Theresa May gets 15 minutes on Brexit
For the avoidance of doubt, European Council President Donald Tusk reminded EU leaders on his arrival, through the media, that he really didn’t want this summit to be about Brexit. He’s allowed Theresa May 15 minutes later on towards the end of dinner to introduce herself and her view of Brexit to the other leaders.
He’s heavily discouraging anyone else from wading in at this point and reminded Mrs May that she shouldn’t try to fish for negotiating positions. The focus of the summit is on Russia, Migration and Trade.
On her way in to the European Council Theresa May tried to keep on Mr Tusk’s good side by brushing over Brexit and speaking o the agenda. She called for unity over the EU approach to Russia. That might appear rich from a country that is walking out of the EU.
Theresa May claimed it was Britain that had put Russia on the agenda and that the UK would continue to play an active role in the EU until it leaves.
In an overnight briefing it emerged that Theresa May intends to tell EU leaders that the UK is not trying to wreck the EU project. This obviously runs counter to some Leave campaigners’ rhetoric in the EU referendum in which figures like Michael Gove said they hoped they could trigger a democratic revolution in Europe and bring down the entire project.
Mrs May is also expected to say that success for the UK’s Brexit does not spell disaster for the EU. Brexit success wouldn’t mean other countries trying to follow Britain out of the EU, she’s expected to say.
President Hollande gave the sharpest words of the day on Brexit. The French President said: ” I have said it very clearly; Madame Theresa May wants a hard Brexit, then talks will be hard too.”
We looked in on the gathering of European Liberal parties which, like other groupings, tend to meet up just before the European Council.I spoke to the Belgian Foreign Minister, Didier Reynards, as he arrived for the meeting:
Q If the British get a really good deal that’ll be bad for Europe won’t it? It’ll make other people want to leave won’t it?
A Yes – but for the moment we will start the process and we are waiting for real notification from London.
I also spoke to the Czech Deputy Prime Minister and Finance Minister Andrej Babis:
Q – Do you think some people in your own country might be tempted to leave the EU if it works for Britain?
A – Yes, of course. I mean Europe is a fantastic project but we didn’t achieve the base, I mean the security, the immigration, if you compare it with the United States or Canada.
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel says that neither side wins from Brexit. He described this as a “divorce” that would for everyone be “a lose/lose situation: it’s not good for the UK and it’s not good for us.”
At the European Council meeting, as the leaders mingle, at one point Chancellor Merkel appears to draw attention to Theresa May’s bright red shoes. There’s laughter and a bonding moment David Cameron probably never managed.
For Justice and Home Affairs Councils in Brussels, Theresa May will have been in the room with 2 or 3 officials. Today, in the traditions of the European Council, she is in the room without official support.
David Cameron used to tap away at his Blackberry busily through meetings, relaying bits of the meeting to his team and occasionally seeking advice. Officials will be staring at their phone screens to see if Theresa May has similar habits.