December 13, 2018 / 1:10 PM / 7 months ago

Highlights: EU leaders arrive for two-day summit dominated by Brexit

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Union leaders arrive in Brussels for two days of talks on Brexit, the euro zone, migration and Russia, among others.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Piroschka van de Wouw

Below are some of their comments made on arrival.

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON

“We can have a political discussion tonight, but the legal framework and the agreement that were negotiated are not supposed to change.”

“It’s important to avoid any ambiguity: we cannot reopen a legal agreement, we can’t renegotiate what was negotiated for several months.”

“It’s up to Theresa May to tell us what political solution she expects to pursue to find a majority for this deal.”

IRELAND PRIME MINISTER LEO VARADKAR

“The kind of things that we talked about was how we might give the UK government a greater assurance that the future relationship treaty will actually be negotiated in an expeditious manner and will be negotiated and agreed long before we’d have to consider things such as the extension to the transition period or the implementation of the backstop.”

“In that space, we all accept that the backstop is the backstop, it’s an insurance policy, nobody wants us to have to invoke it. And if it is invoked, we want to make sure that it’s only for as short a period as possible.”

“If the backstop has an expiry date, if there is a unilateral exit clause, this is not a backstop. That would be to render it inoperable. That would mean reopening the substance of the withdrawal agreement and the European Union is unequivocal that this is not an option.”

“The objective here is to get this agreement ratified.”

“The United Kingdom is leaving the European Union. Any agreement that deals with the withdrawal has to be an agreement between the EU and the UK ... Ireland is Europe when it comes to these negotiations.”

“What we want is an enduring assurance that there will not be a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland no matter what the circumstances. That an assurance that the UK government gave us over a year ago ... The Withdrawal Agreement puts that into law and now we’d like to see that agreement ratified.”

“It’s within the gift of the UK government and the UK parliament to take the threat of no-deal off the table. It’s possible if the UK wishes to revoke the Article 50 ... or to seek an extension of the Article 50 so that the UK parliament has more time to come together and decide what they would like the outcome to be.”

“It seems to me there is majority in Westminster in favor of the proposition that there shouldn’t be a no deal.”

LITHUANIAN PRESIDENT DALIA GRYBAUSKAITE

“Brexit Christmas wish: finally decide what you really want and Santa will deliver,” she said on Twitter in posting a picture of a chocolate Christmas tree.

GERMAN CHANCELLOR ANGELA MERKEL

“I think the withdrawal agreement has been negotiated very well.”

“We have our principles and I do not see how the withdrawal agreement can be changed. We can (see) if there are additional assurances but in this the 27 EU member states are together and make their interests clear.”

“We want very, very good relations with Great Britain after Great Britain has left the European Union.”

AUSTRIA CHANCELLOR SEBASTIAN KURZ

“We are prepared to accommodate Theresa May.”

ROMANIAN PRESIDENT KLAUS IOHANNIS

“I think we have a good deal. My impression is that on the British side, people have not yet understood that this is a good deal.”

DUTCH PRIME MINISTER MARK RUTTE

“It is impossible to open the negotiated withdrawal agreement. That is now a given.

“There is nobody in their right mind in Europe who wants to use the backstop.”

“The UK decided to leave the EU, to draw these red lines.”

“Given Brexit, given the red lines, this deal is now on the table.”

“We cannot break open or start to re-negotiate the withdrawal agreement. Then it is about clarification, the question is what language you put in this clarification. This is all up for debate.”

“Today is about demystifying this whole Northern Ireland backstop. Nobody in the EU wants to use it. But we need to have it.”

“How to make that clarification on paper - that’s something we have to look at tonight.”

Q: Would EU extend Article 50?

A: “If and when. It’s up to the UK to ask for that. At the moment, no such thing is on the table.”

ESTONIA PRIME MINISTER JURI RATAS

“I am sure that both sides, we need the agreement. The United Kingdom and also the European Union.”

FINLAND PRIME MINISTER JUHA SIPILA

“We want to help, first of all. Our goal is that the new relationship is ready before the backstop (enters into force).”

“Legally binding will be a bit difficult ... Let’s see if we can find something from the legal side as well.”

BRITISH PRIME MINISTER THERESA MAY

“I recognize the strength of concern in the House of Commons and that is what I will be putting to colleagues today.”

“I don’t expect an immediate breakthrough but what I do hope is that we can start work as quickly as possible on the assurances that are necessary.”

“I said that in my heart I would love to able to lead the Conservative Party into the next general election but I think it is right that the party feels it would prefer to go into that election with a new leader.”

“I will be seeking the legal and political assurances I believe we need.”

LUXEMBOURG PRIME MINISTER XAVIER BETTEL

“We will clarify certain points. We will not renegotiate the whole document. I am happy that Mrs May received support yesterday because otherwise we would have been heading towards a no deal.”

“You should not forget that the whole referendum was based on lies. There were so many people who said that billions of euros would come back from Brussels into the health service ... I would be not against it if Theresa May said rather a second referendum than a no deal ... This idea that you could just leave Europe in a mere click of the fingers and that you would only get benefits - a win for the UK and a loss for the rest of the world - we see that’s not the case.”

“We are ready to help.”

TOP EU DIPLOMAT, FEDERICA MOGHERINI

“The Council ... will confirm our strong position and our demand for Russia to release the vessels and the crews.”

“We’ll reaffirm not only our strong support to territorial integrity and sovereignty of Ukraine but also our strong policy of non-recognition of the annexation of the Crimean peninsula; and a very substantial package of support to Ukraine that the EU has put in place so far and is ready to strengthen.”

ESTONIA PM JURI RATAS

“We must support Ukraine and the people of Ukraine. We must support Ukraine’s territorial integrity and sovereignty.”

CZECH PM ANDREJ BABIS

“It is fully unacceptable that the flow of migrants to Europe is managed by smuggler mafias.”

“We have to help north African countries in a way like we did with Turkey. We have to help individual African countries. We want to help them improve their lives at home.”

FRENCH PRESIDENT EMMANUEL MACRON

“I will explain the choices I made to respond to anger I consider to be legitimate and fair.”

“I will also say how much I consider that this response was both legitimate and important for France, but that it doesn’t hamper in any way our willingness to make real efforts on the budget plan, and in particular in terms of controlling public spending, since what we’re doing is speeding up tax cuts.”

On Strasbourg attack - “It wasn’t only a French city which was hit, our own people, but also a European city, which was wounded a few days ago. I want to express again the solidarity of the whole nation to the victims and their families.”

ANTONIO TAJANI, EUROPEAN PARLIAMENT HEAD

“This is not the time to enter a debate on France”.

Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel arrives at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium December 13, 2018. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

“We are in the process of fighting terrorism.”

“This is not a good moment to discuss other issues.”

“It is not for us to say what should be done in internal French politics.”

Reporting by Philip Blenkinsop, Alastair Macdonald, Jan Strupczewski, Elizabeth Piper, Francesco Guarascio, Gabriela Baczynska, Michel Rose

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