EU leaders to discuss Brexit as Theresa May visits Brussels for the last time

Jon Stone

Theresa May's last scheduled visit to Brussels as prime minister on Thursday is expected to be relatively low-key, as she attends an EU summit to choose Jean-Claude Juncker's successor.

Ms May and her Brexit project will for once not be the centre of attention at the meeting, where EU leaders are hoping to make progress on choosing the EU's next Commission president, and make headway on issues like climate change.

A brief discussion about Brexit will be held on Friday, after the prime minister is expected to have left - but leaders are not expected to issue a formal statement and will instead use the meeting to take stock.

"I can imagine that a few leaders would like to make some points on expectations on how the Brexit process will develop," one senior EU official said, looking forward to the discussion.

The official said leaders are also expected to discuss preparedness for a no-deal, and to "fine-tune their communications" around Brexit - after Tory leadership candidates roundly ignored previous warnings that there would be no renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.

The prime minister, who is not expected to hold a press conference while in town, will attend the meeting about the top jobs on Thursday. UK officials say she will be constructive but is not planning to make any significant interventions.

A UK government spokesperson said: “As we made clear at the Council meeting in April, as long as the UK remains in the EU, we will continue to be a full Member State with all the rights and obligations that entails.

"We recognise the UK’s status as a departing member state and will continue to be as constructive a partner as possible and abide by the principle of sincere cooperation - and this issue is no exception.

"We support President Tusk’s approach in seeking to create a package of candidates across the top jobs which reflects the diversity of the EU.”

Barring any special session, the next European Council summit is expected to be in October, when the next British prime minister is expected to be safely installed in Downing Street.

The frontrunner for the job is Brexiteer Boris Johnson, who is leading the back to succeed Ms May as leader of the Conservative party. The new leader should be in place by mid July after a planned ballot of Tory members.