The UK has given up its planned six-month-long presidency of the European Council (EC) in a bid to concentrate on Brexit planning, Downing Street has announced. The move comes ahead of a meeting between Theresa May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Berlin later today (20 July), which will be followed by bilateral talks in Paris tomorrow evening with President Hollande.
The new prime minister reportedly called EC President Donald Tusk to inform him about the decision to drop the presidency, which rotates between all 28 nations of the EU.
May, who campaigned for Remain ahead of the EU referendum, stressed that "Brexit means Brexit" after her appointment to Number 10.
She has since appointed chief Vote Leave campaigner Boris Johnson as foreign secretary and fellow Brexit backer David Davis as secretary of state for exiting the EU.
Davis has indicated that the government could trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the official mechanism to split from Brussels, in 2017. The decision would mean the UK would leave the EU sometime in 2019 after two years of negotiations.
May, speaking ahead of her trip to Germany, said: "I do not underestimate the challenge of negotiating our exit from the EU and I firmly believe that being able to talk frankly and openly about the issues we face will be an important part of a successful negotiation.
"I also want to deliver a very clear message about the importance we attach to our bilateral relationship with our European partners, not just now but also when we have left the European Union.
"These relationships have been vital in the past and they will be vital in the future as we continue to work together to keep our people safe and to support economic growth that benefits people across our countries."