EU summit: Theresa May ‘welcomes’ Brexit talks by 27 other leaders

Britain will not be present at evening talks, with Syria and Ukraine on main summit agenda

Theresa May made a political gaffe this week when she misunderstood the meaning of 'FFS', but she hasn't been the only politician to get confused by the language of technology and youth culture.


European Union leaders have arrived in Brussels for a one-day meeting which will be followed by a discussion of the negotiations leading to Britain’s withdrawal from the EU. Theresa May, who will not be present at the Brexit discussion, said as she arrived at the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels that she was pleased that the other 27 leaders would consider the issue.

“I welcome the fact that the other leaders will be meeting to discuss Brexit tonight as we are going to invoke article 50 [of the Lisbon Treaty], trigger the negotiations by the end of March next year. It’s right that the other leaders prepare for those negotiations as we have been preparing. We will be leaving the EU, we want that to be a smooth and orderly a process as possible, it’s not only in our interests but in the interests of the rest of Europe as well,” she told reporters.

The prime minister did not respond to questions about a report by Britain’s ambassador to the EU, Ivan Rogers, suggesting that it could take up to a decade for Britain to negotiate a new trade deal with the EU after Brexit. Some Conservative MPs accused the ambassador of being too pessimistic but former EU trade commissioner Peter Mandelson said the timescale seemed realistic.

Lord Mandelson said that, although a deal governing the terms of Britain’s withdrawal from the EU could be negotiated more quickly, a trade deal would require lengthy negotiations and ratification by national parliaments and other legislative bodies.

“It will not be achieved simply or quickly. While we can’t be certain about how long it will take, a time-span of between five and 10 years seems to me realistic,” he said.

Lord Mandelson told the House of Commons business committee that a “hard Brexit” which saw Britain leaving both the single market and the customs union would lead to a very serious deterioration in conditions for British business.

“This deterioration is not going to happen straight away. That was the mistaken impression given in the referendum. It will be a gradual, inexorable worsening of the conditions for business in the UK. That’s why those who say ‘It appears to be going okay so far’ are completely missing the point. It hasn’t even kicked in yet,” he said.

Ukraine, migration, and the ongoing civil war in Syria are among the topics to be discussed during the summit’s formal session.

As the evacuation of Aleppo began as EU leaders arrived at the summit, they were expected to roll-over sanctions against Russia which fall due for renewal in January. Though technically linked to Russia’s implementation of the Minsk agreement which sets out a peace plan for Ukraine, the EU’s sanctions are viewed by many in the bloc in the context of Russia’s actions in Syria.

German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Francois Hollande are due to update their EU counterparts on the latest progress on the Minsk agreement and the situation in Syria.

The Taoiseach did not speak to reporters as he arrived at the summit.