The Latest: EU president sees 'arduous' task ahead

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  • FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016 file photo, a Union Jack flag and a European flag blow in the wind in front of the city hall in London. To kick off the formal process of pulling out of the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May will have to trigger Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which will give both sides up to two years to agree to the terms of the divorce. May has said that she will start the process by the end of March - meaning that Britain can expect to be out of the EU by mid-2019. But many uncertainties about the withdrawal process remain because Article 50 has never been used before. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file)

    FILE - In this Thursday, Aug. 18, 2016 file photo, a Union Jack flag and a European flag blow in the wind in front of the city hall in London. To kick off the formal process of pulling out of the bloc, Prime Minister Theresa May will have to trigger ... Article 50 of the EU Treaty, which will give both sides up to two years to agree to the terms of the divorce. May has said that she will start the process by the end of March - meaning that Britain can expect to be out of the EU by mid-2019. But many uncertainties about the withdrawal process remain because Article 50 has never been used before. (AP Photo/Frank Augstein, file) (The Associated Press)

  • Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on leaving the European Union at Lancaster House in London, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, pool)

    Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May delivers a speech on leaving the European Union at Lancaster House in London, Tuesday, Jan. 17, 2017. (AP Photo/Kirsty Wigglesworth, pool) (The Associated Press)

  • German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes the Prime Minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni, left, for a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)

    German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, welcomes the Prime Minister of Italy Paolo Gentiloni, left, for a meeting at the chancellery in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn) (The Associated Press)

The Latest on Britain's decision to leave the European Union (all times local):

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10:50 a.m.

The head of the European Union presidency warns of an "arduous task" ahead in the EU's talks with Britain over its decision to leave the bloc and said Prime Minister Theresa May would find a united group across the negotiating table.

Prime Minister Joseph Muscat of Malta, which holds the EU rotating presidency, told the EU legislature that May's desire for a far-reaching free trade deal and other relations with the bloc once it had departed had to be "necessarily inferior to membership."

Muscat said that even during transitional periods as Britain detaches itself, "European rules and institutions cannot be compromised" and said it "will be an arduous task."

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British Prime Minister Theresa May's promise of a clean but friendly exit from the European Union drew strikingly different responses Wednesday: optimism in Britain, skepticism on the other side of the English Channel.

Buoyant British officials hailed May's aim of "a bold and ambitious free trade agreement with the EU" alongside new trade deals between the U.K. and other nations.

Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson says countries were "already queuing up" to make deals.

But European officials poured cold water on U.K. optimism about a smooth, mutually beneficial Brexit. European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said the "days of U.K. cherry-picking and Europe a la carte are over."