Briton in Spain fears losing access to healthcare after Brexit | Politics

An 81-year-old British retired antiques dealer who lives in Spain has said he fears his marriage to his Russian wife could be destroyed because Theresa May’s proposals for EU citizens will not cover his healthcare.

Tony Stone has retired to Spain and relies on the current rules whereby the NHS reimburses UK pensioners for treatment in another country.

This agreement is at risk because of Brexit and Stone says he could not afford to pay for his hospital bills on his state and small private pension. He says he would not be able to return to the UK with his wife because she has been refused entry as a Russian national.

Stone built up one of the largest antique box dealerships in the world with two shops in Mayfair and Portobello in London, but he went bust in the financial crash and moved to Spain because it was more affordable.

Ten years on, he fears he could lose everything all over again because the British government has failed to offer to guarantee the continuation of reciprocal healthcare arrangements for pensioners who have retired to countries elsewhere in the EU.

“Our situation is extremely serious. If, as expats, we don’t get reciprocal healthcare in Spain; we will only be able to stay here if we take out private healthcare insurance, which at my age would be prohibitively expensive and we could not afford.”

Stone is one of 70,000 British pensioners in Spain registered as retired who fear their future healthcare costs have become a bargaining chip in Brexit negotiations.

British tourists may lose their right to reciprocal healthcare if they fall ill on holiday in Europe, but the loss of ongoing healthcare cover for pensioners is a more significant issue in Brexit talks.

Stone remarried in Britain in 2010 after his wife of 51 years died and he moved to Marbella on the Costa del Sol with his second wife, Maryna, a Russian doctor, in 2010.

A year later he suffered a serious illness and feels deeply indebted to the Spanish health service.

“In 2013, I had a major operation in Spain to remove an intestinal thrombosis and it has taken four years to recover from it. I spent two years after the op wheelchair-bound and have to report every two weeks to have a blood test. The Spanish health service saved my life and I am almost back to normal now,” he said.

Brexit has shattered his retirement, he said, because if he was forced to return to the UK he could only do so without his wife as she has been refused a visa from the Home Office. “Words cannot express what I think of Theresa May,” he said.

He said Costa del Sol was famous for pockets of garish wealth, with Puerto Banus just outside Marbella famed for its super-yachts and fast cars. But Stone added: “It’s the skint ones like us that are at risk” in the Brexit negotiations.

Campaigners have already warned that hundreds of thousands of pensioners may have to return to the UK to be able to use NHS services unless the reciprocal care arrangements remain in place.

Stone receives a UK state pension of about £600 a month plus a small monthly private pension of £150. He also receives a disability benefit of £75 per week from the UK.

“We are able to just about manage as living in Spain is much cheaper than the UK. I had a good business in the UK and owned a house but lost everything in 2008 during the financial crash. We now rent a small apartment. I have no savings,” he said.

“We married in 2010 after my first wife died and my new wife was granted a five-year fiancee visa which allowed her leave to stay. After we moved to Spain her visa expired in 2015 and when she applied to renew it, it was refused, even despite an appeal.

“If we don’t have reciprocal healthcare rights our situation will be that we can’t stay in Spain and if I move back to the UK, then my marriage ends,” said Stone.

Under the present system, British pensioners who retire elsewhere in the EU have their healthcare costs reimbursed by the NHS. The system saves the NHS about £450m a year, a senior official at the department of health told a select committee earlier this year.

Paul McNaught told the committee that Spain charges an average of €3,500 a pensioner treated compared with €5,000 charged by the NHS.

However, the continuation of the arrangement is not guaranteed under Theresa May’s proposals to protect the rights of EU citizens, including 1.2 million Britons living elsewhere in the EU.

While the EU has proposed to guarantee all rights that EU citizens affected by Brexit currently enjoy, the UK has offered a weaker promise to “seek to protect” them in negotiations.

