President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (R) and European Council President Donald Tusk deliver a joint statement after the European Union Summit in Bratislava, Slovakia on September 16, 2016. (AFP photo)
Britain is set to begin formal talks to leave the European Union by early next year following the Brexit vote in June, according to a top EU official.
European Council President Donald Tusk said Friday that UK Prime Minister Theresa May had told him the UK could be ready to begin talks by February.
“She declared it is almost impossible to trigger Article 50 this year. But she said it is quite likely they will be ready in maybe January or maybe February next year,” Tusk said after an informal EU summit in the Slovakian capital of Bratislava.
Tusk said the rest of the EU was ready to start negotiations tomorrow. “We are well prepared for negotiations and could even start tomorrow” but “our British colleagues need more time to prepare themselves.”
Standing at his side, President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker warned there would be no compromise with London on free movement of workers.
“This is not a game,” he said. “It is about the rights of ordinary people, of workers in Europe, so I can’t see any possibility of compromising on that very issue.”
This was the first time in 43 years EU leaders have met without Britain and the mood was solemn.
The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, said the EU was in “a critical situation” not only because of the Brexit referendum but also “because of other difficulties that we have”.
On June 23, some 52 percent (17.4 million) of British people voted to leave the EU after 43 years of membership.
The UK economy will suffer a sharp slowdown in economic growth over the coming months as uncertainty over the Brexit vote triggers a slump in business investment, the British Chambers of Commerce, a leading business group, warned last week.