UK 'likely to trigger Brexit talks by February'

BRATISLAVA (Slovakia) • European Council President Donald Tusk said he had been told by Prime Minister Theresa May that the UK was likely to trigger formal Brexit talks in January or February.

Speaking at a summit in Bratislava, Mr Tusk said Mrs May had laid out that timeframe during a recent conversation.

"Prime Minister May was very open and honest with me," he said.

"She declared that it's almost impossible to trigger Article 50 this year but it's quite likely that they will be ready maybe in January, maybe in February next year."

European Union leaders, meeting without their British counterpart on Friday, said they had agreed to come up with a "road map" of strategies for rebuilding public trust in the EU after the shock of Britain's vote to leave.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying the British vote had plunged the rest of the bloc into a "critical" situation, said the 27 leaders had agreed at the day-long summit to use the next six months to develop a plan to reinvigorate the European Union.

However, among pledges of cooperation to come up with a plan before the 60th anniversary of the union's founding treaty in March, arguments over how to handle an influx of refugees rumbled on.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, saying the British vote had plunged the rest of the bloc into a "critical" situation, said the 27 leaders had agreed at the day-long summit to use the next six months to develop a plan to reinvigorate the union. She said the EU needed more solidarity and cooperation, the values it was founded on by six countries in 1957.

That sounded like a barbed reference to continued frustration with especially ex-communist eastern states which have refused to take in asylum-seekers, many of them Muslims, even as Dr Merkel let in a million people last year.

Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban said the summit had failed to change EU immigration policies that he called "self-destructive and naive". He planned a new push for change at meeting of Balkan states on Sept 24.

In private, officials admit that major EU reform may not be possible until elections in the Netherlands, France and Germany are out of the way by late 2017.

Even after that, it is unclear whether Germany and France - for decades the motor of closer European integration - can bridge differences over economic policy.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 18, 2016, with the headline 'UK 'likely to trigger Brexit talks by February''. Print Edition | Subscribe