Theresa May told European leaders that both the U.K. and the EU need “courage, trust and leadership” in the final stages of Brexit negotiations.
Addressing leaders of the EU27 nations before their European Council summit dinner in Brussels Wednesday, May insisted she remains “confident” of a positive outcome despite failure to finalize a withdrawal agreement in time for this week’s summit.
Though there was warm rhetoric, EU leaders said they heard nothing new from the U.K. prime minister — despite a pre-summit appeal from European Council President Donald Tusk for May to bring “concrete” proposals to Brussels.
European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, who was also present for May’s pre-dinner address, said afterward that she did not offer “any substantial new element.”
Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaitė tweeted “Brexit dinner: negotiations not on the menu. Expecting full English breakfast at next meeting.”
Brexit talks stalled last week over the issue of the Irish backstop — a legal guarantee to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. Despite agreement being reached on a backstop at technical level, the U.K. Cabinet remains opposed to the EU’s proposal of a backstop that would see Northern Ireland remain part of the EU’s customs territory, cutting it off from the rest of the U.K. The U.K. also wants guarantees that the backstop, if it comes into force, will not be indefinite.
According to a No. 10 Downing Street briefing, May told leaders: “We have shown we can do difficult deals together constructively. I remain confident of a good outcome.”
Concluding her speech, which lasted around 15 minutes, she said: “The last stage will need courage, trust and leadership on both sides.”
After the address, May left the summit as EU27 leaders continued to discuss Brexit at dinner. May instead dined at the U.K. ambassador’s residence, and will return as the summit resumes on Thursday, when Brexit is not on the agenda.
Earlier, May had called for the two sides to work “intensively over the next few days and weeks” toward a final deal. Tusk has in recent weeks raised the prospect of a special November summit to finalize a deal. U.K. officials said they remain open-minded about the specific timeline for talks, but insisted the U.K. “wants to get this wrapped up in the autumn.”