Senior diplomats in Brussels say it is “critical” that Theresa May activates Article 50 by next week.
The Times reports that European Union (EU) officials believe waiting any longer to activate the treaty provision, which is the formal legal mechanism for leaving the EU, will mean Brexit negotiations are delayed until after June.
Plans to offer the United Kingdom a substantial response at a European Council summit on 6 April would be derailed, with the timetable upset by the Easter holidays and France’s hotly contested presidential elections.
Another summit could not be arranged until June, supposedly, eating into the two-year negotiating period between the UK and the EU which Article 50 provides for.
This negotiating period is, in practice, already shorter than it would first appear, given that whatever deal emerges from the talks must be ratified by the European Parliament and possibly the British Parliament, too.
The negotiating period could be extended, of course, but only if all EU member-states agree.
In the absence of a formal agreement, the UK would leave the EU and begin dealing with it on the terms laid down by World Trade Organization (WTO) and other international rules.
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson recently told the British media the UK would “be perfectly OK if we weren’t able to get an agreement”, but expressed confidence that an agreement would, in fact, be made.
“Our partners and friends around the EU desperately want this thing to work. They don’t want more misery; they don’t want to fall out with the UK,” he said.
David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, has also assured the British public that “the whole of Whitehall, every single [government] department” has been working on contingency plans to ensure Brexit will be a success even without a formal agreement.
Like the foreign secretary, however, Davis feels it is unlikely that no agreement will be made. “[I]t’s in absolutely everybody’s interests that we get a good outcome,” he said.