[WATCH] European Council summit to discuss Brexit negotiations, without UK

British Prime Minister Theresa May will not be attending a working dinner with other heads of states of the EU member states who will be discussing how to ease tensions on the handling of Brexit talks

British Prime Minister Theresa May with Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the start of the European Council summit (Photo: Ray Attard)
British Prime Minister Theresa May with Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat at the start of the European Council summit (Photo: Ray Attard)

The European Union’s head of states will be discussing their plans for the upcoming Brexit negotiations during a European Council summit in Brussels on Thursday, but British Prime Minister Theresa May will not be part of that discussion.

The leaders of the EU’s 27 other member states will have dinner following meetings to try and ease tensions over the handling of talks with the UK once May triggers Article 50 to kick off exit negotiations.

May will be participating in talks on other issues such as Syria, controlling mass migration into Europe, the EU’s relationship with Ukraine, co-operation with Nato and economic matters.

The UK is to send a further 40 officials to Greece to try and speed up asylum claims from Iraqis, Afghans and Eritreans arriving there in an effort to deter others from coming.

There are already 70 UK caseworkers “experienced” in dealing with the return of asylum-seekers taking part in the trial scheme.

The UK is pressing for more EU-wide action to tackle economic migration at its source, working with countries such as Libya and Egypt to help control their borders.

May was also expected to hold bilateral meetings with the leaders of Latvia and Lithuania as well as the president of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz.

It comes amid claims by former Belgian prime minister Guy Vehofstadt, who is leading the European Parliament’s Brexit taskforce, that it could start separate negotiations with the UK unless EU leaders take “its role seriously”.

One of the issues likely to be discussed by the 27 is who will lead their negotiating team in talks expected to take 18 months. It is expected to be former EU Commissioner Michel Barnier who is in charge of the European Commission’s Brexit team.

A Downing Street spokeswoman said the EU must decide how it would organise itself and that there would be no British observers nor officials present at the dinner.

“It shows they are facing up to the reality that the UK is leaving the EU, that we are going to be triggering Article 50 by the end of March,” she said.

“That means they are going to need to know how they are going to handle the process where they have got to work out the position of the 27.”

May spoke to the new Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni on Wednesday. She has already held face-to-face talks with 23 EU leaders to brief them on the UK’s intentions after June’s referendum vote to leave the EU.

The prime minister also spoke to Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council, who confirmed she would update the rest of the EU on the UK’s preparations.

On Wednesday, her Brexit Secretary David Davis said the UK would not spell out its negotiating aims in more detail until February at the earliest and nothing “hazardous” would be included which could jeopardise the potential outcome.

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