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William and Kate have been duped into endorsing Poland’s ugly nationalism | Kate Maltby | Opinion

Stick “Poland” into Google News this week, and you’ll have been rewarded by a slew of headlines about the Duchess of Cambridge’s latest dress. Today, the duke and duchess finish their summer tour of Europe. The Telegraph has gushed: “‘She reminds us of Princess Diana’: how Germany and Poland fell in love with the Duchess of Cambridge”. This has been billed as the “Brexit tour”: a visit to shore up links with Poland’s Eurosceptic leaders; followed by a few days making nice to Angela Merkel in Germany. Down on your knees, Britons, and thank God for Jenny Packham diplomacy.

But something else has been happening in Poland this week. On Monday, President Andrzej Duda was shaking hands with Kate and William at the presidential palace; by Tuesday he was delivering a televised address promising to soften his party’s latest attempt to take over the judiciary. That proposed softening is unlikely to have a major effect: late on Wednesday night his ruling Law and Justice party (PiS) rushed through legislation that allows the government to dismiss at will any of the 83 judges sitting on the country’s supreme court. A bill pushed through last week, before Kate and William touched down, gave parliament greater control over the body that would appoint their replacements (known in Poland as the KRS) and also gives the justice minister power to fire the judges who head lower courts.

You don’t need to have followed the ins and outs of Polish judicial legislation to know that the young British royals have spent this week shaking hands with some deeply unpleasant people. For some years, Poland has been slipping into nationalist authoritarianism: the ruling PiS is notorious for attempted crackdowns on queer rights and abortion. It’s sweet that the duchess enjoyed a family-friendly performance at the Gdansk Shakespeare festival; perhaps next time she could pop into Warsaw’s Teatr Powszechny, which is being investigated for “incitement to murder” after explicitly satirising the church and state. Except that she can’t. Most of the creatives in its recent production of The Curse have seen their contracts with other theatres pulled after government pressure. They still face prosecution.

The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata, visit the Warsaw Rising Museum.



The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge, with President Andrzej Duda and his wife, Agata, visit the Warsaw Rising Museum. Photograph: Jane Barlow/PA

The Foreign Office already knew that by sending our photogenic young royals – complete with cutesy Prince George and Princess Charlotte – we were whitewashing an appalling government. But it gets worse. Examine the itinerary for the Cambridges’ visit to Poland, and you’ll notice that Kate and William have been co-opted into Law and Justice’s campaign of historical revision. Central to its mission is the ambition to rewrite Poland’s official history, particularly that of the second world war. Gone are any references in school textbooks to Polish collaboration with the murder of Jews and other minorities. The Princeton historian Jan Gross, whose award-winning book Neighbors explored the 1941 massacre committed by Poles against Polish Jews in the village of Jedwabne, has faced repeated harassment under new laws that ban publicly insulting the Polish nation. This is state-sponsored Holocaust denial.

You might not have heard of Stutthof, a Nazi concentration camp near Gdansk; you are more likely to have heard of Auschwitz. But the royals were taken with their mass of photographers to Stutthof because it was initially built to imprison ethnic Polish leaders among the resistance and intelligentsia. Speaking to me for this article, the LSE historian Professor Anita Prazmowska described Auschwitz as an uncomfortably prominent site of Jewish suffering in Poland. “Eventually Jewish prisoners were also held, and killed, at Stutthof, but the government are here because they are looking to publicise a rival site of Polish martyrdom.”

While in Gdansk, it would have been easy for the duke and duchess to visit the landmark Museum of the Second World War, led by internationalist Paweł Machcewicz. Naturally they didn’t. Political rows dogged the museum throughout five years of construction; Machcewicz was fired by the government within two weeks of its official opening this January. The government is now taking steps to ensure that the museum exhibits focus less on the antisemitic consequences of historic eastern European nationalism and more on the heroism of the Polish people.

