The chance of Britain exiting from the European Union without an agreement on future relations appeared to rise on Thursday as European leaders attacked key demands in UK Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan.
At an informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria, European Council President Donald Tusk said important aspects of May’s so-called Chequers plan were unacceptable.
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“There are some issues where we are not ready to compromise,” Tusk said. “The suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it risks undermining the single market.”
With six months to go before the UK’s exit, Tusk said the “moment of truth” in negotiations would come at a European Council meeting scheduled next month. The October summit will be the last chance to get a “soft Brexit” deal done.
French President Emmanuel Macron, Irish leader Leo Vardakar, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel also expressed serious concerns over May’s plan.
Macron reiterated Tusk’s comments and heightened the Brexit rhetoric.
“We all agreed on this today, the proposals in their current state are not acceptable, especially on the economic side of it. The Chequers plan cannot be take it or leave it,” Macron said.
The French president also had harsh words for those in the UK who orchestrated Brexit in the first place.
“Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be alright, and that it’s going to bring a lot of money home are liars,” Macron said.
“It’s even more true since they left the day after so as not to have to deal with it,” he added, referring to top Brexit proponents.
Irish Prime Minister Varadkar said “time is running short” for the UK.
“Ireland is a country that obviously wants to avoid a no deal scenario. We want to avoid a no deal Brexit, [but] we are preparing for that. We are hiring extra staff and officials, putting in IT systems. We’re ready for that eventuality should it occur,” he said.
‘Preparing for no’
In response, May said Britain was preparing to leave the bloc without an agreement on the terms of its departure unless there is a proposal it deems acceptable.
“If there is no agreement on a deal that is acceptable to the United Kingdom, then we’re preparing for no deal,” May said.
“There is no counter proposal on the table at the moment that actually deals, delivers on what we need to do and respects the integrity of the United Kingdom and respects the result of the referendum,” she added.
May has sought to keep some part of trade between the UK and the EU in the bloc’s single market – but not others. The EU has insisted the single market cannot be cherry-picked like that.
The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, nearly three years after 52 percent of Britons voted in favour of ending the country’s 43-year membership of the 28-member bloc during a deeply divisive referendum in June 2016.
The International Monetary Fund warned earlier this week that Britain should expect “substantial costs” to its economy if it fails to agree on transitional arrangements before leaving the bloc.