Thu, Jul 21, 2016 - Page 7 News List

Britain cedes planned EU presidency

‘CONSTRUCTIVE AND PRAGMATIC’:May said she would need time to prepare for talks, to which Tusk said he would help make the process as smooth as possible

AFP and Reuters, LONDON

Britain will no longer take on the rotating EU presidency as planned next year, relinquishing the role in the wake of the Brexit vote, British Prime Minister Theresa May’s office said yesterday.

May informed European Council President Donald Tusk in a telephone call on Tuesday evening, their first since she took over from former British prime minister David Cameron last week.

“The prime minister suggested that the UK should relinquish the rotating presidency of the council, currently scheduled for the second half of 2017, noting that we would be prioritizing the negotiations to leave the European Union,” a spokeswoman said.

“Donald Tusk welcomed the prime minister’s swift decision on this issue, which would allow the council to put alternative arrangements in place,” she said.

The presidency of the council rotates among members every six months.

EU ambassadors were later yesterday to meet to decide who would replace Britain, with an EU diplomat saying that Belgium was a “serious option” as a replacement.

In Brussels, Belgian Federal Public Service Foreign Affairs spokesman Didier Vanderhasselt said: “Belgium is ready to take over this presidency if we are asked.”

Slovakia currently has the presidency until Dec. 31, followed by Malta. Britain was due to take it from July 1 to Dec. 31 next year.

May repeated to Tusk that she wanted to approach negotiations on extricating Britain from its 43-year-old membership of the bloc “in a constructive and pragmatic spirit,” but will need time to prepare, the spokeswoman said.

“Donald Tusk reassured the prime minister that he will help to make this process happen as smoothly as possible,” the spokeswoman said.

May will try to reassure allies over Britain’s vote to leave the EU when she meets with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and then heads to France in her first foreign trip as leader.

May will make clear she will not be rushed into triggering Britain’s divorce, because she needs time to put together a negotiating stance.

However, by heading to Germany and France, soon after visiting Scotland and Wales to underline her desire to keep Britain united, May will sound out two of the EU’s most powerful leaders, Merkel and French President Francois Hollande, as she prepares to launch the complex negotiations for Britain’s exit.

May can expect tough talks with Merkel and Hollande, who have shown no sign that they will make things easy for post-Brexit Britain.

May said she was heading to Germany and France so soon after taking office, because she was determined Britain would “make a success of leaving the European Union.”

“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 in a statement.

“I do not underestimate 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,” she said.

May’s spokeswoman characterized the visits as “a first conversation” and said the prime minister would not get into detailed discussions on Brexit.

EU leaders have said they will not enter into formal negotiations with Britain until it triggers Article 50.

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