next year in elections that could swing how they deal with the negotiations.
In Germany, Angela Merkel is likely to stay in power but with her support greatly reduced. She will likely come under pressure from the populist Alternative for Germany (AfD) party, who look set to break through into parliament and finish a clear third.
Meanwhile, French President François Hollande faces almost certain defeat and will be lucky to make it through to the second round of the country’s presidential election. Front National leader Marine Le Pen looks set to come first in the preliminary round, but former president Nicolas Sarkozy is hoping to regain office.