Britain staring down the barrel of no deal as May issues 'pathetic' challenge to EU
PUBLISHED: 18:10 21 September 2018 | UPDATED: 18:10 21 September 2018
Theresa May has been warned Britain is "staring down the barrel of no deal" after issuing a Brexit challenge to the EU described as "pathetic, painful and petulant".
A day after her humiliating rebuff from EU leaders in Salzburg, the prime minister attempted to come back fighting, saying there could be no further progress in Brexit talks unless the EU put forward fresh ideas on Northern Ireland and trade.
Standing at a lectern before two Union flags in 10 Downing Street, May said the EU's dismissal of her Chequers plan was "not acceptable" and demanded "respect".
"No-one wants a good deal more than me, but the European Union should be clear - I will not overturn the result of the referendum, nor will I break up my country," she said.
"We need serious engagement on resolving the two big problems in the negotiations and we stand ready."
Acknowledging that talks had
reached an "impasse" with just six months to go to Brexit day on March 29, the PM left no doubt she was ready to contemplate crashing out of the EU with no deal.
She said the government will do "everything in our power" to prevent a hard border in Northern Ireland.
The pound plummeted following May's speech, giving up four days of gains on the US dollar to shed 1.5% and close at 1.30 in London. Versus the euro, the British currency was down over 1% at 1.11.
Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable said the Chequers plan was "dead as a dodo, killed in London by Tory fundamentalists", while Green MP Caroline Lucas said the current deadlock was "predictable" and Mrs May's response "pathetic, painful and petulant".
Tory hardliner Jacob Rees-Mogg welcomed the PM's "strong and forthright" tone, but said it was time for her to ditch Chequers and go for a Canada-style free trade agreement with the EU.
Cabinet minister and Brexiteer Penny Mordaunt said she believed that voters "still want a deal but [are] content to go without one".
But shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer accused May of being "in denial".
"The prime minister's negotiating strategy is collapsing around her and that's why we're in this impasse and the country is staring down the barrel of no deal," said Sir Keir.
In Brussels, one EU official said: "The Commission is, and will continue, working constructively, as President [Jean-Claude] Juncker outlined in his State of the EU speech."
May promised to draw up alternative proposals to unblock the Irish border issue ahead of a crunch summit on October 18 - described as the "moment of truth" by European Council President Donald Tusk.
But she stood by the blueprint agreed by the Cabinet at her country residence in July as "the best way" to protect jobs in Britain and Europe and to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.
She blamed the EU side for failing to explain its objections to her blueprint, which would see the UK enter a free trade area for goods with a "common rulebook" or to put forward its own ideas.
Far from accepting the message of EU leaders in Salzburg that it was for the UK to come up with credible new proposals over the next four weeks, May insisted the ball was now in Brussels' court.
"At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side's proposals without a detailed explanation and new proposals," she said.
"So we now need to hear from the European Union what the real issues are and what their proposals are so we can discuss them.
"Until we do, we can't make progress."
May said that Brussels' "backstop" proposal to keep Northern Ireland in the EU customs area unless a better solution can be found was "unacceptable" to Britain because it would create a customs border down the Irish Sea.
Her new alternative would "preserve the integrity of the UK" while delivering on a commitment not to establish new regulatory barriers with the rest of the UK without the agreement of the Executive and Assembly in Belfast.
In a possible sign that she was smarting over Tusk's mocking Instagram photo, showing him offering her a cake with the caption "Sorry, no cherries", Mrs May made a point of stressing that she had always shown respect towards her EU counterparts.
"Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect," said the PM. "The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it."
May said: "As I told EU leaders, neither side should demand the unacceptable of the other.
"We cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of our union, just as they cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of theirs.
"We cannot accept anything that does not respect the result of the referendum, just as they cannot accept anything that is not in the interest of their citizens."