British PM seeks to calm Brexit fears in EU ‘nest of doves’
Theresa May on Thursday vowed that Britain would play a full part in the European Union (EU) until it leaves, as the bloc’s president promised the prime minister’s first EU summit would be a “nest of doves”.
The Conservative leader will use the meeting in Brussels to update EU counterparts on her plan to start formal exit talks by the end of March, paving the way for Britain to leave the bloc by early 2019.
But as she arrived to take the seat formerly occupied by David Cameron, she made clear that Brexit was not the only issue on the table, calling for a “robust and united” EU response to Russia’s “atrocities” in Syria.
“The UK is leaving the EU but we will continue to play a full role until we leave and we’ll be a strong and dependable partner after we’ve left,” she said. May was excluded from last month’s summit of 27 leaders in Bratislava, but EU president Donald Tusk played down speculation that the two day meeting in Brussels would be a frosty affair.
“Some media described her first meeting in the European Council as entering the lion’s den. It’s not true. It’s more like a nest of doves,” he said.
“She’ll be absolutely safe with us. And I hope that she will also realise that the European Union is simply the best company in the world.”
However, he repeated that there would be no negotiations before Britain triggers Article 50 of the EU’s Lisbon treaty, which begins a two-year countdown to leaving.
May’s plan to trigger Article 50 by March, unveiled at her party conference earlier this month, has been welcomed by European leaders who had been pressing for a swift divorce. But she angered many member states by stating her intention to limit EU migration into Britain, while also seeking
“maximum freedom” to operate in the EU’s single market.
European leaders have repeatedly said the two demands are incompatible, and warned London should expect to pay a heavy price for its decision to leave.
The face-off has caused the pound to plunge and raised global economic fears about the impact of a so-called hard Brexit. Over a working dinner today evening, May will urge EU leaders to help make Brexit work for both sides, a source in her office said, speaking on condition of anonymity.