Brexit Watchers, Your Guide to Key Dates in Coming Negotiations

  • Negotiations to start after May 22, must conclude by late-2018
  • Exit bill, expats in limbo are among the thorniest issues

Brexit Triggered: What Happens Now?

The U.K. is on course to quit the European Union when Big Ben chimes midnight on March 29, 2019. Assuming Brexit negotiations don’t break down in acrimony before the clock runs out, there’s a lot of ground to cover. Here’s a guide to what is coming up.

April 5, 2017
Strasbourg Vote

European Parliament plenary in Strasbourg votes on a resolution on the principles it wants upheld in Brexit talks. Even though the resolution isn’t binding, it is the most detailed policy document we have seen so far from the EU’s side. The principles are not far from the consensus among national governments, as this has been summarized in draft negotiating guidelines circulated by EU Council President Donald Tusk on March 31. The Parliament also has a veto power over the final Brexit deal and any subsequent free trade agreement between the U.K and the EU, so the document shouldn’t be seen as a purely academic exercise reflecting the views of militant Europhiles.

April 11, 2017
Meet the Sherpas

Emissaries of the 27 EU governments meet for the first time to discuss the Union’s draft negotiating guidelines. Who are they? Officials mostly unknown to the broader public: ministers of European affairs, advisers to government leaders and ambassadors to Brussels. Even though it is the Commission that has the technical expertise to carry out the day-to-day grind of Brexit talks, national governments, represented also by these officials, will be keeping EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in check.

April 24, 2017
Sherpas Again

EU governments’ sherpas meet again to discuss the negotiating guidelines. We already know the main points: the U.K. will first have make progress towards an agreement to settle its EU budget commitments -- known as the bill -- before any discussion of transitional arrangements and its post-Brexit trade deal with the EU can start. Several EU officials have floated a figure of 60 billion euros ($64 billion) but that should be seen more as an opening bid. The formal number-crunching hasn’t taken place yet, and may not officially conclude before Germany has gotten its September elections out of the way. An EU official speaking to reporters on March 31 promised more details on the bill by May.

April 26-27, 2017
Guidelines Approved

EU’s Committee of permanent representatives -- the top diplomats residing in Brussels -- convenes, followed by a meeting of European Affairs ministers (GAC) the day after, to finally agree on the guidelines. In addition to the settlement of the financial obligations to the bloc, May’s government will also have to make progress in reaching a compromise on the status of EU citizens “living or having lived” in the U.K. and of U.K. citizens living or having lived in the EU, before its partners across the Channel agree to start talks about their future relationship.

April 29, 2017
Brexit Summit

EU leaders will meet to sign off on the guidelines. But that’s not enough for substantial negotiations to begin. The guidelines are only the general principles which the EU will follow in talks. These will be followed by a more detailed negotiating mandate, and working documents delineating the scope of the talks in specific policy areas.

May 3, 2017
Negotiating Mandate

European Commission will circulate a draft negotiating mandate for Barnier, which national governments will also need to approve. Discussions between Barnier’s team and the British government will begin, but they will be about process, not substance, until the mandate is approved.

May 7, 2017
Le Pen Factor

The second, decisive round of French presidential elections. A potential Marine Le Pen victory would throw EU’s future into doubt and add a wildcard to the Brexit talks.

May 22, 2017
Talks Begin

EU’s European affairs ministers approve the Commission’s negotiating proposals, giving Barnier a mandate to start the process. They will also establish a working group, making sure that the Council remains in the driving seat of negotiations. The directives require approval by a so-called qualified majority of member-states, or 20 countries representing 65 percent of the bloc’s population, and any disagreements could further delay the process. In other words, dissenting interests among member states wouldn’t necessarily serve the U.K, as they could prolong uncertainty.

Oct. 1-4, 2017
Tories Conference

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May takes center stage in Manchester at the annual conference of her Conservative Party, the first since she triggered Brexit. Those opposed to leaving the EU kept a low profile at last year’s meeting; if the negotiations aren’t going well, prominent dissident voices may be more vocal this time round.

October 19, 2017
EU Summit

EU leaders meet in Brussels. That’s the earliest realistic date for a discussion on a post-Brexit trade deal to begin, if the bloc’s governments decide that sufficient progress has been made in the meantime in the thorny issues of the first stage of the talks: the exit bill, the status of expatriates, and the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. There’s no need for a final agreement on those issues by then, just a political assessment that sufficient progress has been made.

Spring 2018
Transitional Arrangements

Assuming enough progress has been made in agreeing on the exit terms, and the U.K’s landing zone after Brexit, the two sides can start discussing transitional arrangements. No one in Brussels expects that all the details of the future trade relationship will have been carved out by March 2019. The ambition though is to get as far as possible in defining the framework for the future. Only then can the EU agree to build bridge arrangements towards this new relationship.

Fall 2018
Wrapping Things Up

Discussions on the exit deal must conclude around this time, allowing sufficient time for the European Parliament and the European Council to approve it before the March 2019 “drop dead” deadline. The U.K. Parliament will also debate the deal --and vote on it --although May has said a defeat there wouldn’t send her back to the negotiating table. The deal needs to include transitional arrangements. A potential free trade agreement between the two sides would eventually require national ratification procedures in each of the 27 member states, while the exit arrangement only requires a qualified majority of 27 government leaders and a simple majority of the European Parliament to approve.

— With assistance by Simon Kennedy

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