May Says She's Disappointed by Parliament Defeat: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May is in Brussels for a European Union summit hours after facing an embarrassing defeat on her Brexit legislation at the hands of rebels in her own party. Leaders on Friday are expected to sign off on the deal May reached on the first phase of divorce talks so that negotiations can move on to trade.

Here are the latest developments, updated throughout the day. Time-stamps are London time.

May Says She’s ‘Disappointed’ by Parliament Defeat (3:05 p.m.)

Prime Minister May arrived at the EU summit playing down Wednesday night’s defeat at the hands of lawmakers in London, but admitting she was “disappointed.”

The EU withdrawal bill is “making good progress” through the British Parliament, “we’re on course to deliver Brexit, we’re on course to deliver on the vote of the British people,” May told reporters.

While Brexit isn’t a formal topic for the summit on Thursday, May is expecting to chat to some leaders individually and will address them as a group for a few minutes over dinner, when she will ask them to make quick progress on agreeing a transition phase.

On Friday, the EU’s 27 leaders will discuss Brexit without May and are expected to officially endorse the start of the second phase of the negotiations, focusing on the transition and the future trading relationship.

Merkel Says There Are Still Some Open Questions (2:10 p.m.)

With the EU summit beginning shortly, German Chancellor Angela Merkel limited herself to a few lines on the negotiations.

“Progress has been made but there are still some open questions,” Merkel said. “The steps that Britain has taken toward clarifying the steps toward exit” are welcome, she said.

The Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern -- almost certainly at his last summit -- was slightly less reserved when asked about Brexit: “I hope that it could be reversed,” he said.

Leaders Ask for ‘Legally Binding’ Text (1:50 p.m.)

On their way into the summit, EU leaders have started talking about Brexit, and about Wednesday night’s defeat for May.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said May is a “formidable politician,” adding that the U.K. and the EU must now put the breakthrough into “legally binding text.” The EU is worried the U.K. may try to backtrack on some of the agreements as the next phase of the Brexit negotiations get under way.

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said the British Parliament’s vote was “not good” for May, though it wouldn’t change the EU’s position. “As soon as she negotiates something she will need to go back to London to get an approval from the Parliament and this is not making her life easier,” he said.

Next Phase of Brexit Talks ‘Real Test’ of EU Unity (12:30 p.m.)

The EU has been proud -- not to mention relieved -- at the way the remaining 27 countries have stuck together throughout the first six months of the Brexit negotiations. In a Europe used to divisions along political, geographic and economic lines, this has been a rare show of togetherness.

But they may soon start reverting to type as governments express differences of opinion over what type of trade deal to grant the U.K.

“I have no doubt that the real test of our unity will be the second phase of Brexit talks,” EU President Donald Tusk told reporters in Brussels on his way into the summit.

Coming Up:

  • Dec. 15: The summit lasts two days and Brexit is meant to be discussed mostly on Friday
  • Next week: Another knife-edge vote on an amendment that Tory rebels oppose. May will also hold a Cabinet meeting to discuss what kind of trade deal the U.K. will seek from the EU for after Brexit.

What Happened on Wednesday:

  • Parliament voted 309-305 in a defeat for the government to make sure lawmakers get a final binding vote on the Brexit deal. Tory rebels led the charge and last-ditch concessions from the government were rejected as too little too late
  • EU Chief Negotiator Barnier Says U.K. Premier Theresa May Is ‘Courageous’
  • EU Draws Battle Lines for Banks as Brexit Moves to Next Stage

More Summit Coverage:

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