So back in Warsaw the royals were taken instead to the Museum of the Warsaw Rising, a tribute to Polish resistance fighters who held out against Nazi forces for 63 days in 1944. This museum has become the government’s pride and joy. Although it did involve major civilian suffering, as Prazmowska puts it: “The uprising was doomed from the beginning, but under Law and Justice it has become the most important event in Polish war history.” President Trump was also taken to the museum earlier this month.

Brexit has left us scrabbling for allies in Europe. Each of the other 27 member states must approve EU negotiator Michel Barnier’s final offer and this tour has been specifically designed to flatter the one nation most likely to soften a punitive deal. Poland has particular reasons for resenting the heavy hand of Brussels at present: this week’s constitutional power-grab has led to condemnation by the EU and even threats to strip Poland of its voting rights. Law and Justice already has strong links with Tory Eurosceptics through the Alliance of Conservatives and Reformists in Europe (Acre) grouping in the European parliament.

So this is Britain now. Brexit has left us sufficiently weak that we can no longer afford to show democratic leadership in the world. Instead, we send our royals to coo over revisionist history and sup with parliamentarians in their quick breaks between tearing up a constitution. The royals should be ashamed for taking part in this week’s whitewash. But we should save much of our anger for the politicians who deployed them.

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Britons’ rights in Europe ‘must not surpass rights of EU citizens in UK’ | Politics

The Swedish minister for EU affairs has said it would be “unfair” for Britons to have more rights in Europe than EU citizens in the UK, as currently proposed by Theresa May.

Ann Linde warned that the UK must offer the EU reciprocity in its approach to citizens’ rights, and said Theresa May’s government was putting the final Brexit deal at risk if it did not engage in detail with the EU negotiating team soon.

Before a meeting in Londn with the Brexit secretary, David Davis, Linde said there was “a risk with such a short deadline that if you do not get the detailed position, that you can’t [go forward]” to the second phase of negotiations, on a trade deal and the relationship with Europe.

“We really need to get concrete negotiating positions from the UK. We got three more responses today, but they need to have more detail,” she said.

“We have to have reciprocity,” she added. “We cannot have a situation where Britons in Spain have a better situation than a Spanish person in the UK.” That would be “unfair”, she concluded.

There are an estimated 100,000 Swedish people living in the UK, and Linde said Britain needed to change its position to protect their rights along with those of other EU citizens. Earlier this year, she expressed concern about the amount of xenophobia targeted at Swedes since the EU referendum.

Her comments came after the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, spoke of his frustration that the EU had issued nine position papers since the end of April, but the UK had only responded to one – the proposal on EU citizens.

Linde said “significant progress” was needed in the three areas prioritised by the EU for the first phase of negotiations: the economy, citizens’ rights and border issues.

The EU has proposed to protect all the current social, employment and residency rights enjoyed by the 1.2 million Britons settled elsewhere in the EU. Under the British proposal, EU citizens would lose some of those rights, including the right to bring in family members such as spouses or elderly relatives.

The UK proposal also offers no guarantees on reciprocal healthcare arrangements for pensioners, or protection for the estimated 45,000 Britons who commute to Europe or travel to the bloc for short-term contracts.

Lawyers have said it is unenforceable, because the UK does not want oversight by the European court of justice but has not proposed an alternative body for dispute resolution.

Linde said the British offer to EU citizens was “a good start” but needed improvement. “There needs to be more detail,” she added. “The good thing is that there is a clear wish to see that the EU citizens can stay, but it [the proposal] is in no way ready.

“People [in Sweden] really feel that UK citizens in the EU should not be better off than EU citizens in the UK,” she added.

Speaking in January, after meeting Swedes who had experienced xenophobia since the Brexit vote, Linde said: “I am astonished at what I heard. What is worrying is that they are giving me evidence that they are not being treated like normal EU members, that they have to sign specific contracts if they want to continue with new work.” The minister said this was discriminatory under EU law.

