The UK will not take up its six-month presidency of the European Council in 2017, the Prime Minister has said.
In the first concrete signs of the country’s preparations to leave the bloc, Theresa May told council president Donald Tusk the UK would be “prioritising the negotiations to leave the EU” so relinquishing the role was “the right thing to do”.
During her first conversation with Mr Tusk since she became Prime Minister, she also warned the UK would need to “carefully prepare” for Brexit negotiations before triggering Article 50, the process that officially starts divorce proceedings.
The council is the body that sets the priorities and general direction of the EU and it is made up of the heads of state from each of the EU countries.
The presidency rotates between the 28 states every six months and the UK was due to take it on in the second half of 2017.
Mr Tusk welcomed her “swift” decision on the issue and said that during their telephone call he had asked Mrs May for a “velvet divorce”.
The Prime Minister travels to Germany this afternoon for what she has described as frank and open talks with her counterpart Angela Merkel.
Speaking ahead of the trip she said she was “determined that Britain will make a success of leaving the European Union” and her visits to Germany and France on Friday was to “forge strong working relationships”.
She said: “I do not underestimate the challenge of negotiating our exit from the European Union and I firmly believe that being able to talk frankly and openly about the issues we face will be an important part of a successful negotiation.
“I also want to deliver a very clear message about the importance we attach to our bilateral relationship with our European partners, not just now but also when we have left the European Union.
“These relationships have been vital in the past and they will be vital in the future as we continue to work together to keep our people safe and to support economic growth that benefits people across our countries.”
The Prime Minister has said she will not trigger Article 50, the official process for starting Brexit, this year.
Mrs May will face Jeremy Corbyn for her first Prime Minister’s Questions before flying out to Germany this afternoon.