The Brief: What happens next with Brexit

The Brief is euractiv.com's evening newsletter

WHAT HAPPENS NEXT WITH BREXIT

Formal Brexit negotiations between the EU and UK may not begin until June, about a year after Britain’s vote to quit the bloc.

The UK today said it will fire the starting gun on Brexit by triggering Article 50, the legal process taking the country out of the bloc, on 29 March.

Four to six weeks later, in late April or more likely early May, EU leaders will meet at a European Council summit. They will issue negotiating guidelines to the European Commission for the divorce talks.

Council President Donald Tusk, who is responsible for arranging summits, has said he will issue draft guidelines within 48 hours of Article 50 being invoked. These will form the basis of the text handed to the executive.

There is no date set yet for the summit and the timing could be influenced by the French presidential elections. 28-29 April was mooted by some sources as a possible date. Earlier plans for a 6 April special Brexit summit were ditched.

The EU-UK talks cannot begin once the guidelines are set. Member states must first approve more detailed instructions and hand the Commission a formal mandate.

That will put more pressure on what is a very tight timeframe for Brexit. Article 50 allows two years for a deal to be struck. Without a deal, Britain will crash out of the bloc in what some have said will be “the hardest of Brexits”.

The Commission has called for the talks to be finished by October 2018, to give time for the Brexit deal to be ratified by national parliaments and MEPs before Britain leaves in March 2019.

“We are ready to begin negotiations,” Commission Chief Spokesman Margaritis Schinas said at today’s midday press briefing. “Everything is ready on this side.”

As Schinas spoke, the Commission’s Brexit boss Michel Barnier was hosting a technical seminar with EU-27 diplomats. The subject was customs controls post-Brexit.

All the main players in the forthcoming talks were with him in Brussels. Except the British ambassador.

Barnier tweeted ominously, “EU-27 have to start preparing now for future controls.”

It was neat jibe from the Frenchman, who continues to demonstrate his considerable trolling skills.

Barnier’s boss Jean-Claude also had a swipe at the Brits in an interview with Bild am Sonntag.

“Britain’s example will make everyone realise that it’s not worth leaving,” he said.

The phoney war of tweets and words and warnings will continue even after 29 March. But the real fighting will be done in the negotiation rooms in June.

THE ROUNDUP

The Eurogroup is meeting today. Greece and draft budget plans are on the menu for the eurozone’s finance ministers. The ECOFIN council begins tomorrow.

The Brief has no time for Belgium-bashing but the country needs to sort out the care offered to the victims of the Brussels terror attacks. Make sure you read this heartbreaking story from AFP and watch this moving video testimony.

Norway is the world’s happiest country, according to the UN. Denmark, Sweden, Finland and the Netherlands were the only EU countries to make the top ten. Belgium is 17th.

Does the red star on a bottle of Heineken count as a totalitarian symbol? The image could be banned under a new Hungarian law.

Read Denis MacShane on the Western Balkans and Ian Duncan MEP on why Scots have had enough of referendums.

Has Europe given up on Poland? Not according to the head of the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights, who spoke to EURACTIV’s new media partner Gazeta Wyborcza.

A rotten meat scandal has cast doubt on the EU’s mooted trade deal with the Mercosur trading bloc.

Romania and Italy have agreed to work together to prevent abuse of women migrant workers.

Take a look at the CER’s Charles Grant on the meaning of Macron.

A Czech think tank has attacked Federica Mogherini for not taking the threat of Russian misinformation seriously.

The FBI is investigating Russian interference in the US election and possible links between Moscow and Trump’s campaign team.

LOOK OUT FOR…

Shinzo Abe, Japan’s prime minister, is in Brussels tomorrow. He will meet Presidents Juncker and Tusk. The EU-Japan trade deal will feature prominently in the talks.

Views are the author’s.