100 days on: Terms of Brexit remain unclear
One hundred days after Britain voted to leave the European Union, the government has yet to give any detail of when and how it plans to depart.
Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May says “Brexit means Brexit” and she will seek the best deal for Britain, but has said she will not provide a “running commentary” on government strategy.
– When? –
Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said last week that Britain intends to trigger Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty, which starts the two-year exit process, “by the early part of next year”.
But May’s Downing Street office distanced itself from his remarks, repeating her assertion only that it will not happen before the end of this year.
After talks in London, European Parliament president Martin Schulz said he believes the government is “undecided about how and when they should trigger Article 50”.
Schulz and other EU leaders want Britain to move as quickly as possible, warning that the uncertainty is unhelpful.
French and German elections next year are an added complication to the timetable.
– Soft or hard Brexit? –
There are divisions within May’s government over whether to go for a “hard” or “soft” withdrawal from the EU.
“Hard” Brexit would mean quickly severing all links with EU institutions and pulling out of the single market, relying instead on World Trade Organization rules to trade overseas.
“Soft” Brexit would retain access to the single market in some form, but EU leaders have made clear that this would require continued free movement for EU workers into Britain.
Concerns over immigration were a key issue in the EU referendum, and May has been clear that she will seek some control over new arrivals.
But her office rebuked David Davis, the minister for exiting the European Union, when he said it was “very improbable” that Britain would stay in the single market.
Some have held up Norway, which is part of the European Economic Area, as an example of how Britain may operate, but May has said she wants to forge a uniquely British deal.
One issue special to Britain involves its financial services industry.
There are fears that Brexit could result in 5,500 British-based firms losing their so-called passporting rights, which allow them to do business across the EU and EEA.
It could also endanger the business of some 8,000 financial firms based elsewhere in the European Union that do business in Britain via passporting.
– What does Europe think? –
Former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and the European Commission’s French chief negotiator Michel Barnier will lead the talks on behalf of Brussels.
As well as urging Britain to move quickly in starting the divorce, European leaders have warned they will play hard ball in the negotiations.
Italian Prime Minister Matteo Renzi said Britain should not expect to end up with more rights than other non-EU countries.
And Slovak Prime Minister Robert Fico said that despite Britain’s optimism, the country will find Brexit “painful”.
– Will it happen? –
Forty-eight percent of Britons voted to stay in the European Union and some lawmakers have promised to thwart the exit negotiations in parliament.
However, there is no guarantee that the House of Commons will have a vote before Article 50 is triggered, and most analysts believe Britain will leave the EU.
© 2016 AFP