Donald Tusk tells campaigners ‘don’t give up’ on reversing Brexit

Donald Tusk leaves No 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Rick Findler/PA.

Donald Tusk leaves No 10 Downing Street. Photograph: Rick Findler/PA. - Credit: PA Archive/PA Images

Outgoing European Council president Donald Tusk has told opponents of Brexit not to give up on stopping it.

Tusk said the UK will become "an outsider, a second-rate player" after Brexit, and said a friend who suggested it is "the real end of the British Empire" is probably right.

In a speech, Tusk appeared to give a boost to those opposition parties fighting Boris Johnson in the general election.

He said: "The UK election takes place in one month. Can things still be turned around? Hannah Arendt taught that things become irreversible only when people start to think so.

"So the only words that come to my mind today are simply: Don't give up. In this match, we had added time, we are already in extra time, perhaps it will even go to penalties?"

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Speaking at the opening ceremony of the 2019/2020 academic year at the College of Europe, Tusk added: "I have heard repeatedly from Brexiteers that they wanted to leave the European Union to make the United Kingdom global again, believing that only alone, it can truly be great.

"You could hear in these voices a longing for the Empire. But the reality is exactly the opposite. Only as part of a united Europe can the UK play a global role, only together can we confront, without any complexes, the greatest powers of this world.

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"In fact, I can say the same about Germany or France. And the world knows it. I have heard the same in India, New Zealand, Australia, Canada and South Africa; that after its departure, the UK will become an outsider, a second-rate player, while the main battlefield will be occupied by China, the United States and the European Union.

"'Why are they doing this?' - I was asked this regretful question everywhere I went. One of my English friends is probably right when he says with melancholy that Brexit is the real end of the British Empire."

He joked that he envies former House of Commons speaker John Bercow who can now "finally, honestly say what he thinks about Brexit".

Referencing Bercow, who described Brexit as "the biggest foreign policy mistake in the post-war period", Tusk said: "Finally, if you allow me, I want to tell you something I wouldn't have dared to say a few months ago, as I could be fired for being too frank.

"And today, it is simply too late to impeach Donald, at least the European one. In fact, I envy John Bercow, that he can finally, honestly say what he thinks about Brexit."

Tusk's comments were seized on by the anti-Brexit Liberal Democrats.

The shadow foreign secretary Chuka Umunna said: "There is still light at the end of the tunnel for all those who want to end the chaos of Brexit.

"We can reject a Tory or a Labour-backed Brexit that would damage opportunities for our children and grandchildren. This election is a historic chance for voters to make their voice heard and secure a brighter future in Europe."

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