A clearly emotional Donald Tusk has admitted that the upcoming Brexit talks amount to an exercise in “damage control.”
Speaking after the UK formally delivered its historic Article 50 letter to him earlier on Wednesday, the European council president told a packed news conference, “So here it is. The six page letter from Mrs May which will formally start the British withdrawal from the EU.
“I will not try to pretend that this is happy day for either the EU or the UK. Most Europeans, and nearly half of those who voted in the EU Referendum, support us staying together rather than drifting apart.”
Tusk, who seemed emotionally upset at the start of the Brexit talks, added, “Paradoxically, something positive can come from Brexit because the remaining 27 members are more determined and united than ever before.
“I am more confident of this than ever, that we will remain determined and united.”
Tusk, who appeared almost crestfallen at finally receiving formal notification of the UK exit, added, “During the difficult negotiations ahead I have a strong mandate to protect the interests of the 27 member. There is nothing for anyone to win in this process and that goes for both sides - it is just about damage control.
“But for the EU it is all about minimising the cost to citizens and businesses of Brexit and we have all the tools available to ensure this will happen.”
Speaking at the European council headquarters in Brussels, Tusk added, “Until the UK actually leaves the EU, European Union law will still apply to and within the UK.”
Calling for an “orderly withdrawal” over the next two years, the former Polish PM said he would outline the EU”s formal negotiating guidelines at a news conference in Malta on Friday.
He declined to take questions but finished the short news conference with a poignant message for Britain, saying, “We already miss you.”
Not far from where he gave his news conference, UKIP members were throwing an informal party outside a pub, with a cake cutting exercise, to mark the start of Brexit talks.
One notable absentee from the event, where party members toasted UK withdrawal, was UKIP MEP Nigel Farage who was in London on Wednesday.
Elsewhere, Invest Europe's CEO Michael Collins reacted to the triggering of Article 50 by saying, "With its long-term investment horizons, private equity and venture capital is well-placed to adapt during periods of uncertainty, but the UK’s departure from the EU is still of profound importance. Following today's formal notification of the UK's decision to leave the European Union, Invest Europe will be helping our members to navigate through the negotiations as they unfold."
“The Brexit negotiations will be unprecedented in their complexity and even if all the issues cannot be settled in two years an extension of the talks or a transitional deal is far from guaranteed. We advise all our members to consider the consequences for their activities of a UK exit from the EU in March 2019 without a deal on the future relationship."
Article 50 simply provides a path for the process by which the UK will exit the EU.
The deal will also be put forth for approval in each member state's respective national parliament, which could potentially slow down the process should certain lawmakers object to particular conditions.
Any deal must be approved by a "qualified majority" of EU member states and the European Parliament retains the right to a veto.
The "deal" refers to the terms governing the new post Brexit relationship between the EU and UK of which a trade agreement is the critical centrepiece. If no new deal is agreed before the UK leaves the EU, trading terms will default to the World Trade Organization (WTO) standards which are significantly less beneficial for both sides.
Some believe that official Brexit talks could begin on April 29 at the next planned summit bringing together the leaders of the 27 remaining EU member states in Brussels.
The key topics are set to be the exit bill the UK is required to pay to the EU for the price of leaving, rights for EU citizens to remain within the UK following Brexit and vice-versa, the future freedom of movement for, above all, people and goods and the complicated political situation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.
Should the UK successfully exit the EU within the designated two years from the triggering of Article 50, the process should be completed by April 2019.