BRUSSELS The European Commission said on Monday it would "work constructively" with Britain on the terms of the country's exit from the European Union but only once London formally notifies the EU of its intention to leave.
British Prime Minister Theresa May said on Sunday she would trigger the process to leave the EU through a formal notification by the end of March, offering the first glimpse of a timetable for a divorce that will redefine Britain's ties with its biggest trading partner.
"We will work constructively on the basis of a notification, not of a speech and until this letter of notification arrives there will be no negotiation," Commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told a regular news briefing on Monday.
"Once it arrives, we are prepared and ready to engage constructively and in good faith," he said, adding Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker would meet May on the sidelines of an EU summit later this month.
Asked if the Commission would engage in preparatory work ahead of the notification to smooth subsequent negotiations that could take two years, Schinas said:
"Many people have different ideas of what preparatory work might be. So precisely not to go into this interpretative territory, I would prefer to stay with the principle that everybody knows -- no notification, no negotiation."
He said May "may care to tell" Juncker what she means by preparatory work when they meet at the European summit later in October.
(Reporting By Jan Strupczewski; editing by Philip Blenkinsop)