BRUSSELS • British Prime Minister Theresa May will be left out in the cold when her European counterparts have dinner without her to push for a quick Brexit.
All the European Union (EU) leaders including Mrs May will discuss key issues - including sanctions against Russia, Ukraine and Syria - at a one-day summit in Brussels tomorrow, and meet new Italian premier Paolo Gentiloni.
But she will not be invited to the evening session where the other leaders are to discuss their plans for the first-ever exit of a member state from the crisis-hit bloc, following Britain's referendum vote in June this year.
The 27 leaders minus Mrs May - known as the EU 27 - are expected to issue a statement saying they agree to launch talks "as quickly as possible" after Mrs May triggers the two-year divorce process, which she has promised to do by the end of March next year.
They will also agree that the European Commission's chief Brexit negotiator, former French minister Michel Barnier, "will be in the front line, in coordination with the member states".
NO OFFENCE TAKEN
Those remaining in the EU also need to have discussions about how they are going to handle the departure process. That's reasonable. We would expect that.
A SPOKESMAN FOR BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY
The EU 27 have refused all negotiations with Britain until the process begins, while warning that Mrs May is likely to have only a short window until October 2018 to broker a deal.
Mrs May has previously insisted that Britain be involved in issues involving all 28 members but London said it was not taking her exclusion from tomorrow's special Brexit dinner as a snub.
"Those remaining in the EU also need to have discussions about how they are going to handle the departure process. That's reasonable. We would expect that," her spokesman said.
Negotiations are set to be tough, with the EU refusing to let Britain "cherry-pick" benefits, including access to the single market, while there is a row about the status of EU citizens living in Britain and vice versa.
At the main session of the summit, the leaders are expected to back the six-month renewal of economic sanctions against Russia over the Ukraine conflict, despite little appetite among some of them, and fears that United States President-elect Donald Trump would take a much softer line on Moscow.
Ukraine poses a fresh headache with the Dutch government scrambling to negotiate a way past a referendum in April in which the Netherlands voted against a key EU-Ukraine pact. The Netherlands is the only one of the 28 EU states that has not ratified the deal so far.
Leaders will also discuss Syria, as Russian-backed government forces clear last pockets of resistance in Aleppo, but they look likely to back away from sanctions against Moscow, as they did at a summit in October.
The leaders will discuss the migration crisis spawned by the conflict in Syria, focusing on reforms to the EU's common asylum system amid rows about how to share the burden of front-line states such as Greece.