Theresa May has told EU leaders that “courage, trust and leadership” will be needed on both sides to achieve a Brexit deal.
Speaking to leaders of the 27 remaining EU states in Brussels, Mrs May said she remains “confident” that a good outcome can be reached to negotiations which stalled last weekend over the intractable issue of the Irish border.
But Mrs May did not come forward with the new “concrete proposals” on the border issue which European Council President Donald Tusk has said are needed to break the deadlock.
EU leaders made clear they were expecting no breakthrough at the European Council summit, which had long been billed as the “moment of truth” when agreement was needed to allow time for ratification before Brexit day in March.
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said that “much more time” was needed to bridge differences between the two sides, and promised to “continue the work in the next weeks calmly and patiently”.
A number of EU leaders voiced their willingness to work for an orderly UK withdrawal. But several also noted that their countries were beginning preparations for a possible no-deal Brexit.
In her 20-minute address, Mrs May stressed that significant progress had been made in many areas of the negotiations and urged them to find a “creative” way out of the current dilemma.
“We have shown we can do difficult deals together constructively,” the PM said. “I remain confident of a good outcome.”
And she told them: “The last stage will need courage, trust and leadership on both sides.”
Following her comments, Mrs May left for a fish dinner at the UK ambassador’s residence, leaving the EU leaders to discuss Brexit in her absence over a dinner of pan-fried mushrooms, turbot cooked in wheat beer and a trio of fig, pear and grape sorbets.
Arriving in Brussels, Mrs May insisted there had been “very good progress” since Salzburg, but acknowledged that differences remain over the key issue of the “backstop” arrangement to keep the Irish border open in the absence of a broader trade deal.
She said: “I believe everybody around the table wants to get a deal ... I believe a deal is achievable and now is the time to make it happen.”
Mrs May held separate talks with French president Emmanuel Macron, taoiseach Leo Varadkar and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, as well as Mr Tusk, in what British officials characterised as “constructive and serious conversations”.
Meanwhile, in a speech to the German parliament before heading to Brussels, chancellor Angela Merkel said that the chance of reaching a good and viable Brexit deal was “still there” and would be good for both sides.
But she cautioned that Germany was “preparing for every scenario” - including the possibility of Britain leaving without a deal.
As she arrived in Brussels, Mrs Merkel said: “We want good relations with Great Britain. We would have been pleased if the withdrawal agreement had already been completed. We are 90% there, but there is further work ahead.”