Salzburg Summit Ended in ‘Accident’ With Theresa May, Dutch Premier Says

(Bloomberg) -- Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the European Union and the U.K. have the next four to six weeks to “bring it back together” in the Brexit negotiations after last week’s informal summit in Austria led to what he called an “accident” between the two sides.

In an interview at the Bloomberg Global Business Forum in New York on Wednesday, Rutte acknowledged that the EU meeting in Salzburg was “difficult” and “somehow it ended up in an accident where both the European Union and Theresa May, the U.K., seemed to drift away a little bit and that is not OK.”

On her return to London, U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May lashed out at the EU for rejecting her plan for Brexit -- adding that she demanded respect. The Dutch prime minister stressed that EU leaders did not humiliate May last week “because everyone on the European side moving forward wants to have a strong relationship with the United Kingdom after Brexit.”

Rutte, 51, said the Netherlands is hiring extra customs officers among other officials in preparation for Brexit. However, since finding the right people and training them will take time, “not everything will be ready by the end of March, but we will be ready enough to deal with a hard Brexit.”

“Of course we want to avoid it, but if there will be a hard Brexit” the goal is to make the impact as limited as possible, he said.

Britain is a key trading partner of the Netherlands, with the Rotterdam port playing a vital role connecting the economies. The port in the second-largest Dutch city handles millions of tons of shipments between the Netherlands and Britain a year, including food items and fresh flowers heading for U.K. grocery shops.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.