“It is probably some years before the UK will leave the EU, but still Swedish [people] are experiencing treatment of this kind, and I find that rather shocking,” she said. “It’s a kind of discrimination you are speaking about that is not allowed if you are EU members – and Britain is still an EU member.”

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King of Spain calls for Gibraltar dialogue with UK – video | World news

King Felipe of Spain reveals he is confident that Spain and Britain could work towards an acceptable arrangement over Gibraltar. Addressing an audience of peers and MPs in the House of Lords on Wednesday, he also demands greater certainty over the future rights of British and Spanish citizens living in the UK and abroad after Brexit

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King of Spain reveals hopes for new Gibraltar ‘arrangements’ | World news

King Felipe of Spain has called on the British government to work towards a new agreement over the future of Gibraltar and demanded greater certainty over the future rights of Spanish citizens living in the UK after Brexit. Addressing peers and MPs in the House of Lords as part of his state visit to the UK, King Felipe VI said there while there had “been estrangements, rivalries and disputes” in the countries’ history, those were now relegated to the past.

“I am certain that this resolve to overcome our differences will be even greater in the case of Gibraltar, and I am confident that through the necessary dialogue and effort our two governments will be able to work towards arrangements that are acceptable to all involved.”

Some Conservative MPs are concerned that the fate of Gibraltar could be in fresh doubt as the UK negotiates its exit from the European Union. The European commission’s negotiating guidelines appear to give Spain a veto over future trading arrangements involving the territory, saying that once the UK leaves the EU, “no agreement between the EU and the United Kingdom may apply to the territory of Gibraltar without agreement between the Kingdom of Spain and the United Kingdom”.

Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell earlier raised the issue during prime minister’s questions. He welcomed the fact that Gibraltar’s flag was among those being flown outside parliament for the King’s visit and asked Damian Green, first secretary of state, standing in for Theresa May, to ask her to “remind the King of Spain that Gibraltar is British and that its sovereignty will remain paramount”.

Green said the government’s position was that the primacy of the wishes of Gibraltararians, “which are overwhelmingly to stay British”, will be respected.

The Spanish monarch, who was due to attend a state banquet with the Queen last night, also urged the UK to reach an agreement as soon as possible about what rights will be retained after Brexit by Spaniards living in the UK, and Britons in Spain.

“These citizens have a legitimate expectation of decent and stable living conditions for themselves and for their families,” he said. “I therefore urge our two governments to continue working to ensure that the agreement on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU provides sufficient assurance and certainty.”

The chief minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said King Felipe’s comments suggested he was treating the British territory as one that could be “traded from one monarch to another” like a “pawn in a chess game” and urged him to understand that Gibraltar “will remain 100% British”.

May later hailed the “deep and solid” ties between Britain and Spain and insisted that the two nations would maintain the “closest possible relationship” after Brexit. As she hosted the Spanish monarch at No 10, May paid tribute to the Spanish banker Ignacio Echeverria, who died trying to save a woman from an attacker in the London Bridge terror attack.

On the two countries’ relationship, the prime minister said: “Today, we work closely together in a range of areas to ensure the security and prosperity of our people, including through our military and law enforcement cooperation to fight international terrorism, our academic collaboration on science and innovation, and our growing trade and investment ties.

“Indeed, the sheer scale of Spanish investment in Britain demonstrates Spain’s continued confidence in the strength of the UK economy, and shows that we can and will maintain the closest possible relationship.”

It came as Spanish manufacturer CAF announced plans to start building trains and trams at a new factory in Newport, south Wales, with £30m investment leading to 300 new jobs.

Earlier on Wednesday, the ornate Royal Gallery of the House of Lords was packed for the King’s speech, with the prime minister sitting in the front row alongside Jeremy Corbyn, who was accompanied by his wife, Laura Alvarez.

