BRUSSELS: After almost a year of waffling, Britain on Monday finally opens negotiations with its European Union counterparts about leaving the bloc, with the final outcome, due in 2019, as important as it now seems unpredictable.
While the EU negotiating team led by Michel Barnier has been ready for months, Britain stalled even after it triggered the two-year process on March 29. An early election this month, in which Prime Minister Theresa May lost her majority, only added to the problems.
"Our big problem is that we have no picture, no idea at all what the British want," said German Manfred Weber, the head of the EPP Christian Democrat group in the European Parliament. The other EU countries have a united position, but the British are "in chaos," Weber added.
May's government said in a statement it was "confident it can achieve a bold and ambitious deal that will work in the interest of the whole U.K." The EU said it was also looking for a good compromise
Austrian Foreign Minister Sebastian Kurz said: "If we don't succeed both sides will lose."
U.K. negotiator David Davis and the EU's Barnier have one key issue over the first weeks of talks: building trust after months of haggling over leaks and figures over the final bill that Britain would have to pay for leaving.
Time is pressing. After the June 23, 2016 referendum to leave the bloc, the other 27 nations wanted to start the exit talks as soon as possible so they could work on their own future but Britain long seemed dazed by its own momentous move.
And even when May finally triggered the two-year unraveling process on March 29, she followed it up with an early election she counted on winning big, only to lose her majority in the June 8 poll. It left an image of a dysfunctional Britain coming up against a well-oiled EU negotiating machine.
Still, British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson remained upbeat Monday and thinks that the Brexit negotiations will yield "a happy resolution that can be done with profit and honor for both sides."
Johnson called on people to look at the more distant future. At a meeting of EU foreign ministers in Luxembourg he said: "The most important thing for us is to look to the horizon, raise our eyes to the horizon. In the long run, this will be good for the U.K. and good for the rest of Europe."
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