EXCLUSIVE: EU leaders ready for orderly Brexit, but prepared for failure

Theresa May will not be invited to the 29 April Brexit summit. [European Union]

EXCLUSIVE / In a draft European Council statement seen by EURACTIV, EU member states regret that the UK will leave the Union, but “are ready for the process that now will have to follow”.

The document states that the first step will be the adoption of guidelines for the negotiations by the European Council.

European Council President Donald Tusk is set to publish draft guidelines for chief negotiator Michel Barnier by the end of this week after UK Prime Minister Theresa May formally requests the split today.

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“These guidelines will set out the overall positions and principles in light of which the Union, represented by the European Commission, will negotiate with the United Kingdom,” the statement underlines.

The guidelines for Barnier will probably limit the scope of the upcoming talks to the terms of the divorce and not include a future trade relationship with the UK, according to sources.

EU citizens, businesses first

The European Council notes the bloc will act “as one” and that its first priority should be to “minimise the uncertainty caused by the decision of the United Kingdom for our citizens, businesses and member states”.

“Therefore, we will start by focusing on all key arrangements for an orderly withdrawal,” it says.

“We will approach these talks constructively and strive to find an agreement. In the future, we hope to have the United Kingdom as a close partner,” the paper stated, adding that should the negotiations fail, the Council would make sure that the “European Union is ready for such an outcome even though we do not desire it”.

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The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator warned last week of serious repercussions for both Britain and the EU if the divorce talks fail without a deal being agreed.

Michel Barnier said that more than four million EU citizens in the UK, and British expats in the bloc, would face uncertainty over their futures. He raised the prospect of long queues of lorries at Dover if customs controls are reintroduced if Britain leaves without a Brexit deal.

EU officials have repeatedly said they want Britain to agree an exit fee about €60 billion before they turn to negotiating a trade deal May is seeking.

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President Tusk has convened an EU summit on 29 April. Barnier, however, is not expected to actually start talks with London until mid to late May, leaving Britain short of time to get a good deal before it leaves the EU in March 2019.