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May triggers Article 50, starts Brexit process

EU to finalise strategy at summit next month

LONDON:European Council President Donald Tusk received a letter yesterday confirming Britain's intention to leave the European Union (EU) from the British ambassador to the EU.

HERE IS WHAT WE KNOW:

British Prime Minister Thersa Maytriggered Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, opening a two-year window for negotiations with Brussels to leave the 28-member bloc.

The EU said it will issue an initial outline for Brexit talks tomorrow, before finalising its strategy at a summit of EU leaders on April 29.

Formal talks between London and Brussels are not expected to start for at least three weeks after that, and they may not get down to detailed discussions until after elections in Germany, which is due in September.

The EU's Brexit negotiator, Mr Michel Barnier, said the talks must be wrapped up by October next year to give the EU Parliament time to ratify the deal.

Mrs May will prioritise reducing the hundreds of thousands of immigrants from the rest of the bloc who move to Britain each year.

Brexit minister David Davis said there would be no sudden drop in numbers, as it would take years to fill low-skilled jobs in hospitality, health and agriculture currently done by immigrants.

Mrs May acknowledged that this means leaving Europe's single market, of which freedom of movement is a key principle, and likely also the customs union.

Britain believes it can negotiate the exit agreement and a deal on future relations within the two years, but diplomats are sceptical.

Some argue that the divorce must be finalised first - including the issue of Britain's outstanding bills, which EU officials have estimated at around 60 billion euros (S$90.2 billion).

European leaders also warned that Britain cannot get a better deal with Europe when it is outside the EU than when it is inside.

Both sides said they would like early resolution of the status of more than three million Europeans living in Britain, and more than one million Britons living elsewhere in the EU.

Amid fears of the impact on jobs and growth of leaving the single market, Mrs May is pushing for "maximum possible access" for British companies.

The government indicated that Britain could make contributions to the EU budget to ensure trade access.

Continued full membership of the customs union is unlikely as it would prevent Britain striking its own trade deals with non-EU countries.

Mrs May also said she wants a "phased period of implementation" of a new relationship with the EU to give businesses time to plan.

She said she wants a new relationship that is good for Britain and the EU, but would rather walk away than accept a bad deal, although a growing number of business leaders have warned against this.

Without a new trade agreement, Britain would fall back on World Trade Organisation rules, which could mean higher export tariffs and other barriers.- AFP

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