European Union to hold first Brexit summit a month after article 50 notice

Tusk has promised to send European Union diplomats the draft Brexit guidelines within 48 hours of receiving May's article 50 notice.

The meeting will come exactly one month after Prime Minister Theresa May is due to formally trigger the two-year process of Britain's departure, although she will not be invited.

"The sooner we reach a deal on an orderly withdrawal, the sooner we can prepare for the future relationship", he said, adding that leaving hard divorce issues until the last moment was playing with failure.

"Guaranteeing their rights as European citizens, in the long term, will be our absolute priority from the very start of the negotiations", he said.

Mr Tusk announced the date of the summit on Twitter, adding: "Priority must be certainty, clarity for all: citizens, companies & member states". Therefore we must do everything we can to make sure the process of divorce is the least painful for the EU.

The summit will also take place between the two rounds of France's presidential election, meaning that the political focus of many European leaders will be elsewhere.

The Frenchman has called for talks to be completed by October 2018 to give time for any agreement to be ratified before the United Kingdom leaves, expected on March 29 2019 under the two-year Article 50 process.

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The European Union's chief Brexit negotiator has said that negotiations with the United Kingdom can not take place in secret, in his first major speech since Theresa May set a date to trigger Article 50.

Directly addressing suggestions in the UK that no deal would be better than a bad deal, he issued a warning of the "serious consequences" for Britain leaving without agreement: "the reintroduction of binding customs controls, which will inevitably slow down trade and lead to queues of trucks at Dover; serious disruption to air traffic; an overnight suspension in the movement of nuclear materials to the UK", Barnier said.

"Providing for a transition period will be important for all relevant parties", Abe said. But senior European Union politicians and officials have grown increasingly pessimistic since the start of the year that a deal can be reached.

Barnier will update European Commissioners on the "state of play" of preparations for Brexit talks on Wednesday, Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein said.

He repeated the European Union mantra that a trade deal with Britain could not mean a menu choice of Britain's current privileges and obligations and that such a deal could only come after an agreement on the terms of the divorce.

Only if Barnier brings the EU27 a satisfactory result on that front, officials say, will leaders consider broadening his mandate to include a future trade deal or other partnership agreement.

  • Douglas Reid