The king expressed regret about Britain’s decision to leave the EU, saying: “Until the present, the UK and Spain have both been partners in the project of European integration, which has brought considerable stability and prosperity to the region. Although this decision may sadden us, and indeed does, we fully respect it.”

After the EU’s negotiating guidelines appeared to give Spain a stake in the future of “the Rock”, the former Tory leader Lord Howard went so far as to hint that Britain might consider military action to defend the disputed territory.

Howard told Sophy Ridge on Sunday on Sky News: “Thirty-five years ago this week, another woman prime minister sent a taskforce halfway across the world to defend the freedom of another small group of British people against another Spanish-speaking country, and I’m absolutely certain that our current prime minister will show the same resolve in standing by the people of Gibraltar.”

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Spanish royals on state visit to UK, with Brexit issues unavoidable | UK news

The king and queen of Spain start a state visit to the UK on Wednesday in which the two royal families will seek to play down simmering rows over a string of post-Brexit issues between the two countries.

The three-day visit by King Felipe VI and Queen Letizia is the first to the UK by the Spanish royal family since 1986, and was agreed before the Brexit referendum result. It was then deferred twice, first due to the extended negotiations in Spain in March 2016 to form a new government, then by a deferral by Britain due to Theresa May’s decision to call a general election.

Spanish politicians, including the foreign minister Alfonso Dastis, are accompanying the king and queen.

It is being argued that talks on post-Brexit rights for 300,000 UK citizens in Spain and Spanish nationals in the UK – including 3,000 scientists working in higher education – are being conducted at the EU level in Brussels, and therefore need not be raised at length during the state visit. But the Gibraltar dispute, a roadblock in Anglo-Spanish relations further complicated by Brexit, will be unavoidable. Its status is largely a bilateral issue, and Felipe has previously described the British claim to the Rock as an historical anachronism.

Gibraltar’s chief minister, Fabian Picardo, has not been asked to any of the talks or major evening dinners by the UK government. In a speech this week in Malaga, he claimed that the Spanish government would try to insert a clause into any future UK-EU agreement on working rights so that it would not apply to EU citizens working in Gibraltar.

The UK ambassador to Spain, Simon Manley, said ahead of the visit: “We are not going to negotiate a solution that is against the interest of the people of Gibraltar. Our position has been very clear. The important thing is to talk about the practical issues and interests we all have in common.” He said the priority was to safeguard the working rights of the approximately 7,000 Spaniards who make the daily crossing to work in Gibraltar.

The vast majority of Gibraltarians voted to remain, fearing a loss of access to the EU if there was a vote for Brexit. In March, the issue shot up the list of Brexit priorities when it appeared Brussels had endorsed the idea that no EU-UK Brexit deal could apply in Gibraltar without the agreement of the Spanish and British governments.

The Spanish government has insisted it will not stop a wider Brexit deal over Gibraltar, which it regards primarily as bilateral issue, but it has a bargaining card it can play.

During the state visit, the UK government will also be reluctant to be drawn into the issue of the Catalan independence referendum to be held in October. The Catalonian government has urged Madrid to follow the example set by the UK government, who granted Scotland an official and binding referendum on secession in 2014.

British ministers are likely to argue that the Spanish constitution makes no provision for such a referendum, as Spain is a unitary state. But if there is a vote for secession, nationalists in Scotland and Wales will back calls for the UK to recognise the result. The UK’s Labour Party has yet to set out a position.

The Spanish royals will be formally greeted by the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh on Horse Guards Parade on Wednesday before attending a state banquet on Wednesday evening.

Prince Harry, in his first involvement in a state visit, will take the royal couple around Westminster Abbey before the Spanish king addresses both parliaments. He will meet Theresa May accompanied by his ministers for a lunch at Downing Street on Thursday. On Friday Felipe is due to visit Oxford University where the royal couple will be greeted by the strongly anti-Brexit vice-chancellor Lord Patten.

