LONDON (AFP) - Britain will no longer take on the rotating European Union presidency as planned next year, relinquishing the role in the wake of the Brexit vote, Prime Minister Theresa May's office said on Wednesday (July 20).
Ms May informed European Council president Donald Tusk of her decision in a phone call on Tuesday, noting that her government will be "very busy with negotiations to leave the EU", a spokesman said.
"The prime minister suggested that the UK should relinquish the rotating Presidency of the Council, currently scheduled for the second half of 2017, noting that we would be prioritising the negotiations to leave the European Union," the spokesman said. "Donald Tusk welcomed the prime minister's swift decision on this issue which would allow the council to put alternative arrangements in place."
Belgium is ready to take on Britain's presidency, a Belgian official said on Wednesday. "Belgium is ready to take over this presidency if we are asked," Foreign Ministry spokesman Didier Vanderhasselt told AFP.
The presidency of the Council - the gathering of national ministers from the EU's 28 member states - rotates among members every six months.
EU ambassadors will meet later on Wednesday to decide who will replace Britain.
Slovakia currently has the presidency, until Dec 31, followed by Malta. Britain was due to take it from July 1 until Dec 31, 2017.
Ms May repeated to Mr Tusk that she wanted to approach negotiations on extricating Britain from its 43-year-old members of the bloc "in a constructive and pragmatic spirit" but will need time to prepare, the spokesman said.
She added: "Donald Tusk reassured the prime minister that he will help to make this process happen as smoothly as possible.
"They concluded by looking forward to a strong working relationship and agreed that they should meet soon in Brussels or London."