LONDON — British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU president Donald Tusk on Thursday held their first formal bilateral meeting on the country’s exit from the bloc, with the UK leader reaffirming she will not launch Brexit talks this year.
During the meeting at Downing Street, May said the exit procedure following the June 23 referendum on EU membership would not begin before 2017.
"She said the UK would take time to prepare for the negotiations, reiterating that Article 50 will not be triggered before the end of the year," a government spokesperson said.
The timing of Britain’s EU departure -- which will follow a two-year negotiation period sparked by Article 50 -- has been a key point of tension between London and Brussels.
Speaking in the Latvian capital Riga following the meeting with May, Tusk reasserted EU rules that formal negotiations on Britain leaving the EU cannot begin until the British government formally triggers procedures.
"Article 50 of the Treaty is very clear. In fact it is there to protect the interests of the countries remaining in the EU," he said.
"I told Prime Minister May that I am convinced that it is in everyone’s best interests that we start the negotiations soon to reduce and eventually end the uncertainty," said Tusk.
The EU president said he aimed to establish the "best possible relations" with the UK.
Tusk is touring European capitals ahead of a summit in Slovakia this month where the 27 EU leaders -- the entire bloc, except Britain -- will gather to discuss the fallout from Britain’s EU referendum.
"It doesn’t mean that we are going to discuss our future relations with the UK in Bratislava, because for this... we need the formal notification, I mean triggering Article 50" of the EU’s Lisbon Treaty, Tusk said at the start of the Downing Street meeting. — AFP