The EU has warned Theresa May she cannot formally begin negotiating with Donald Trump
The UK can only have informal discussions with the new US president, the EU said just days before Theresa May meets Mr Trump for the first time.
A spokesman for the European Commission said: “There is nothing in the treaties that prohibits you from discussing trade.
“You can only negotiate a trade agreement after you leave the European Union.”
He referenced Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the Commission, who said he did not like member states negotiating their own deals outside of the EU.
The EU has told the UK it cannot begin formal negotiations while still a member state
Mr Juncker said in September: “I do not like that member states of the European Union, including those that are still a member state, are negotiating free trade agreements. This is an exclusive matter of the European Union.”
The comments were backed up by Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat.
Mr Muscat said: “It’s very clear that in order to sign and have a bilateral agreement with third countries, the UK first needs to reach a settlement with the EU.
Mr Trump's administration has already stated it will make the UK-US relationship "even closer"
“This is rather clear, and I believe that it’s also in the minds of the British negotiators.
“The first priority is to ensure that the deal on the U.K.’s exit from the EU is ironed out.”
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The statement came as Mr Trump’s press secretary Sean Spicer said the Trump administration intended to make the special relationship between the UK and the USA “even closer”.
The best photos from Donald Trump's historic inauguration
Mon, January 23, 2017
The inauguration of Donald Trump as the 45th President of the United States will mark the commencement of the four-year term of Donald Trump as President and Mike Pence as Vice President. A public ceremony will be held on Friday, January 20, 2017.
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President Donald Trump waves as he walks with first lady Melania Trump and son Barron during the inauguration parade.
He said this evening: "We're announcing Theresa May coming this Friday, we're excited to have the Prime Minister here.
"I think we've always had that special relationship with Britain and that reflects in the Prime Minister's first visit.
"He had a great conversation and he looks forward to having her here and we can always be closer."
Mrs May said she hopes to host Donald Trump in Downing Street later this year
Mr Trump has already made his feeling towards the EU clear by stating Britain was "smart" to leave the bloc.
He said: "Brexit is going to end up being a great thing.
"We're gonna work very hard to get [a trade dea] done quickly and done properly. Good for both sides."