At the European Council Thursday, Britain and the other 27 EU member countries will start to put the fights and angry recriminations of June’s Brexit referendum to one side and finally begin the formal stages of separation.
Over dinner, the Continent’s leaders will meet without Theresa May to begin building their case against the unfaithful, departing partner.
In the statement to be published after the dinner Thursday night, the EU27 will announce plans for an EU Council — probably an extraordinary one after the March summit — within weeks of Britain formally triggering Article 50 early next year, diplomatic sources told POLITICO.
The move is designed — in part — to head off complaints about member countries being sidelined from the negotiations with Britain.
At the summit next year, the European Commission will be confirmed as the bloc’s lead negotiator — the nightmare federalist divorce lawyer tasked with getting the best deal for EU capitals who are fearful of being picked off and weakened as a bloc by the U.K.
According to two senior sources in Brussels, the EU27 will ram home their message of unity in the statement at the end of this week’s dinner. According to diplomats who spoke to POLITICO, the message will be simple: We are ready, it’s time you got on with it.
In Westminster, May’s government is sanguine about the EU27’s public show of unity. A Downing Street source said the U.K. government welcomed the talks, despite being excluded. The source said the prime minister did not object to being sidelined because the meeting showed the other member countries were finally “facing up to the reality of Britain leaving the European Union.”
The source said the meeting was to allow the EU27 to “organize” themselves ahead of Article 50 being triggered early next year, which was fine by Downing Street.
May — who campaigned for Remain, but has taken up the Brexit cause with the enthusiasm of a convert — does not want to make a fuss about the U.K.’s exclusion from Thursday’s talks.
Despite her tough rhetoric on immigration and the European Court of Justice, the U.K. prime minister is determined to maintain good diplomatic relations ahead of the divorce proceedings.
In the discussions between the 28, the British prime minister will play a constructive role — offering more help to Greece to cope with its migration problems, support for Berlin over the EU-Turkey migration deal and continuing EU foreign policy unity against Russia and Syria amid widespread concern over the incoming Donald Trump administration in the U.S.
May will also meet European Parliament President Martin Schulz in a deliberate move to reassure MEPs that the U.K. government takes their role seriously.
In a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk released last night, Schulz attacked the way the statement from the 27 heads of state or government relegated the European Parliament “to a secondary position in the Brexit negotiation process.”
The European Parliament will have no formal role in the negotiations — set to be conducted between the U.K.’s Brexit Secretary David Davis and the Commission’s Michel Barnier — but can veto any deal.
In his letter, Schulz warned Tusk that if the Parliament could “draw up its own detailed arrangements” with Barnier and the U.K. government, and was prepared to block a deal it did not like — forcing the U.K. to crash out of the EU without an agreement. “This would be the very hardest of Brexits and to the detriment of everybody,” he warned.
Thursday’s EU summit comes amid growing clarity over the U.K.’s Brexit plan. On Monday, Chancellor Philip Hammond called for a transition period to give the U.K. a “smooth” landing out of the EU.
On Wednesday, Davis publicly admitted a transition might be necessary.
Appearing in front of a committee of MPs, Davis said he was open to a transition period, but only to allow the “implementation” of any agreement the U.K. had reached with Brussels within the two-year exit period.
“We are aiming to get ourselves in a position where we can negotiate within the Article 50 process,” he said. “Article 50 was written to allow departures from the European Union, that’s its purpose. Plainly the authors of it thought it was time enough to do the job. And so do I.”
But he added that an “implementation phase” could be acceptable “if it is necessary and only if it is necessary.”
“The British people want this done with some degree of expedition, they want it done properly and soon and that is what we are trying to do.”
Author: TOM MCTAGUE AND JACOPO BARIGAZZI