20 Jul 2016

UK gives up European Council presidency

Prime Minister Theresa May says the UK will not take on the European Council presidency next year after voting to leave the EU.

As she prepares to meet German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the first time as Prime Minister, Mrs May said the UK would waive its right to assume the rotating presidenct in the second half of 2017.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said that Mrs May told European Council President Donald Tusk that giving up the presidency was “the right thing to do given we will be very busy with negotiations to leave the EU”.

Mrs May has said she will not rush the process for exiting the EU, a decision taken by British voters in a referendum on 23 June.

After her first Prime Minister’s Questions, Mrs May will make her first overseas trip as PM, meeting Mrs Merkel in Berlin and French President Francois Hollande in Paris.

She said she would deliver a clear message to them that Britain wanted to maintain, and and even strengthen, its close relations with their countries after it leaves the EU.

She said she would make clear that she does not intend to start the two-year process of negotiating the terms of Britain’s withdrawal under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty until the Government has had time to consult the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, and business.

‘Strong working relationship’

“These visits will be an opportunity to forge a strong working relationship that we can build upon and which I hope to develop with more leaders across the European Union in the weeks and months ahead,” she said.

“I do not under-estimate the challenge of negotiating our exit from the European Union and I firmly believe that being able to talk frankly and openly about the issues we face will be an important part of a successful negotiation.”

Mrs May will hold talks with Mrs Merkel over dinner tonight in Berlin, and will also have a working dinner with Mr Hollande at the Elysee Palace on Thursday.

Brussels has said that no formal or informal talks on Britain’s future relations with the EU should begin until the UK has formally stated its intention to leave by invoking Article 50 – which is not likely to happen until 2017.

France and Germany have made it clear that Britain’s access to the European single market is conditional on it accepting freedom of movement.

On Tuesday, Mrs May met US Secretary of State John Kerry, who said during a visit to London that he expected her to pursue a “calm, thoughtful, reasonable” path on Brexit.