LONDON – European Council President Donald Tusk and British Prime Minister Theresa May met Thursday to seek a smooth start to the U.K.’s EU departure, a day after the European Parliament laid out tough guidelines for the divorce negotiations.
The talks came as both sides are settling on their negotiating positions, and after some strong tabloid headlines in Britain about the bloc’s exit bill for Britain and the status of the British territory of Gibraltar.
The two politicians smiled on the doorstep of May’s 10 Downing St. office before a meeting in London that lasted two hours. Afterward, May’s office praised the “constructive approach” of the EU leadership and said “the tone of discussions had been positive on both sides.”
Tusk said the pair had agreed to stay in regular contact throughout the Brexit process.
British voters in June chose to leave the 28-nation European Union and last week May triggered the mechanism that starts a two-year countdown on Britain’s departure.
The European Parliament on Wednesday backed the bloc’s chief negotiator in demanding that Britain pay as much as 60 billion euros ($64 billion) for outstanding commitments.
EU lawmakers also called for phased negotiations, in which divorce terms are settled before a new trade deal is secured. Britain wants the two strands to go hand-in-hand.
Draft negotiating guidelines drawn up by the EU also said no future agreement between Britain and the bloc would apply to Gibraltar unless both the U.K. and Spain agreed. That raised hackles in Britain, where some saw it as a bid by Madrid to assert control over the future of an enclave that has been British since 1713.
May told Tusk Thursday that “there would be no negotiation on the sovereignty of Gibraltar without the consent of its people,” Downing St. said.
May began a two-year countdown to Brexit last week by invoking Article 50 of the EU’s key treaty. But she has acknowledged that getting a final deal may take longer. She says there will be an “implementation” phase once a deal is hammered out so businesses and government can adjust to the new rules.
Full negotiations are expected to start in late May once the negotiating guidelines of the EU’s 27 remaining nations have been sealed in a mandate for the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.
The foreign ministers of Portugal and Denmark said Thursday they want a negotiated settlement that serves the interests of both Britain and the rest of the EU.
Danish Foreign Minister Anders Samuelsen said he hoped for what he called a “good transition” as Britain departs the bloc.
“We both hope to find a good solution with the U.K,” Samuelsen said after talks with his Portuguese counterpart, Augusto Santos Silva.