British PM holds first talks with EU president since Brexit launch

London: British Prime Minister Theresa May and EU president Donald Tusk on Thursday held their first face-to-face talks since she triggered the process for leaving the bloc as Brexit negotiations loom.
The visit follows an outcry in Britain over Tusk last week outlining draft negotiating guidelines which say that Spain should have a veto on any trade deal agreed with Britain being extended to Gibraltar.
And it comes a day after the European Parliament approved a series of Brexit demands, including calling for “substantial progress” to be made on an exit deal before talks on future trade relations can begin.
“The PM reiterated the UK’s desire to ensure a deep and special partnership with the EU following its exit, and noted the constructive approach set out by the council in its draft guidelines,” said a spokesman for May’s Downing Street office.
“She said the UK looked forward to formally beginning negotiations once the 27 member states agreed guidelines,” he said.
The spokesman said May told Tusk that Britain would seek the best possible Brexit deal for Gibraltar, its internally self-governing territory attached to the south coast of Spain.
May stressed that the sovereignty of the Rock, ceded to Britain in perpetuity by Spain in 1713, was not up for negotiation in the Brexit talks.
For his part, Tusk said the meeting was to make sure that the Brexit talks “get off to good start”.
A European Union source said that the two-hour meeting went well and was friendly in tone. The source said they agreed to keep a constructive approach and “seek to lower tensions that may arise, also when talks on some issues like Gibraltar inevitably will become difficult”.
EU leaders are holding a special summit in Brussels on April 29 to decide a negotiation strategy based on Tusk’s draft guidelines.
The actual talks on Britain leaving the EU are therefore not expected to start until May at the earliest.
Britain last week formally notified the EU of its intention to quit the bloc — the first member state ever to do so — following a shock referendum vote on June 23 last year in favour of leaving.
When announcing Britain’s intention to leave the EU, May called for the divorce and future trade deal talks to proceed in tandem, but she was rebuffed by Tusk who said that there should first be progress on the exit agreement before trade negotiations can begin. —AFP