Britain will not apply to leave the European Union until September 2017 at the earliest, sources in Brussels say.
This could mean a potential Brexit date of 2019.
The European Commission, the executive arm of the 28-nation bloc, does "not expect that the request will be made this year,” a person familiar with the matter told German business weekly WirtschaftsWoche.
British voters decided in a referendum on June 23 to leave the European Union. Britain next has to formally apply to leave the European Union as laid down in Article 50 of the E.U.'s Lisbon Treaty.
“If a British politician triggers Article 50, they will do so after the elections in France and Germany,” the source in Brussels said. France is expected to go to the polls in April or May 2017 and Germany a few months later.
The Brexit vote and the timing of Britain’s leaving have created uncertainty about the bloc’s future and its relations with Britain, which is the European Union's second-biggest economy after Germany, based on 2015 figures.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and fellow European leaders called on Britain last week to activate Article 50 “as quickly as possible”. The European Union would like to begin exit negotiations this fall.
A new British government, which will only be formed once David Cameron's successor as prime minister is chosen in September, is, however, expected to take its time filing the request, the source said.
Taking its time to apply to leave the European Union is strategically the best option for Britain. “Whoever files the request finds himself in the weaker position,” the source in Brussels said.
Once Britain triggers the Article 50 request, it faces a deadline of two years to conclude exit negotiations with the European Union.
In theory it is possible to extend the two-year time period, but this is unlikely to happen because it requires unanimity among all the other remaining 27 E.U. member states.
A Commission spokesman said that the leaders of the 27 countries had already called for Article 50 notification to "be done as quickly as possible," adding that "uncertainty is not a good thing."
British interior minister Theresa May, who is seen as the favorite candidate to succeed Mr. Cameron, has already said she would not file the Brexit request this year. Britain could use the time to determine its negotiation position before applying to leave, Ms. May said.
A rival Conservative contender to succeed Mr. Cameron, Andrea Leadsom, however, is in favor of applying to leave the European Union as quickly as possible.
In Brussels, politicians agree that Britain will lose power due to its current unclear position within the European Union. The country is expected to no longer use its option to halt decisions with its blocking minority right, or veto. Along with some other countries, Britain has for instance succeeded in blocking a reform of an E.U. trade law, but this opposition is now expected to dissolve once Britain abstains.
Silke Wettach is a European Union correspondent for WirtschaftsWoche in Brussels. To contact the author: [email protected]