May wants 'deep and special relationship' with EU

British Prime Minister Theresa May has told EU leaders she wants a 'deep and special relationship' with the bloc after holding talks with Brussels chiefs in Downing Street

Theresa May welcomes Jean-Claude Juncker to Downing Street
Theresa May welcomes Jean-Claude Juncker to Downing Street

British Prime Minister Theresa May told European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker on Wednesday she wanted a "deep and special relationship" with the European Union, trying to warm the atmosphere before Brexit talks begin.

After a dinner at her Downing Street official residence with Juncker, the EU's main Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and his British counterpart, David Davis, both sides described the meeting as "constructive" but offered few details.

"The PM had a constructive meeting this evening with President Juncker of the European Commission," a spokesperson for May said in a statement.

"Following the UK's letter of notification under Article 50 (on its departure from the EU), she reiterated the UK's commitment to achieving a deep and special partnership with the European Union."

"President Juncker had a constructive meeting with Prime Minister May," a Commission spokesperson said, adding that as well as Brexit, they addressed "issues of strategic interest".

On Saturday, EU leaders will meet to agree their key negotiating principles based on draft guidelines issued last month. Official talks will not begin until after the UK’s general election on 8 June.

The UK is on course to leave the EU in March 2019.

Barnier, a former EU Commissioner, has said Brexit negotiations must be concluded within 18 months to allow for any settlement to be approved by the UK, other EU members and the European Parliament.

The EU wants the terms of the UK's exit to be decided before any discussion of a future trade relationship while Mrs May wants to the two issues to be dealt with simultaneously.

Addressing foreign diplomats in central London on Wednesday, foreign secretary Boris Johnson said the government had a "clear plan" for Brexit.

"Though I have no doubt that the negotiations will be tough and some plaster may fall off the ceiling, I am also sure that Theresa May can pull it off, and usher in a new era of free trade deals," he said.

Hours before the working dinner, an analysis by the German Bundestag claimed that European parliaments could be given a vote on a transitional Brexit deal.

The Bundestag analysis suggests that an interim arrangement to smooth the path between divorce and a future trade deal could be subject to approval by at least 38 parliaments, including regional assemblies and upper houses, if it strays into areas that are national rather than EU matters.

While the European commission has the power to negotiate trade agreements with the rest of the world and manage the rules governing the EU single market, Brussels is expected to give member states a say if these agreements touch on employment, social and environmental protections.

According to a document seen by Politico, the analysis says that if the transitional deal “is being ‘loaded up’ with competencies of the member states, this would turn it into a mixed agreement [affecting both EU and national legislation], which would require unanimity in the European council and the ratification of all member states for it to be sealed.”

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