Brexit gets off to a shaky start with Brussels warning London don't blackmail us

WTO rules would equal a 41% tax on exported UK cereal: Pro
WTO rules would equal a 41% tax on exported UK cereal: Pro

Officials in London and Brussels are racing against a two-year deadline to make sure Britain has an orderly exit from the European Union, but tensions are running high.

While the U.K. government is preparing to convert European Union law into domestic law to ensure there's clarity for businesses and citizens, officials in Brussels are receiving negotiation guidelines from the remaining 27 countries, with talks due to the kick off around May.

There is a sense of urgency on both sides to agree on the terms of the divorce, but the tone is tinged with rivalry.

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The U.K.'s Guardian newspaper pictured the U.K.'s ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow and President Donald Tusk of the European Council under the headline, "EU warns: Don't blackmail us." British Prime Minister Theresa May stated in her communication to the EU that the failure to agree on a Brexit agreement would weaken cooperation in crime and security. However, officials in Brussels said they would not accept such threats as a bargaining chip.

"I tried to be a gentleman towards a lady, so I didn't even use or think about the use of the word blackmail," Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's representative for Brexit, said at a press conference Wednesday evening.

Content of Article 50 letter counterproductive: UK lawmaker
Content of Article 50 letter counterproductive: UK lawmaker

"I think the security of our citizens is far too important to start a trade-off of one and the other. Both are absolutely necessary in the future partnership without bargaining this one against the other," he added.

In exchange for collaboration in security, Theresa May wants to have a trade deal with the EU but the appetite in Brussels for such a trade-off is non-existent. They want to decide issues like the rights of citizens and the Irish border before making new trade arrangements.

European lawmakers agreed Wednesday that the benefits of being a member of the EU cannot be the same for a country that decided to leave. In the corridors of power in Brussels, one thing is certain: "Whatever happens, opting to leave cannot be better than remaining a member of the club."

Despite the rising tensions on both sides of the English Channel, some took their time to celebrate this historic moment.

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The U.K.'s independence party UKIP, which has always pushed for Brexit, celebrated the official start of the process in pubs in London and Brussels. Its former leader, Nigel Farage was pictured at a party in London, making the Daily Mail's front page next to the headline: "Cheers to a great future." Similarly, the right-wing Daily Telegraph went with the headline: "A magnificent moment."

That future may not be so great, at least in the near term. Scholars at the Brussels-based think tank Bruegel calculated that depending on the political scenario and negotiation results, the Brexit bill could range from 25.4 billion euros ($27.32 billion) to 65.1 billion euros ($66.04 billion).

But against what many thought would never happen, the truth is an EU member is exiting the 60-year old Union on March 29, 2019.

"Thank you and goodbye" were the words on the Financial Times on Thursday morning. They were proclaimed by President Donald Tusk of the European Council shortly after receiving the U.K.'s letter informing it is leaving the Union. Earlier in the day, Prime Minister May said that there is "no turning back".