Brussels’ most senior official has said he hopes Britain can be persuaded to rejoin the European Union after Brexit.
Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, said: “I don’t like Brexit because I would like to be in the same boat as the British.
“The day will come when the British will re-enter the boat, I hope.”
The comments came at a press conference in Brussels after a summit of EU leaders, the last before Theresa May is expected to trigger Britain’s exit.
Mr Juncker added: “Brexit is not the end of the European Union, nor the end of all our developments, nor the end of our continental ambitions.”
He insisted the prospect of the UK leaving the EU was strengthening the resolve of other member states to carry on their project and said: “The Brexit issue is encouraging the others to continue, unfortunately without the British.”
Ms May was not present for the second day of the talks in Brussels, with the leaders of the other 27 nations considering the future of the bloc after Brexit.
With the Prime Minister expected to trigger Article 50 as early as next week, the meeting was the last chance for the leaders to gather together before the formal withdrawal process begins.
European Council president Donald Tusk stressed the need for “unity” within the EU as it prepares for Brexit in the face of calls for a multi-speed Europe.
Mr Tusk, who was elected to serve a second term on Thursday, said: “It is clear from the debate that the unity of the 27 will be our most precious asset.”
He said “the idea of a multi-speed Europe will be one of the discussions” ahead of a declaration on the future of the EU to coincide with the 60th anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, which laid the foundations for the union, later this month.
Acknowledging the differences within the bloc, Mr Tusk said: “Some expect systemic changes that would loosen intra-EU ties and strengthen the role of nations in relation to the community.
“Others, quite the opposite, are looking for new, deeper dimensions of integration, even if they would apply only to some member states.”
Mr Tusk stressed that Brexit was “not our choice” and his main goal was “to keep Europe united as 27 today”.
It comes after the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator said EU citizens in Britain were the victims of “political games” and that their rights must be the first item in exit talks.
Guy Verhofstadt called for the fate of those three million EU nationals, and of British ex-pats, to be settled before negotiations on the rumoured £50bn “divorce bill” – long thought to be the key early dispute.
He said the Parliament would agree a resolution soon after the Article 50 exit clause was triggered in the next few weeks, which it would expect to guide those talks.
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