Theresa May to EU: Brexit decision must be 'honoured'

The Prime Minister will tell European Union leaders it is “time to look to the future” of its relationship with the UK.

Theresa May, attending her first European Council in Brussels, will tell the other 27 EU leaders that there is no going back on Britain’s Brexit decision, that “the British people have made a decision and it’s right and proper that the decision is honoured”.

Over coffee after the summit dinner Mrs May will tell the assembled prime ministers and presidents that her aim is “to deliver UK departure in the best possible way” and “how we can make it work for the EU too”.

She will say that she wants a “strong Britain as a partner of a strong EU”.

Number 10 says that Mrs May will say that “she doesn’t want the process of leaving the EU to be damaging for the EU” and will explain that her focus is a “smooth, constructive and orderly process” of departure.

In Brussels, European officials played down the extent to which Brexit will be discussed.

Mrs May’s announcement of an Article 50 trigger by the end of March took some by surprise and was seen as an attempt to try to kickstart some pre-negotiations.

But so far European institutions and leaders have stuck rigidly to the “no notification no negotiation formula” saving any negotiation until after the UK has formally triggered Article 50.

This was underlined by the limited reference to Britain in the formal text of EU Council president Donald Tusk’s invitation to the summit.

The invite says: “The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom will present the current state of affairs in the country”, and is mentioned between the dinner discussion on Russia, Ukraine, Syria, and changing the timing of EU summits.

Brussels sources suggested there would be no discussion of Brexit, merely a short statement from the PM.

Number 10 vowed that the UK will “continue to be a responsible member of the EU until we leave, an active and engaged member. We will respect our obligations in full while we remain a member state”.

But it may create some tricky dilemmas in areas where the UK has, in the past, had a strong voice – for example over blocking punitive tariffs on China and promoting its status as a “market economy” at the World Trade Organisation.

Mrs May will have her first meeting with the European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker at the end of the summit.

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