There has been some speculation in recent weeks that UK prime Minister Theresa May would not pull the trigger. That speculation appears to be false.

European Union president Donald Tusk announced May Expects to Start Brexit Talks by February.

European Union President Donald Tusk said he’d been told by Prime Minister Theresa May that the U.K. is likely to trigger formal Brexit talks in January or February.

Speaking at a summit in Bratislava, Slovakia, to which the U.K. was barred for the first time in four decades following the June decision to quit the EU, Tusk said May had laid out that timeframe during a recent conversation.

“Prime Minister May was very open and honest with me,” he said. “She declared that it’s almost impossible to trigger article 50 this year but it’s quite likely that they will be ready maybe in January, maybe in February next year.”

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told his Italian counterpart this week that early-2017 was a probable start date, according to an official familiar with the conversation.

Hollow Talk and Platitudes

At the Bratislava Summit, minus the UK, a congenial spirit masks Europe’s malaise.

Locked away from the city underneath and under the gaze of super-strength security, Germany’s Angela Merkel and her 26 counterparts asked how Europe might recover its footing after years of grinding economic pain and the migrants debacle.

For many weeks, this was cast as a day for frank talk. In the event it became something of an affable group therapy session. Squeezing each other’s shoulders during the “family photo”, joking about flags and laughing at the Romanian president’s 6 foot-something frame blocking those behind him, Europe’s leaders did not look like they represented a continent divided.

Donald Tusk, the European Council president, had called for some “brutal honesty” and there were blunt assessments of Europe’s malaise in the morning session. For Ms Merkel, a project that once embodied the future had simply “run out of breath”. French President François Hollande lamented the union’s image of “permanent crisis”. “We have to face the truth,” he said according to one official note of the meeting. “Internal divisions weaken us. Trust is disappearing.”

Mr Tusk issued a warning to Eurosceptic leaders, including those of Hungary and Poland, to moderate their increasingly belligerent rhetoric on Europe. “I will be watching how you comment on this meeting back home,” Mr Tusk said, according to a person in the room.

“Just imagine we had no EU,” said Lars Lokke Rasmussen, the Danish premier. “We have no alternative.” “Why are we so pessimistic?” asked Boyko Borisov, the Bulgarian prime minister, a former karate champion. “The EU is a wonderful creation.”

“There is no better place than the EU to live in,” gushed Portugal’s prime minister.

Of course, such bonhomie is easier at a summit where no decisions were to be taken. The 27 leaders were setting a direction for the bloc without Britain, but only in the most general of terms. On migration, aim was to ensure the traumas of 2015 would never be repeated. On defence, more co-operation. And on Europe’s bedraggled economy, the onus was on repairing the social fallout from globalisation.

Agreeing on how to proceed in political real time will be difficult.

Frank Discussion Deeded, Don’t Expect Any

Tusk pleased for “frank discussion”. Actually, that is the last thing he wants.

If there was frank discussion, there would be a collective finger-point at Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker, and Donald Tusk for their handling of the migration crisis.

There would be another collective finger-point at France for its agricultural policies.

There would be a third frank discussion about the inability of Greece topay back what it owes.

tusk-at-summit

Instead of frank discussion, Donald Tusk, president of the nannycrats issued a perfect nannycrat warning: “I will be watching how you comment on this meeting back home“.

Frank discussion? Forget about it.

Mike “Mish” Shedlock