Cod, shrimp and iPad jokes _ backstage at the Brexit summit

French President Emmanuel Macron, right, speaks with the media as he arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Riccardo Pareggiani)
Britain's Prime minister Theresa May looks on ahead of a pre-dinner meeting during an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders met Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (Kenzo Tribouillard, Pool Photo via AP)
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, left, meets with European Council President Donald Tusk on the sidelines of an EU summit in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (Aris Oikonomou, Pool Photo via AP)
European Council President Donald Tusk, left, speaks with British Prime Minister Theresa May, center right, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, right, and Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel, center left, prior to a dinner during an EU summit in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders met Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, front right, and deputy government spokeswomen Ulrike Demmer, front left, leave the plenum after a government question and answer round as part of a meeting of the German federal parliament, Bundestag, at the Reichstag building in Berlin, Germany, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. (AP Photo/Michael Sohn)
European Union leaders meet during an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders met Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)
French President Emmanuel Macron,left, greets British Prime Minister Theresa May before a meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris Tuesday, April 9, 2019. A top official at the French presidency says France doesn't rule out granting a further delay to Brexit, just before a planned meeting between Prime minister Theresa May and President Emmanuel Macron in Paris. (AP Photo/Francois Mori)
Climate demonstrators unveil a banner related to Brexit on an EU building during a protest outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
German Chancellor Angela Merkel arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Riccardo Pareggiani)
An anti-Brexit campaigner holds a sign in front of an EU flag during a protest outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
Anti-Brexit campaigner Madeleina Kay, from Sheffield, England, waves an EU flag as she protests outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
European Union flags flap in the wind outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
Anti-Brexit campaigner Madeleina Kay, from Sheffield, England, stands near a placard depicting British Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn as she protests outside EU headquarters in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders meet Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (AP Photo/Francisco Seco)
British Prime Minister Theresa May, left, shakes hands with Portuguese Prime Minister Antonio Costa, center, as they prepare to meet with other EU leaders prior to a dinner during an EU summit in Brussels, Wednesday, April 10, 2019. European Union leaders met Wednesday in Brussels for an emergency summit to discuss a new Brexit extension. (Olivier Hoslet, Pool Photo via AP)

BRUSSELS — Angela Merkel and Theresa May laughed at their matching jackets. European presidents and prime ministers haggled about Britain's future over a cod-and-shrimp dinner. Then after digesting their iced macadamia nut dessert, they decided to extend Brexit until the stroke of midnight on Halloween.

It's all in a day's work at the EU, where regional rivals get together for high-power dinner parties and decide the continent's future by talking, talking and talking some more until no one has an argument left to disagree.

A tense diplomatic ballet played out all day Wednesday in the European Quarter of Brussels, culminating in an emergency EU Brexit summit that dragged into the early hours of Thursday, with Britain's future hanging in the balance .

The backdoor politicking began hours beforehand: The Dutch prime minister played messenger between ally May and harder-line EU leaders. The French and German leaders, playing bad cop-good cop , had their own huddle. A mini-club of North Sea countries gathered elsewhere.

It's the only way the EU can ever come to the necessary consensus, and often seems baffling to outsiders — but the EU has elevated it into an art.

The summit itself appeared to get off to a relaxed start. Three of the European leaders took off their jackets while they gathered around a round table decorated with pink roses and carnations.

Germany's Merkel then walked over to Britain's May, tablet computer at the ready. The two leaders intently looked at the screen before sharing a hearty laugh.

So what did Europe's most powerful women — often on opposite sides of the painful, protracted Brexit debate — find so funny? The leading theory: It had something to do with their matching jackets, the brilliant blue of the EU flag.

May then took the floor, pleading with her peers to extend Brexit again, speaking for just over an hour before she was effectively ejected so the remaining EU members could debate whether the prime minister made a convincing case.

It was a special kind of European dinner party: EU leaders each had their turn to talk in between bites and sips. After 27 speeches, they kept talking, until they reached an agreement on extending Brexit until Oct. 31.

On the menu du jour: warm scallop salad, cod with shrimp and mini-mushroom arancini rice balls, followed by iced macadamia nut parfait for dessert.

As usual at EU meetings, the menu carried political undertones. Tension erupted between French and British fishermen earlier this year over scallop-fishing rights, while cod has been a source of dispute for decades.

May meanwhile had dinner off-campus — asparagus for starter, roast lamb and fruit to cleanse the palate.

Even before she arrived in Brussels, May was already being treated like a bit of an EU outcast. The official summit brochure with leaders' photographs relegated the head of the British government to the level of "Guest."

There was action in the streets of Brussels, too: Anti-Brexit protesters staged a rally, while Greenpeace strung a giant banner on an EU building reading "Blah Blah Brexit — Stop climate Chaos."

Some of Wednesday's summit drama began well before European Council President Donald Tusk officially opened the evening meeting in the multicolored main room in the Europa building, an architectural gem looking like a Grecian urn sitting in a glass box.

Earlier in the day, Belgium hosted six other nations close to the U.K. — Netherlands, Spain, France, Germany, Ireland and Denmark — at the neoclassical Egmont Palace across town, amid mountains of marble and gilded chandeliers, to plot strategy.

But not everyone liked this idea. Rumors quickly surfaced that the special "mini-summit" was a plot to set out tough terms for Britain's new extension and put the other EU leaders before a fait-accompli. Quickly diplomats had to play down the meeting, saying it was just to "coordinate" plans in case of a no-deal.

Sometimes it can get to be just too much.

At a 2016 summit when Britain was yet again the troublemaker, Merkel walked out of the building and went to a French fry shack close by, for a healthy dose of the Belgian delight.

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