EU President Donald Tusk is in London for talks with Prime Minister Theresa May about Britain's plans to leave the EU. Going into the meeting, he told the UK "the ball is now in your court."
"Our goal [is] to establish [the] closest possible EU-UK relations," Tusk wrote on Twitter before Thursday's meeting in Downing Street.
Later, going into talks with May, the European Council President added: "I'm aware that it is not easy, but I still hope you will be ready to start the process [of leaving the EU] as soon as possible."
Tusk said he would "discuss process for Brexit" (Britain's exit) with May, ahead of a meeting of the other 27 EU leaders in Bratislava next week, which will not include Britain.
Thursday's meeting was the first head-to-head discussion since British voters decided to leave the bloc, in a June 23 referendum. The result led to the resignation of her predecessor David Cameron.
Following the talks, a spokeswoman for May said the meeting had been friendly, adding that the British leader had told Tusk that a "smooth process" of leaving was essential. May told Tusk that Britain wants to see a strong EU post Brexit, the spokeswoman added.
Historic moment nears
The EU is waiting for the UK to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the formal step required to start the departure process, which is supposed to take two years.
May has said that Britain won't begin the divorce proceedings until next year, to give her government time to prepare for negotiations that will shape the country's future relations with the rest of Europe for many years.
On Wednesday, May's spokeswoman said the two leaders would not only talk Brexit, but would also discuss issues on the agenda for the October meeting of EU leaders, suggesting that Britain still plans to play a role.
May has said she will not show her hand before starting the talks, giving few details of what her government wants when it leaves the EU.
But she has indicated that the UK would be looking for a bespoke deal, and will not simply follow Norway's example, which is a member of the single market but also bound by the free movement of people, a principle that allows EU nationals to live anywhere within the bloc.
Immigration deal vital
May has said that reducing immigration into Britain is crucial, having been a major factor in the public's decision to vote to leave the EU.
But EU leaders have warned that membership of the single market is conditional on Britain accepting the free movement of people.
On Thursday, EU financial services commissioner Valdis Dombrovskis reaffirmed Brussels' position, warning that Britain's financial industry would be weakened without access to the single market.
At the same time, UK Trade Minister Liam Fox said that Britain was moving forward with plans to develop ties with countries outside the EU, telling parliament that the government had set up a working group with India.
Meanwhile, EU Foreign Policy chief Federica Mogherini said Thursday that EU states should pursue military integration, as a way of reviving the European project following the Brexit result.
mm/jil (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)