The president of the European Council has said he still wants Britain to remain part of the EU, minutes after Theresa May told him there was no going back on Brexit.
Donald Tusk said he would be the “happiest one” if the UK reversed the decision to quit and stuck with the bloc for years to come.
His admission came at an early-hours press conference on Friday, following a dinner with all EU leaders where Prime Minister Mrs May insisted there would be no second referendum.
She told her counterparts directly that Britain would be leaving after suggestions in Europe that the referendum result could be revisited.
But at the end of the summit dinner, Mr Tusk told reporters: “It’s not our choice and if you ask me I would prefer 28 members not only for the next month, but also for the next years and decades.
“After the decision in the UK we have to respect the decision of the referendum. If it is reversible or not, this is in the British hands.
“I would be the happiest one if it reversible but we now we have to start our formal works.”
At the European Council Mrs May was told Britain would not be given an easy ride as it severs ties with Brussels.
French president Francois Hollande warned the UK would face “hard” negotiations if it wanted to make a clean break with the bloc and European Parliament president Martin Schulz urged European leaders to “stand firm” in negotiations with Britain.
Leaders will discuss trade rules when the European Council continues on Friday, including anti-dumping measures.
Mrs May will then hold talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, which No 10 sources said would be an “opportunity to establish a relationship” and talk about “how we see the process ahead”.