BRUSSELS – The latest on the European Union summit dealing with the Brexit negotiations (all times local)
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The 27 European Union leaders negotiating the exit of Britain from the bloc acknowledged Saturday that Northern Ireland could join the bloc in the future if its people vote to unite with Ireland, an EU member state.
The two share the island, and the difficulties of re-establishing a land border once Britain leaves are immense and politically fraught.
Ireland's Europe Minister Dara Murphy told The Associated Press that a statement on the Northern Ireland issue was added to the minutes of the summit, which is being held without British Prime Minister Theresa May.
Future relations between Ireland and Britain, including how the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland would work with the U.K. outside the bloc, have emerged as a key problem to be addressed during the Brexit talks.
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Belgium's Prime Minister Charles Michel says the 27 EU nations have to beware of British negotiating tactics of trying to split the bloc during the two-year divorce proceedings from the bloc.
Michel said: "Maybe the British government will do its utmost to split the 27 nations and it is trap we need to avoid."
And he said Britain should harbor no illusion of getting out cheaply. "If you are no longer part of a club, it has consequences. A Brexit for free is not possible."
He adds: "It is very important to have a clear message and all of us at 27 say that a cost-free Brexit won't happen."
European Union Council President Donald Tusk says that EU leaders have endorsed the guidelines that will govern the way they conduct negotiations with Britain on its departure from the bloc. Tusk said in a tweet Saturday: "guidelines adopted unanimously. EU 27 firm and fair political mandate for the Brexit talks is ready."
It came as leaders of 27 EU nations met in Brussels without British Prime Minister Theresa May. The negotiations are likely to begin after Britain holds snap elections on June 8.
Sweden's Prime Minister Stefan Lofven says the aim of Saturday's EU meeting is to "get an orderly exit for Britain and a good relationship in the future."
Lofven spoke in Brussels where EU leaders met to finalize the cornerstones of their negotiating stance after May triggered two years of exit talks on March 29. The negotiations are to start shortly after snap elections in Britain on June 8.
His Danish counterpart lars Loekke Rasmussen who also attended the meeting, said leaving the bloc would be "a big challenge for all" but the 27 other EU countries "are not going to punish Britain for leaving the EU cooperation."
Japan's prime minister Shinzo Abe, who met his British counterpart Friday, says he will "continue to trust" the U.K.'s economy after its separation from the European Union.
Abe added that maintaining an open Europe is "a matter of concern to the world." He said he expected that investors from outside the EU will be able to have "clear future prospects" following Brexit.
Abe made the statements Saturday in London after a meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May.
May hailed Japan as Britain's closest Asian security partner and an important economically, noting that 1,000 Japanese companies including Honda, Hitachi and Mitsubishi employ 14,000 people in Britain.
French President Francois Hollande says French voters have a choice to make about the future of Europe when they cast their ballots in the second round of the presidential election next weekend.
Speaking in Brussels, Hollande said the May 7 vote will show "whether the French people should fear an exit from the European Union. They have everything to win by staying in the European Union."
Hollande told reporters at a European Union summit Saturday that "it's a risk" should France follow Britain out of the 28-nation bloc if far-right leader Marine Le Pen becomes president.
He said: "We can see with the Brexit affair, there is no more protection, no more guarantees, no more internal market. For a country that is a member of the eurozone, there is no more single currency."
Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel says he thinks British Prime Minister Theresa May called a snap election was to be able to push for a more personalized exit from the European Union — "Theresa's Brexit."
Bettel said that "before you had the soft Brexit and the hard Brexit, and in future maybe you will have Theresa's Brexit, so maybe that is the reason she organized the elections."
Bettel says what's at stake for May in the June 8 elections is the fact that "she needs a strong mandate for the negotiations."
Bettel adds: "For the moment, we are in suspense."
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte says that as soon as there is sufficient trust between the EU nations and Britain on core issues like citizen's rights, the divorce bill and the Irish border, both sides can proceed to discuss future relations.
Rutte, who stressed the importance of Britain to the Dutch economy, says that "as you get to a certain level, as far as possible, and say now we are confident about this, then we have to swiftly start talking about the future relationships — trade and also politics."
Rutte says it "is in the Dutch interest to have good agreements on the divorce proceedings but also about future relations."
Rutte said he was confident the 27 would start the two-year negotiations standing shoulder to shoulder. He says: "We have to show unity, and I have the impression that we will succeed."
EU Council President Donald Tusk says that Britain will face a united bloc of 27 EU nations in the two years of divorce negotiations and said the welfare of citizens and families living in each other's nations will be the priority once the talks start.
The 27 EU leaders are meeting to finalize the cornerstones of their negotiating stance after British Prime Minister Theresa May triggered the exit talks on March 29. The negotiations themselves are to start shortly after snap elections in Britain on June 8.
Tusk said Saturday that all sides "need solid guarantees for all citizens and their families who will be affected by Brexit on both sides. This must be the No. 1 priority."