The European Union warned the U.K. that its remaining 27 countries are now its chief concern rather than anything Theresa May might want to achieve from Brexit as it seeks to limit negative consequences from Britain’s departure.

“Our position is determined by the interests of the 27,” European Commission Vice President Frans Timmermans told reporters on Thursday at a meeting of national ministers in Luxembourg. It was the first time since the U.K. joined the EU in 1973 that official EU ministerial talks have taken place without a British representative.

The European affairs ministers signed off on the Brexit negotiating guidelines that will form the basis of talks with the U.K. over the next 18 months, covering the EU’s starting position on issues ranging from the rights of European citizens in Britain, the U.K.’s financial obligations and when the two sides can start discussing a potential free-trade deal.

“This is a damage-limitation process,” Italy’s junior minister for European affairs, Sandro Gozi, said in an interview with Bloomberg TV in Luxembourg.

Saturday Summit

The guidelines are due to be approved by leaders of the 27 EU countries at a summit in Brussels on Saturday. Talks with the U.K. are scheduled to begin shortly after the British election on June 8.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said in Berlin that the U.K. can’t expect preferential treatment, telling her national parliament that some officials in London are still harboring “illusions” about that.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker who, along with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, met with May in London on Wednesday, explained to the British prime minister that it’s essential to come to a swift agreement on an orderly exit, commission spokesman Margaritis Schinas told reporters in Brussels on Thursday.

Barnier entered the Luxembourg talks with the words: “We are ready.”

Topics Europe