Over dinner with her European counterparts at a crunch summit in Brussels, the Prime Minister made clear that the patience of UK voters with soaring EU demands for a multi-billion divorce payment was running out.
And she urged them to make a “joint effort and endeavour” to hammer out a departure deal for Britain that will deliver “prosperity for all our peoples.”
Mrs May’s stark message follows growing exasperation among Brexit-backing Tory MPs and anti-Brussels campaigners at the EU’s spiralling cash demands.
One senior Eurocrat rejected Britain’s offer of a £18billion exit payment as “peanuts” earlier this week while a close ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday suggested the figure could be as high as £80billion.
At their summit EU leaders are expected to refuse permission for the stuttering Brexit talks to move on to the crucial issue of trade, but may allow preliminary “scoping discussions” on a future trade deal to begin.
EU SUMMIT 2017 LIVE
Britain will WALK AWAY! May warns EU leaders UK could DITCH Brexit negotiations
I took stock, listened to the people in the UK and my friends and partners in Europe were saying and I made a step forward
Several leaders at the summit urged the Prime Minister to provide more “clarity” about how much Britain will pay to leave the EU.
At a working dinner for the 28 EU leaders, Mrs May insisted that the UK had taken a “creative and pragmatic approach to securing a new deep and special partnership” with Brussels.
She said her speech in Florence last month setting out Britain’s offer had “taken us forward” in the effort to break the deadlock.
She had “recognised the difficulty the process was in,” she said.
“I took stock, listened to the people in the UK and my friends and partners in Europe were saying and I made a step forward.”
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She added: “Both sides were agreed subsequent rounds would be conducted in a new spirit and there’s an increasing sense we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people.”
Mrs May told the leaders that when they decide on the new timetable for the negotiations at the summit today “the clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together”.
She also emphasised her desire for deal that would deliver close cooperation between the EU and the UK.
“Whether on security and defence, counter-terrorism, migration, climate change or trade we share opportunities and risks,” the Prime Minister said.
She called for a “close economic partnership” that is about based on a framework that sets rights and responsibilities in a new and different balance supporting prosperity for all our peoples.”
She emphasised her desire for deal that would deliver close cooperation between the EU and the UK
Mrs May said: “We should be optimistic and ambitious about what we can achieve as we share the same set of fundamental beliefs.”
She also repeated her unconditional offer of support to European security in a partnership of “unprecedented in breadth and depth”.
“I want to be very clear that the UK is unconditionally committed to maintaining Europe’s security.
“This should be based on a bold new strategic agreement that provides a comprehensive framework for future security, law enforcement and criminal justice cooperation as well as external security.”
Senior Government officials yesterday acknowledged that Mrs May was under increasing political pressure at home with a growing number of Tory MPs including some senior ministers frustrated with the intransigence shown by Brussels in the Brexit negotiations.
Mrs May was seen in deep conversation with Ms Merkel and Mr Macron
“It is a reality that the Prime Minister is working against a difficult political backdrop,” said a Government source.
Earlier, the Prime Minister spoke of her desire for “concrete progress” in the Brexit negotiations as she arrived at the summit.
“This Council is about taking stock. It is also about looking ahead to how we can tackle the challenges that we all share across Europe.
“That means of course continued co-operation, co-operation which must be at the heart of the strong future partnership that we want to build together.
“Of course we will also be looking at the concrete progress that has been made in our exit negotiations and setting out ambitious plans for the weeks ahead.
Ms Merkel appeared to offer Mrs May some support in the quest for a deal
“I particularly want to see an urgency in reaching an agreement on citizens’ rights,” she said.
Soon after, the Prime Minister was seen in the summit building deep in conversation with Mrs Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron, the two most influential national leaders in the EU.
The German Chancellor had appeared to offer the Prime Minister some support in the quest for a deal.
As she arrived at the summit, Mrs Merkel signalled that the leaders of the 27 nations staying in the EU may be ready to agree to allow the talks to move on to trade at the next EU Council gathering in Brussels before Christmas.
She said enough progress had been made to encourage her to think it will be possible to “take the work forward and then reach the start of the second phase in December”.
European Council president Donald Tusk has indicated the EU27 may agree on Friday to begin internal “scoping discussions” on their position on a possible trade deal.
But he also called for “more concrete proposals from the British side” in the wrangle, signalling a desire for more concessions on the divorce bill demand.
And other leaders arriving at the summit echoed the plea for more details from Mrs May.
Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte said the Prime Minister had failed to provide the “clarity” European leaders wanted on Britain’s financial settlement in her speech in Florence last month.
He said: “I think that Theresa May has to come up with more clarity on what she meant with ‘honour commitments’ in her Florence speech.
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“I phoned her last week to encourage her to do that and so far she hasn’t.”
Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said: “I hope we can decide the next phase in December’s meeting, but today we are not in that position.”
Mr Sipila said he was “not yet” preparing for the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal.
European Parliament president Antonio Tajani, who has dismissed Britain’s £18billion offer as “peanuts”, also called for more concessions yesterday.
In a news conference at the summit, he said: “Progress so far has not been satisfactory.
“We heard the tone of the speech by Mrs May, but I am still waiting to see the tone of that speech – the more flexible approach – transformed into practical deeds.”