EU starts formal Brexit Negotiations

EU Says It Can Start Formal Brexit Negotiations as of May 22

  • Talks can only begin after EU Council approves directives
  • Procedural matters will be discussed in the meantime


The European Union will only begin substantial Brexit negotiations as of May 22, according to an EU official with knowledge of the discussions, leaving a window of less than 18 months for the U.K to reach a compromise for an orderly withdrawal. The EU’s General Affairs Council, comprising the bloc’s European affairs ministers, will meet on May 22 to approve the 27 nations’ negotiating directives, said the official, who asked not to be identified because deliberations are private. Any talks before then will only be able to cover format, not substance.

European Council President Donald Tusk issued draft guidelines for Brexit talks on Friday, setting out the bloc’s priorities for the discussions, which include:

  • The first phase of talks will be to settle the “disentanglement” of the U.K. from the EU; and give legal certainty to EU and British citizens and businesses
  • EU governments will determine when “sufficient progress” has been made to proceed to other issues
  • The second phase of talks will seek “overall understanding on the framework” for the future U.K.-EU relationship, but final agreement to come only after Britain becomes a “third country”
  • No separate bilateral talks between U.K. and individual EU nations will be allowed
  • Any transitional arrangements must be “clearly defined, limited in time, and subject to effective enforcement mechanisms”
  • The U.K. should cover all legal and budget commitments
  • The talks will aim to avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and seek agreement on arrangements for U.K. base areas in Cyprus
  • The future trade deal must include “safeguards against unfair competitive advantages through, fiscal, social and environmental dumping”

The general guidelines will be debated and then approved by EU leaders at a summit on April 29. More specific directives, giving the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier a mandate to discuss a Brexit deal, will then need to be worked out for the General Affairs Council to approve on May 22. Even more detailed documents, delineating directives for specific policy areas, will also be issued to define the scope of the talks, the official said. Even as the bloc will focus its efforts on reaching a compromise, it must also prepare appropriate measures for the possibility of failing to reach an agreement on an orderly Brexit, the official said.