European Council president Donald Tusk has quoted lyrics from John Lennon’s Imagine to suggest the door remains open to the UK staying in the EU.
Ahead of a Brussels summit he said of the prospect: “You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
Prime Minister Theresa May will outline to her fellow leaders her plans for the issue of expats’ rights after Brexit.
It is the first European summit since she lost her Commons majority in the general election.
And it comes the day after measures to enable Brexit dominated the Queen’s Speech and with the Conservatives still trying to secure the Commons support needed to pass their programme.
Brexit negotiations began on Monday.
Mr Tusk said “it is a most difficult process, for which the EU is well prepared. You can hear different predictions coming from different people about the possible outcome of these negotiations – hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal”.
“Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU.
“I told them that, in fact, the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows. You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one.”
Chancellor Philip Hammond told BBC Radio 4’s Today he wanted an early agreement on the principle of a “transitional” period to reassure business there would not be a “cliff edge” when the UK leaves the EU at the end of March 2019.
This would provide a “smooth path” from “where we are now” to where the UK would end up post-Brexit, he said.
Mr Hammond – who insisted he agreed with the PM that no deal was better than one which sought to “punish” the UK for leaving – also denied that a series of controversial Conservative manifesto commitments had been dumped in the wake of the disappointing election result.
He told Today that the manifesto was for a five-year period, but the Queen’s Speech programme had been for the first two years, which are dominated by the process of Brexit.
Both the UK and the rest of the EU say they want to come to an arrangement to secure the status of about 3.2 million EU nationals living in the UK, and 900,000 Britons overseas, but nothing has been decided so far.
UK opposition parties have urged the government to make a unilateral guarantee to the EU migrants – but ministers have insisted a reciprocal deal is needed to ensure British expats are protected.
Downing Street did not reveal details of Mrs May’s proposals, but the PM has previously called for the issue to be settled as quickly as possible.
Full details of her plans are expected to be published on Monday.
Mrs May will not be present when the leaders of the remaining 27 EU states hold a brief discussion about Brexit after her presentation. They are expected to consider the relocation of the two EU agencies governing medicine and banking which are currently based in London.
Of the 27 bills in the Queen’s Speech, eight related to Brexit and its impact on immigration, trade and sectors such as fisheries and farming.
At the centre was the so-called Repeal Bill, which will copy over all EU laws into UK law, with Parliament then deciding which bits to retain.
With MPs voting on the speech next week, the Conservatives are hoping an arrangement with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party will be in place to support their minority government.
But despite both sides saying they were confident of a deal being agreed, sources suggested to the BBC the DUP were “getting to the limits” of what they were requesting in return for supporting the Tories – with the chances of a plausible long-term deal, rather than a short-term bargain to get the Queen’s Speech through, diminishing.
BBC political correspondent Ben Wright said that if the Queen’s Speech was approved it was likely to mark the start of a “gruelling often nail-biting period of parliamentary attrition” dominated by Brexit legislation.
As well as clearing the Commons, the legislation will also have to navigate the House of Lords, where the Tories also do not have a majority.
Amid questions that peers could seek to break with convention and block legislation because the Conservatives failed to win an overall majority, Labour’s Lords leader Baroness Smith said the unelected chamber would respect the primacy of the Commons.
However, she stressed this did not mean the government, suggesting any amendments backed by MPs could be supported by peers.
Another potential obstacle could emerge if the approval of the Scottish Parliament is needed for the Repeal Bill.
Speaking in the Commons after the Queen’s Speech, Mrs May said there was a “possibility” the bill, which is needed to stop EU law applying in the UK, could require Holyrood’s consent.
“That is a matter which is currently being considered both here and in Scotland,” she said.
At the two-day summit, where the agenda is formally dominated by immigration, security and the economy, Mrs May will also brief her counterparts on the UK’s commitment to a new £75m plan designed to stem the flow of illegal migrants from Africa to Europe.
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