By Jan Strupczewski
BRUSSELS (Reuters) – European Union officials are preparing for talks on Britain’s exit from the bloc to begin on June 19 but expect confirmation of the date only after the British election on June 8, EU sources said on Friday.
The European Commission will conduct the negotiations with London on behalf of the remaining 27 EU governments. Their ministers will meet on Monday to confirm the mandate they are giving to the Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
Prime Minister Theresa May formally told the EU in March that Britain was leaving after a referendum last June. A tight two-year countdown to departure on March 30, 2019, has been made slightly tighter by May calling the election last month in a bid to strengthen her hand in the talks.
Her ruling Conservative Party is tipped to win the election with an increased majority.
EU officials refuse to discuss even basic practicalities for the talks with London before the vote – in part in retaliation for Britain’s refusal to sign off on some EU budget amendments, citing a pre-election “purdah”, or freeze on decision-making.
“The 19th (of June) is tentative, because Britain cannot confirm anything until after the elections,” one official involved in the Brexit negotiation process said. “The 19th is … the earliest date they can envisage.”
Barnier told his Commission bosses at the start of May that in the withdrawal talks, the EU would focus on securing citizens’ rights, financial issues and borders, and he hopes for a deal on these issues between October and December.
If that timetable holds, the EU would be ready to start discussing the shape of its future trade relationship with Britain and a transition period leading to it between December 2017 and spring 2018, Barnier said, according to minutes of the commissioners’ weekly college meeting on May 3.
Barnier said he would propose to his British counterpart that the discussions take place in four-weekly cycles. The first week would be devoted to preparations by the 27 governments and the European Parliament and the second to an exchange of documents with Britain.
The third week would be for negotiations themselves — EU officials expect the British to come to Brussels for the week — and the fourth to report the results to the 27 governments and the European Parliament and prepare the next round of talks.
There would be five thematic negotiation teams on the EU side in the first phase that is to last until agreement is reached on the key points on Britain’s withdrawal from the EU.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; Editing by Alastair Macdonald)