LONDON/BRUSSELS - British Prime Minister Theresa May expects divorce talks with the European Union to be difficult, she said on Sunday in response to the tough stance taken by EU leaders over the forthcoming Brexit negotiations.
EU leaders endorsed stiff divorce terms for Britain at a Brussels summit on Saturday, warning Britons to have "no illusions" about swiftly securing a new relationship to retain access to EU markets and to be prepared for the complexity of issues such as residency rights for EU citizens.
"What this shows, and what some of the other comments we've seen coming from European leaders shows, is that there are going to be times when these negotiations are going to be tough," May told the BBC.
Brussels is concerned about the British government's state of preparation for enormously complicated negotiations and over the degree of understanding in London of what kind of compromises it will have to make to clinch any kind of deal.
EU officials said that European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier's talks with May in London on Wednesday did nothing to ease that concern.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, repeating a comment she made after Juncker's meeting with May, said she was still worried by "illusions" in Britain about the Brexit talks.
May reaffirmed her position that she would be prepared to walk away from talks without a deal if she did not like what was on offer from Brussels.
'Strong hand crucial'
"I wouldn't have said it if I didn't believe that," May said in a separate interview with ITV television. "What I also believe is that, with the right strong hand in negotiations, we can get a good deal for the UK."
May, who came to power after Britons decided last year to leave the EU, has called a national election in an attempt to win a public mandate and a bigger majority in parliament to help to execute her plan to leave the EU's single market and pursue a free trade deal with the bloc.
Many of her European counterparts question whether May really is prepared to take Britain into legal limbo on March 30, 2019, if there is no deal. European Council President Donald Tusk has argued repeatedly that while such a move would be bad for the EU, it would be much costlier for Britain.
Nonetheless, leaders stated in their negotiating guidelines, approved within minutes at Saturday's summit, that they would be prepared to deal with a situation in which talks collapse.
The Belgian prime minister warned colleagues against falling into a "trap" set by British negotiators trying to divide them, while others cautioned May that it was in Britain's interests, too, to ensure the other 27 stick together.
Noting the unusually harmonious mood of the summit, Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny told reporters: "When the negotiations start and detailed, more complex discussions have to take place, obviously some countries will assign bigger priorities to different issues.