In their eagerness to launch a new era in Anglo-Spanish relations, the British government is likely to want to highlight the flourishing trade and business relations between the two countries. The UK is the number one destination for overseas Spanish investment, reaching an accumulated 82.5bn euros by the end of 2015.

The Spanish ambassador to the UK, Carlos Bastarreche, was plucked back from the private sector to take up his posting in London this Spring, partly because of his extensive diplomatic experience at the EU.

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80% of Britain’s 1.4m eastern European residents are in work | UK news

Around 1.4 million eastern Europeans are living in Britain, including 916,000 Polish people, and 80% of them are in work, according to the most complete official picture so far.

A study on migration from the eight eastern European countries known as the EU8, conducted by the Office for National Statistics, shows Lithuanians are the second largest EU8 group in the UK, with 170,000 living in the country.

The ONS study confirms that the food product manufacturing industry is particularly dependent on migrants, with EU8 citizens making up 25% of the total workforce.

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A third of all Czechs working in Britain are employed in banking and finance, and there are 83,200 eastern Europeans working in the health service, education or public administration.

The ONS also provides data on when EU-born residents of the UK first arrived in the country, showing that more than 1 million have been in England and Wales since the last century, including 623,000 who arrived before 1981.

Those figures include citizens of both eastern and western European countries. They confirm that 855,000 citizens of EU14 countries – which made up the EU before 2004 – came to live in England and Wales before 2000, compared with 474,000 who have arrived since 2000.

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The majority (932,000) of the EU8-born people living in England and Wales arrived after 2000, with 182,000 arriving before 2000. And 100,000 came to England and Wales before 1981.

The figures raise the possibility that Britain’s offer on EU citizens’ rights after Brexit will lead to more than 1 million people who arrived in the UK at least 17 years ago being fingerprinted and required to apply for a “settled status” biometric residence document.

The data does not take account of how many of these long-term residents have gained British citizenship. The ONS says the vast majority of Polish and other EU8 citizens keep their passports, with only 7,000 a year applying for British citizenship.

When it comes to securing reciprocal rights for British citizens living in eastern European EU countries, the ONS study shows the numbers involved are relatively small. Only 14,100 Britons live in the EU8 countries, including Poland, and 72% of them are working there. Only 6,000 people are claiming British state pensions in the EU8 countries.

Those eastern Europeans living in Britain are far more likely to be of working age than the resident British population, according to the study, with 74% of them in the 15-49 age bracket. Very few are aged over 65.

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Number of Britons over 65 living in Spain more than doubles in 10 years | Politics

The number of Britons living in Spain over the age of 65 has more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to official statistics.

The joint research by Britain and Spanish statisticians shows there were over twice as many British citizens living in Spain at the time of the EU referendum than there were Spanish citizens resident in Britain.

The special report by the Office for National Statistics and the Instituto Nacional de Estadistica says there were 296,000 British citizens who had been living in Spain for more than 12 months in 2016, while the UK was home to an average of 116,000 Spanish people between 2013 and 2015.

Accurate data on the number of Britons resident in other European Union countries is sparse, with the oft-quoted estimate of 1.2 million based on a 2015 United Nations report. The ONS/INE report is the first in a series designed to provide a clearer picture of the British population in other EU countries in the run-up to Brexit.

The 296,000 Britons living in Spain are thought to be the largest single group of UK citizens living in other European countries followed by France and Ireland.

The ONS/INE report says the proportion of Britons in Spain who are over 65 has grown rapidly in the last 10 years, more than doubling to 121,000 and now making up 40% of the British community.

Department for Work and Pensions data shows there are 108,433 Britons in receipt of a UK state pension in Spain, underlining the importance in this week’s UK offer on citizens’ rights guaranteeing their pensions will continue to be uprated in line and paid abroad after Brexit.

The ONS says the number of older UK people moving to Spain has actually been stable since 2008 and concluded that the increase in over-65s is most likely the result of ageing among the already resident population.

