The EU’s position on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement has not changed as a result of U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s resignation announcement, officials warned on Friday.
May fended off her political demise for so long that it still landed with an element of shock when she finally surrendered to Brexit defeat on Friday. And EU leaders who long regarded May as their best hope of achieving an orderly departure quickly began issuing tributes.
But they also issued a stern warning to those who might want to succeed May at No. 10 Downing Street, by reiterating their commitment to the existing Brexit Withdrawal Treaty that the British parliament has refused to ratify.
“President [Jean-Claude] Juncker followed Prime Minister May’s announcement this morning without personal joy,” European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said. “The president very much liked and appreciated working with Prime Minister May and, as he has said before, Theresa May is a woman of courage for whom he has great respect. He will equally respect and establish new relations with any prime minister, whomever they may be, without stopping his conversations with Prime Minister May.”
As for the EU’s negotiating positions on Brexit, Andreeva said: “There is no change to that.”
“Respect to Theresa May, who fought for a stable solution and a viable deal” — Manfred Weber, conservative European People’s Party nominee for Commission president
Pressed by a reporter, she replied: “Indeed, we have set out our position on the Withdrawal Agreement on the Political Declaration, the European Council in Article 50 format has set out its position and we remain available for anyone else who will be the new prime minister.”
She said the EU was still operating on the basis that the U.K. would leave the bloc on the new deadline of October 31.
“The working assumption is still that Brexit happens on the 31st of October, as the willingness has been expressed by the voters in the United Kingdom,” Andreeva said. “So this is our working assumption. In terms of preparedness, I think we have issued enough preparedness communications, legislative acts, contingency planning. So we are ready. We have been ready. We continue to be ready whatever the scenario is.”
“Of course,” she added, “our continued preference, as expressed by the president, is an orderly withdrawal on the basis of the Withdrawal Agreement that has been negotiated with the U.K.”
Michel Barnier, the EU’s Brexit negotiator, tweeted: “I would like to express my full respect for @theresa_may
and for her determination, as Prime Minister, in working towards the #UK’s orderly withdrawal from the EU.”
“Theresa May strove to chart a new future for the United Kingdom. I want to wish her the very best for the future” — Leo Varadkar, Irish Prime Minister
National capitals also reacted swiftly to May’s teary speech setting her departure date for June 7.
An Élysée Palace official said May “has led courageous work to implement Brexit in the interest of her country and earned the respect of the her European partners. The president sent her a personal message of support and thanks.”
“It is up to the U.K., according to its procedures, to designate a new PM. France is ready to work with the new British PM on all European and bilateral issues. Our relationship with the U.K. is essential in all fields. It is too early to speculate on the consequences of this decision,” the official said.
“The EU’s principles will continue to apply, namely the priority of preserving the good functioning of the EU, which requires a speedy clarification. This should also remind us, at the moment of an important choice, that votes of rejection without an alternative project lead to an impasse,” the official added.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said on Twitter: “Just expressed my thanks and respect to Theresa May. The United Kingdom and the Netherlands are closely linked. The agreement reached between the EU and the United Kingdom for an orderly Brexit remains on the table.”
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar offered up a large heap of praise in a statement posted on his official website.
“I got to know Theresa May very well over the last two years,” Varadkar said. “She is principled, honorable, and deeply passionate about doing her best for her country, and her party. Politicians throughout the EU have admired her tenacity, her courage, and her determination during what has been a difficult and challenging time. Theresa May strove to chart a new future for the United Kingdom. I want to wish her the very best for the future.”
The Irish leader added, “And I look forward to working closely with her successor.”
Manfred Weber, the conservative European People’s Party nominee for Commission president, issued a statement saying that May’s resignation only highlighted the broader Brexit mess: “Brexit is a total disaster,” he said.
“Respect to Theresa May, who fought for a stable solution and a viable deal,” Weber wrote on Twitter. “We have once more for a constructive approach from our British partners. I appeal to the U.K.’s sense of responsibility and leadership in these times of great uncertainty.”
Rym Momtaz contributed reporting from Paris.