Theresa May is holding talks with EU Nato members as she attempts to build alliances ahead of Brexit.
The prime minister arrived in the Maltese capital Valletta with a message that Europe must increase its defence spending, following her talks about the future of Nato with Donald Trump.
The UK is one of the few alliance members to meet pledges to spend a minimum of 2% of GDP on defence.
Mrs May will also pledge UK help with the EU migrant crisis post Brexit.
She will argue that she wants a “new, positive and constructive” relationship with the EU after Brexit – and will use one-to-one talks with German chancellor Angela Merkel and Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy to promise the UK will remain a “reliable partner”.
She is also expected to stress that a strong EU is in the interests of the UK.
Mrs May’s visit comes two days after MPs voted to allow her to get Brexit negotiations under way.
She is expected to have an informal “brush by” with Malta’s prime minister, Joseph Muscat, who told the BBC’s World Service that while he wants a “fair deal” for the UK after Brexit, it must be “inferior” to full EU membership.
“No one wants the UK economy to suffer, I think this is a lose-lose situation,” said Mr Muscat, whose country holds the rotating European Council presidency.
While he says he expects a transitional deal for Britain will be agreed quite easily, he stressed: “Now, in my book if you’re not part of the single market, that is an inferior deal. But maybe for the British government if you’re not part of the single market but get to control your borders that’s a superior deal.”
Mrs May was the first foreign leader to visit the Trump White House and she will use the European Council summit to tell Nato members they need to increase their spending on defence.
Mr Trump had previously called the transatlantic alliance “obsolete”, but Mrs May will tell EU leaders that at talks in the US last week, he confirmed he was “100% behind Nato”.
But while close trade and strategic ties with the Trump administration are central to Downing Street’s plans for Britain after Brexit, relations between the White House and European leaders are already strained, after the US ban on refugees and visa holders from a number of mainly Muslim countries.
‘Sharing the burden’
Speaking at a joint press conference in Washington with President Trump last Friday, Mrs May said the burden of spending within Nato should be more “fairly shared”.
Nato estimates for 2016 show that only five alliance members – the US, UK, Greece, Poland and Estonia – will spend a minimum of 2% of national output (GDP) on defence, which is the target.
However, Swedish foreign minister Margot Wallström told the BBC her country, which is an EU member but not a full Nato member, will not commit to the 2% target.
“No… We’ll put together a parliamentary commission that will look into this and decide what priorities there should be on defence spending in the future,” she told Radio 4’s Today.
She also dismissed the suggestion President Trump could be brought on board by European countries if they committed to that 2% target, adding: “That means you will have to reduce other types of spending, so you’ll always have to make a political choice.
“I really think we should invest in building peace and making sure that we have a political situation in Europe and the world that reduces the tensions and creates better chances for peace.”
Mr Trump has said that Nato allies are over-reliant on the US and has questioned whether the US should defend any alliance partner, under Article 5, if so many of the 28 Nato members are not paying their way.
But Ms Wallström said: “Sometimes it’s an advantage of not being a member of Nato – we decide for ourselves. We decide also our own spending and budget.”
Mrs May is expected to depart from Valletta after morning discussions, leaving the remaining EU leaders to discuss plans for a summit in Rome in March and the future of the EU.