Divorce settlement must come before talks about future relationship, says chancellor, as EU leaders respond to article 50 letter.
Angela Merkel has rejected one of Theresa May’s key Brexit demands, insisting negotiations on Britain’s exit from the European Union cannot run in parallel with talks on the future UK-EU relationship.
“The negotiations must first clarify how we will disentangle our interlinked relationship,” the German chancellor said in Berlin. “Only when this question is dealt with can we – hopefully soon after – begin talking about our future relationship.”
In her six-page letter triggering article 50 and formally launching the process of leaving the EU, the prime minister said she believed it was “necessary to agree the terms of our future partnership alongside those of our withdrawal from the European Union”.
The EU institutions and 27 remaining member states, however, have long said they were determined the divorce settlement, such as the rights of EU citizens in the UK and Britons on the continent and the size of Britain’s exit bill, must first be agreed before substantive talks on a future relationship could begin.
On a day of some drama in Brussels, Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, warned after receiving May’s letter that there would be “no winners” from Brexit, and the next two years would be a matter of “damage control”.
Wearing a black tie and appearing at times visibly moved, the former Polish prime minister spoke to reporters just half an hour after receiving the prime minister’s letter from the UK’s ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow.
Holding the letter up for the benefit of the cameras, Tusk said: “So here it is, six pages. The notification from prime minister Theresa May triggering article 50 and formally starting the negotiations of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union.
“There is no need to pretend that this is a happy day, neither in Brussels nor in London. After all most Europeans, including almost half the British voters, wish that we would stay together, not drift apart.”