The legal procedure to start Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will not be triggered at this week’s EU summit in Brussels because of the “significant political crisis” there, a senior EU official has said.
European Union leaders meet in Brussels on Tuesday and Wednesday (28-29 June) for crunch talks to deal with the fallout of the UK’s decision to leave the EU after a shock referendum last Thursday.
The crisis – sparked by David Cameron’s resignation as Prime Minister and a Scottish push to break away from the UK and stay in the EU – was so severe leaders have accepted that the legal process to take Britain out of the bloc could not yet be started.
Brexit timeline on leader’s menu
In the aftermath of last week’s vote, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, European Council President Donald Tusk, and European Parliament President Martin Schulz said they wanted the UK to trigger Article 50 as soon as possible in order to conclude divorce negotiations swiftly.
But EU countries recognise that Tuesday (28 June) is too soon. Cameron has said Article 50 will be invoked by his successor, meaning it could be October until divorce talks can begin.
EU leaders will meet in Brussels on Tuesday to discuss the outcome of the referendum. After discussions on the migration crisis, David Cameron will address the other 27 heads of state and governments over dinner.
“Dinner will be the moment when the question of the timeline will be discussed,” the senior source said.
A senior EU official said, “There is a very significant political crisis in the UK and expecting on Tuesday that there will be a formal kick-starting of the process is not realistic.
“It will take place as soon as possible, that is in the interests of the EU and the UK, but it is not possible on Tuesday because of the political crisis in the UK.”
Single market talks
Talks on the exact conditions of Brexit, such as whether Britain would have access to the single market, could only begin when Article 50 was triggered, the official said.
“As long as there is no notification there will be no negotiations. This is a very clear position from the 27 member states,” the senior EU official said.
“We are to settle terms of the divorce and also the framework of the future relationship after Article 50 has been triggered.”
The 27 EU leaders would draft conclusions at a summit after the process was begun, which would set out guidelines that would set out the conditions to begin divorce talks.
“The EU is controlling the situation,” the official said, “When it comes to the legal context there is no legal vacuum. As long as the UK is a member state, EU law applies both to and in the UK, that includes all rights and obligations.
“As to further steps in leave process, there is no legal vacuum, there are quite clear steps…there is no other way to leave EU but through Article 50.”
‘We expect notification as soon as possible’
The official said that European Council Donald Tusk had spoken to every leader of the other 27 member states of the EU before the vote. On Wednesday leaders will meet without the UK to discuss the next steps.
“The 27 member states are determined to work together and continue the EU and work within the framework of the EU,” the official said.
“Ahead of the referendum, Tusk talked to each and every head of state and government. On that basis we could already on Friday be on safe ground. The EU was prepared for the negative outcome,” the high-ranking official said.
“We as the EU27 stand ready to enter into this process swiftly and we expect notification as soon as possible. But everyone understands that right now there is a significant crisis in the UK that has resulted from the referendum.”
Top diplomats for the 27 member states met in Brussels after the vote on Friday. Britain was not invited.
“If the UK is in the logic of leave, the EU 27 has to prepare itself,” the official said.
“Symbolically this was an important meeting. They were talking about the messages we would like to send on Wednesday, messages of confidence, that we will stay together in a union, and work together for a better union of 27.”
No clear strategy in Britain
EU member states had already appointed task forces to deal with Brexit. That preparedness stands in sharp contrast to the UK government, which does not seem to have a clear strategy to deal with the Leave victory, beyond leaving it to Cameron’s eventual successor.
By Sunday evening – the eve of markets reopening – neither Chancellor George Osborne nor Leave figurehead and likely next-prime minster Boris Johnson, had made any public comment.
“This is the first informal meeting without the UK. It is the first discussion of the so-called divorce process and will start discussion on the future of EU 27,” the official said.
“Whatever the outcome of referendum the dissatisfaction with the EU goes beyond the UK and needs to be taken seriously.”
The official added, “Anyone who says he knows what’s wrong with the EU and has a solution is not telling the truth. To find the way forward you need to have a broader, deeper process. It won’t be settled on Wednesday.”
Treaty talks ‘premature’
Poland has suggested a new treaty for the EU, which would loosen the ties between member countries and Brussels.
The official said, “On the question of a new EU treaty I don’t think we should start with that , it could be an outcome of the reflection but as an opening beat it is premature.”
Since the vote, Tusk has already met Xavier Bettel, of Luxembourg. He will meet French President Francois Hollande and Germany’s Angela Merkel on Tuesday.
On Tuesday, before the summit, he will speak to the leaders of The Netherlands, Italy, and the Czech Republic, which holds the presidency of the Eastern European Visegrad 4 countries. He is expected to meet at least another two leaders before the summit begins.
The Scottish government had not contacted the European Council, the official said, but it had contacted the European Commission.