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Britain unlikely to trigger Article 50 at March EU summit, Brexit secretary indicates

Brexit secretary David Davis has indicated the UK is unlikely to trigger Article 50 and kick-start the formal Brexit negotiations at the European Council summit in early March

15 February 2017, 8:26am
Brexit secretary David Davis reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to concluding Brexit negotiations in two years
Brexit secretary David Davis reaffirmed the Government’s commitment to concluding Brexit negotiations in two years
Brexit secretary David Davis said on Tuesday the government was on course to meet its end-March deadline to launch the formal divorce procedure from the European Union but did not see Britain doing so at an EU summit next month.

The comments from the Brexit Secretary come following reports that Downing Street was preparing to invoke the two-year mechanism for Britain’s exit from the EU during the two-day European Council summit in Malta beginning on 9 March.

EU officials are keen to know when UK Prime Minister Theresa May will trigger Article 50 of the EU's Lisbon Treaty and launch discussions to end its more than 40-year membership of the bloc.

In Stockholm, Davis was asked whether he expected May to deliver the Article 50 letter at an EU summit in Brussels on March 9 and 10 - a date some British media had said was under consideration to avoid any clash with a summit of the other 27 states on March 25 to celebrate the bloc's 60th anniversary.

"The 9th or 10th is not a date I recognise in terms of our timetable. What we have said is by the end of March, sometime during March," Davis said alongside Ann Linde, Sweden's minister for EU affairs and trade.

"I'm confident that we'll do it before our timetable but not necessarily before the one you played out," he added.

Davis said he was confident that legislation needed for May to trigger Article 50 would be passed by Britain's upper house of parliament "in good time before the end of March".

May has refused to reveal the exact date she intends to invoke Article 50 but has made clear, since the Conservative party conference in October last year, that she will trigger the mechanism before the end of March – her self-imposed deadline.

Davis also said he hoped that in the two years allocated for the divorce talks, Britain could negotiate not only its departure from the European Union but also a free trade deal, as both shared common standards.

"We want in two years to come to a conclusion on this matter," he said. "We have said that we may have some implementation things to do after that, but we think in two years both are possible."

Earlier this month, the lower house of parliament passed the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill by an overwhelming majority of 494 votes to 122. It has now been handed over to the unelected House of Lords where some members say they will attach conditions to it that could stretch the government's timetable.