May underlined the “difficult political background” she faces if she returns home empty-handed and said she had realised at the end of the summer what difficulties the talks were in.
“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying and I made a step forward,” she was quoted as saying by a British official, referring to a speech she made in Florence on Sept. 22.
Merkel repeatedly referred to the speech as an “important” signal from May.
There was no discussion after May spoke, according to an EU diplomat. Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, said only that the leaders took note of her comments. Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte told reporters that she had made no new proposals.
Weakened after losing her Conservatives’ majority in a June election and by failing to rally support at an ill-fated party conference, May needs to keep the talks on the road to silence the voices calling for her to walk away from the negotiations.
The talks have stalled largely over how much money Britain owes when it leaves the bloc, with EU leaders urging May on Thursday to give more detail on how she will settle the bill.
May instead proposed more moves to protect the rights of EU citizens in Britain — one of three issues the bloc says must be settled before moving to discuss a future trading relationship.
After May leaves the summit on Friday morning, the other 27 leaders are due to call on their staff to prepare for talks on a transition period that would smooth Britain’s exit in 2019.
That may be enough for May to stave off an attempt by several Brexit campaigners for her to walk away.
“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” May told the other leaders, according to the British official.