Brussels (AFP) - EU leaders will agree at a summit this week to launch Brexit talks "as quickly as possible" after Britain triggers its divorce, European sources said Monday.
The 27 leaders meeting without British Prime Minister Theresa May at dinner on Thursday will issue a statement setting out key principles of the negotiations, one source told AFP on condition of anonymity.
The leaders will say they are "ready to negotiate" as soon as May triggers Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, which sets a two-year clock running until Britain's exit from the bloc, the source quoted the text as saying, which is still in draft form.
May -- who will attend the first part of the EU summit but then leave before dinner -- has promised to start the divorce by the end of March 2017.
The 27 states will agree that they should then "adopt the negotiating lines" that will govern the talks with Britain -- something neither side has set out in detail yet, the source said.
They will also reaffirm their commitment to their statement immediately after Britain's shock referendum vote to leave, in which they said Britain could not expect access to the EU's single market without keeping freedom of movement for EU citizens.
Finally, the EU leaders will seek a "decision authorising the opening of negotiations as quickly as possible" after setting out their negotiating lines, the source said.
The European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator, former French minister Michel Barnier, "will be in the front line, in coordination with the member states" for the duration of the talks, the source said.
Barnier warned Britain last week that it had only about 18 months for negotiations that should be wrapped up by October 2018, in time for the European and British parliaments to approve the deal by March 2019.
The leaders will hold a summit around six weeks after Britain triggers Article 50 to set the negotiating lines, another European source said, although that timeline may have to be adapted to fit in with the second round of France's presidential elections due in May 2017.