EU Council President Donald Tusk is in London on Thursday for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May, as the bloc prepares its official response to Britain’s notification of exit.
They met at Downing Street to “discuss the way ahead on Brexit,” according to Tusk’s spokesperson. It was the first time the two have met since Article 50 was invoked, beginning the formal two-year Brexit process.
As Tusk was leaving Number 10 on Thursday, he was asked by reporters whether the talks were successful. He replied “as always,” and grinned when questioned if Gibraltar had been taken off his negotiating draft, according to Sky News.
May told reporters before the meeting: “We will be talking about the start of negotiations, how we’re going to take these negotiations forward.”
“We’ve said very clearly we want to maintain a deep and special partnership with the EU, and I think that has been reciprocated.”
The meeting comes less than a week after Tusk announced the EU’s draft guidelines for the two-year Brexit talks among the remaining member states. The EU-27 will meet at the end of the month to revise the guidelines.
Tusk has outlined 10 ‘red lines’ for negotiations. Key points include Brexit talks taking place before trade discussions begin, a financial settlement of the UK’s liabilities to the EU, and a guarantee for the rights of EU citizens based in the UK.
He also demanded that the UK do no “side deals” with EU countries.
The timing of trade talks may have been discussed at Thursday’s meeting. The draft guidelines said the UK must make “significant progress” on key divorce issues such as settling the Brexit bill and guaranteeing the rights of EU citizens before starting talks on future trade relations with the EU.
MEPs in the European Parliament on Wednesday voted to delay trade talks until key issues on Brexit were “fully resolved,” setting the bar for the UK even higher.
Simmering tensions between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar may also have been discussed at the meeting, after the draft guidelines effectively gave Spain a veto over the British territory’s future.
That triggered an angry response from politicians. Former Conservative leader Lord Howard said May would show the same resolve to defend Gibraltar as Margaret Thatcher did in the Falklands.
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis responded by telling the UK to not “lose tempers.”
Tusk last week told the UK that “we already miss you.” He also warned there was “nothing to win in this process” of Brexit negotiations, describing it as being “about damage control.”
Tusk has made it clear he is seeking a fair settlement, but warned Brexit negotiations could become “difficult, complex and confrontational.”
Substantive talks cannot begin until May 22, when EU governments are set to approve the final negotiating directives.