The UK is to give up its scheduled six-month presidency of the European Council as it prepares to leave the bloc.
It had been due to start in July 2017. Britain wants to concentrate instead on the negotiations to leave the EU.
The news came from Downing Street after a conversation between Theresa May and the European Council President Donald Tusk.
“The Prime Minister suggested that the UK should relinquish the rotating Presidency of the Council, currently scheduled for the second half of 2017, noting that we would be prioritising the negotiations to leave the European Union,” said a spokeswoman for Theresa May.
The British prime minister is due in Berlin later on Wednesday for talks with Chancellor Merkel before heading on to Paris.
Germany says there will be no pre-negotiations on Britain’s exit terms – although leaders can still hold informal discussions.
“When we say, and the German and European positions are similar, that there could be no pre-negotiations with Britain before Britain has officially activated Article 50 (of the Lisbon Treaty), that does not mean that we can’t talk to each other,” said Steffen Seibert, a spokesman for the German Chancellor.
A UK government lawyer says the formal divorce process will not begin this year. In the High Court Jason Coppell referred to statements made by Theresa May. However he indicated that the government’s current position could change.
There is concern over whether key Brexit goals on immigration and trade may both be attainable.
“What we need to do in negotiating the deal is to ensure that we listen to what people have said about the need for controls on free movement, but we also negotiate the right deal and the best deal of trade in goods and services for the British people,” Theresa May told the House of Commons as she took her first session of Prime Ministers’ Questions.
May’s meetings with Merkel and then François Hollande are seen as important in setting the tone for the months ahead.
Questioned about last week’s terror attack in Nice, May said Britain would continue to support its allies in tough times.
“We need to continue our security cooperation with France and indeed other European countries. We will not be cowed by terrorists, we both face the same threats and we need to work together in order to defeat those threats. And I can absolutely confirm that yes the United Kingdom will leave the European Union, but the United Kingdom is not leaving Europe, and our cooperation will continue,” she told Parliament.
As the prime minister heads to the continent for the first time as leader, her German and French counterparts – both facing re-election next year – are under pressure to give Britain few concessions.