Brexit: Theresa May wants 'deep and special partnership' with EU

Jon Craig, Chief Political Correspondent

Britain wants a "deep and special partnership" with the EU after Brexit, Theresa May has told Brussels chiefs in talks at 10 Downing Street.

The Prime Minister held a "working dinner" lasting an hour and 45 minutes with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.

After the meeting, a No 10 spokesperson said: "The PM had a constructive meeting this evening with President Juncker of the European Commission.

"Following the UK's letter of notification under Article 50, she reiterated the UK's commitment to achieving a deep and special partnership with the European Union."

The meeting appeared to begin in cordial fashion as Mrs May greeted Mr Juncker with a kiss on both cheeks as she greeted him in Downing Street.

But the PM and Brexit Secretary David Davis, who was also at the dinner, soon began putting the UK's case on a number of key areas of dispute at the start of Brexit negotiations.

These are contained in a blueprint drawn up by European Council president Donald Tusk, who was not present, ahead of a summit of the other 27 EU leaders in Brussels on Saturday.

They include:

:: Demands by Brussels for a "divorce bill" of up to €50bn when the UK leaves the EU

:: The rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British ex-pats living in Europe after Brexit

:: The threat of a veto for Spain on the future status of Gibraltar after Brexit.

The Downing Street dinner came at Mrs May's invitation after she called the General Election. She wanted the Brussels chiefs to be aware of the UK's position before Saturday's meeting of EU leaders.

One Government insider said the dinner was an attempt to improve the atmosphere before Brexit talks start in earnest in June after the General Election. "It was the first stage in the negotiations," one of those present told Sky News.

Also present at the talks were other key figures in the Brexit negotiations.

From Brussels were Mr Juncker's right hand man Martin Selmayr, Mr Selmayr's diplomatic adviser Richard Szostak, Mr Barnier's deputy Sabine Weyand.

From the UK Government were No 10 joint chief of staff Nick Timothy and the chief Brexit department official Olly Robbins.

Earlier, addressing a conference in London, Mr Davis said of the Brexit negotiations: "The UK has a very good reason to feel optimistic.

'"The discussions I have had confirmed to me that on both sides, negotiations with our European partners will be conducted in a spirit of sincere cooperation. It is a spirit we have shared through our common history.

"Indeed, one of my key messages on my visits to the four countries over the past couple of days, and more than a dozen over a longer period, is that the UK wants to see the European Union succeed and prosper, politically, socially and economically.

"And when it comes to it, our European partners know - even those that were most dismayed by our departure after the UK referendum result - that it will be in their interests for the UK to do the same."

Mr Davis said he was confident of a "very early" deal on the Irish border and reciprocal rights for EU nationals in Britain and UK citizens on the continent.

He said he was optimistic about the opportunities for the future and added: "The Government will do its best to ensure that those opportunities are available to everybody."

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