The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has slapped down suggestions that the Brexit negotiation between Britain and the European Union will be conducted in French.
Mrs May suggested “immature” European leaders should stop looking for problems and instead focus on opportunities presented by Brexit.
The Prime Minister used her appearance at her first European Council meeting to dismiss calls by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, for the “working language” of the talks to be French.
A source had told Reuters: “Barnier wants French to be the working language in Brexit negotiations with Britain.”
Speaking to journalists, Mrs May said: “We will conduct the negotiations in the way that is going to make sure that we get the right deal for the United Kingdom.”
She said it was up to the other member states to decide “how they are going to conduct” their negotiations, “but we will continue to play our role as I have done today.
“I can assure you I haven’t been backwards in coming forwards on issues,” she added.
Shortly afterwards Mr Barnier tweeted: “Never expressed myself on negotiation language. Work as often in EN as FR. Linguistic regime to be set at start-to be agreed btw negotiators.”
The German Chancellor Angela Merkel also weighed in, saying there was no official language for the Brexit talks and that “everybody is allowed to speak their own language”.
An EU spokesman said: “This will be agreed upon at the beginning of the negotiations – after receiving the Article 50 notification – and in common agreement with the negotiators.”
Mrs May was given just five minutes in the early hours of the morning to set out her approach to the process, at the culmination of a working dinner. According to reports she was made to wait until “long after the waiters were waiting to clear the dishes away” before presenting her remarks.
No other leader spoke in response as Council President Donald Tusk had instructed them not to, insisting that formal talks must not begin until the formal process for Britain’s secession is invoked.
Mrs May has slammed her colleagues for their “immature” behaviour, accusing them of looking for “problems” rather than “opportunities” presented by the Brexit talks.
She further made it clear that she intends to negotiate trade deals ahead of Britain’s formal exit from the EU, despite threats of legal action from Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, the Telegraph has reported.
On arrival at the meeting, Mrs May said: “The UK is leaving the EU, but we will continue to play a full role until we leave and we will be a strong and dependable partner after we have left.”
“It’s in the interests of both the UK and the EU that we continue to work closely together, including at this summit.”