How are Europe's politicians reacting to Theresa May's big Brexit speech?

Mark Sands
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The UK voted to leave the European Union on 23 June. (Source: Getty)

After taking a night to digest Theresa May's landmark address at Lancaster House yesterday, Europe's politicians are slowly stirring to issue their own thoughts on the Prime Minister's Brexit plan.

German chancellor Angela Merkel has led the way with some brief comments at a press conference with the Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni.

"This speech made clear what the UK wants to do. Still the negotiations only start when Article 50 is triggered," Merkel said.

"We agreed we will coordinate our positions. In relation to our economies, I'm not afraid. I think we'll stick together.

"Europe must not be divided and we will make sure this doesn't happen by keeping very close contacts with each other."

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Her sentiment was echoed by European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker who told MEPs in Strasbourg that he "would do everything to reach a balanced solution", while specifically referencing May's comments to say that "a speech does not trigger a negotiation"

European Council president Donald Tusk similarly told MEPs that May's speech showed Downing Street understood messages from Europe on the ability to retain Single Market membership without signing up for Freedom of Movement.

"It would be good if our partners also understood that there will be no place for pick-and-choose tactics in our future negotiations," Tusk added.

"At the same time I want to underline, that we took note of the warm and balanced words of Prime Minister May on European integration, which were much closer to the narrative of Winston Churchill than that of the American President-elect Trump."

Read More: "Privileged" Single Market access is critical for London, says Khan

It comes after May yesterday had phone calls with Juncker, Tusk, Merkel and outgoing French president Francois Hollande.

Downing Street said the EU chiefs had welcomed "greater clarity" on the UK's position, while Merkel and Hollande both appreciated May's commitment to supporting the EU after Brexit.

Read More: It's May way or the Highway: PM confirms UK will seek bespoke Brexit deal

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Before speaking to the Prime Minister yesterday, Tusk gave May's comments a cautious welcome, noting that the Prime Minister's comments were "realistic"

While, Czech Europe minister Tomas Prouza said May's plans were "ambitious".

Sweden's former foreign minister Carl Bildt said that many EU members would have preferred a closer relationship with the UK

And the vice-president of Marine Le Pen's Front National added that May's comments showed commitment to a "clear" Brexit and respect for British voters.

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