While the largest single group of Britons in Spain are over 65, Spanish people resident in Britain are predominantly from younger age groups. Around half the 116,000 Spanish citizens resident in the UK are aged 20-39.

The majority – 59% – of Spanish residents in Britain work, with 78% to be found in the three sectors of education and health; banking and finance; and hotels and restaurants.

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Donald Tusk echoes John Lennon to suggest UK could stay in EU | Politics

Donald Tusk used the first EU summit since the general election and the start of the Brexit negotiations to suggest that there is a chance the UK could still remain a member of the union, as leaders called on Theresa May to provide clarity on her minority government’s intentions.

Tusk, the president of the European council quoted the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine in expressing his hope that Britain could change its mind given recent events. “We can hear different predictions, coming from different people, about the possible outcome of these negotiations: hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal,” Tusk said, of what he described as a difficult process.

“Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed, and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU.

“I told them that in fact the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one.”

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland – who as a student was active in the fight against the communist regime in his country, said: “Politics without dreams: it would be a nightmare. If you had my experience from my part of Europe you would know miracles do happen. Some of my political dreams have come true. And this is maybe the best part of politics that everything is possible but I am at the same time a realist.

“That is why first of all we should start the negotiations as effectively as possible. The final decision is also a decision for Britain, UK citizens. But, yes, dreams are still very nice.”

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said he was hopeful that the UK would seek a soft Brexit. “It is crucially important we know what Britain wants from Brexit,” he said. “I hope we’ll come to some form of continued membership or relationship with internal markets.

“I absolutely believe the UK will be hit in the economy and the pound very hard. It will have a huge economic impact. I hope they can stay connected to the customs union which means accepting the four freedoms and the court in Luxembourg. I’m hopeful, but it all depends on what Theresa May and her team decide.”

Ireland’s new taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said: “The door remains open for the UK to stay in the European Union.”

A No 10 spokesman said in response: “Britain voted to leave the EU on 23 June last year and, as we have been clear all along, we will be delivering the democratic will of the British people.”

Macron, Merkel and May



Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May at the European Union leaders’ summit. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders struck a different note when asked if European cooperation would be easier if the UK remained in the EU.

“I am not a dreamer and I am not the only one,” Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel said, in a deliberate echo of Tusk’s words. “I consider that we have to respect the choice of the UK and we will see how it is possible to keep smart cooperation on the different issues, on development, on trade but also on security.”

There were signs of irritation at Britain’s apparent intention to use meetings of EU leaders to progress their Brexit goals, however. In response to Downing Street’s decision to provide an overview of its offer on EU citizens over dinner at the summit, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “I’m not negotiating here.”

Tusk added: “It must be clear that the European council is not a forum for the Brexit negotiations, We have our negotiations for this. And so leaders will only take note of this intention.”

Beyond the discussion on Brexit during the first day of a two-day summit, the leaders also agreed on measures regarding counter-terrorism and defence. Tusk said the leaders were now calling on social media companies to do “whatever is necessary to prevent the spread of terrorist material on the internet”.

Brexit atom

He said: “In practice, this means developing new tools to detect and remove such materials automatically. And, if need be, we are also ready to adopt relevant legislation.”

The leaders also agreed on the need to set up permanent European cooperation on defence, a concept first raised in 1954 but opposed by a number of member states, including the UK.

Initially the member states would cooperate, with the help of EU cash, on defence research and procurement. Tusk said: “It is a historic step, because such cooperation will allow the EU to move towards deeper integration in defence. Our aim is for it to be ambitious and inclusive, so every EU country is invited to join. Within three months, member states will agree a common list of criteria and commitments, together with concrete capability projects, in order to take this cooperation off the ground.”

The EU also agreed to extend its economic sanctions against Russia over its failure to live up to the Minsk peace agreement after reports to leaders from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

Russian-backed fighters are accused of attacking Ukrainian forces and expanding the territory under their control.

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