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'Imagine' if Britain stays in EU? Discord at EU summit

Associated Press logo Associated Press 6/22/2017 By RAF CASERT, Associated Press
European Council President Donald Tusk, right, speaks with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures in which to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) © The Associated Press European Council President Donald Tusk, right, speaks with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures in which to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

BRUSSELS (AP) — While European Union chief Donald Tusk may still be "a dreamer" hoping that Britain is having second thoughts on leaving the EU, other leaders at Thursday's EU summit tried to shake him back to reality.

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo) © The Associated Press British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

Discord over whether the exit process could still be reversed surfaced at the summit in Brussels as British Prime Minister Theresa May was preparing to brief the 27 EU other leaders on the Brexit negotiations that started this week.

European Council President Donald Tusk, right, speaks with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures in which to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) © The Associated Press European Council President Donald Tusk, right, speaks with Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures in which to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Tusk said when British friends asked him if he could imagine a way for Britain to remain part of the bloc, he told them "the EU was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve."

British Prime Minister Theresa May, right, speaks with from left, French President Emmanuel Macron, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures in which to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert) © The Associated Press British Prime Minister Theresa May, right, speaks with from left, French President Emmanuel Macron, Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, European Parliament President Antonio Tajani and German Chancellor Angela Merkel during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, June 22, 2017. European Union leaders are gathering for a two day summit to weigh measures in which to tackle terrorism and migration and to create closer defense ties. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

"So who knows? You may say I am a dreamer but I'm not the only one," Tusk continued, quoting a lyric from the late John Lennon's "Imagine."

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel, however, said the will of the British people who voted in a June 2016 referendum to leave the bloc had to be respected.

"I am not a dreamer. And I am not the only one," Michel said.

Michel insisted Brexit negotiations should proceed without fanciful distractions.

"What we also need is certainty, for our companies in Belgium, in Europe," he said. "If we back this image that Brexit perhaps would not happen, it brings an uncertainty."

German Chancellor Angela Merkel also was focused on imagining an EU without Britain.

"For me, shaping the future of the 27 (remaining) member states has priority over the question of the negotiations with Britain on its exit," Merkel said.

When May officially triggered the two-year unraveling process in March, she forced the EU to realize it was losing one of its biggest members and a global player.

Tusk, who grew up in Communist Poland before the Soviet Union collapsed in 1991, said, however, that his personal history has taught him never to give up hope.

And he has not been alone.

French President Emmanuel Macron said last week that the door is still open for Britain to remain. He said from a European point of view, as long as the negotiations are not over, there is still a possibility to change the course of the events.

Tusk has seen history change before his eyes in Poland.

"Miracles do happen and some of my political dreams have come true," he said.

In contrast, EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker is a hard-nosed realist.

"In Europe, I never have illusions because I don't want to lose them," Juncker said.

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