Chequers goes pop: PM wobbles in face of EU defiance

PUBLISHED: 15:35 20 September 2018 | UPDATED: 15:37 20 September 2018

British prime minister Theresa May arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg. AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

British prime minister Theresa May arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg. AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Copyright 2018 The Associated Press. All rights reserved

EU leaders have called the prime minister's bluff, slammed her post-Brexit plan for trade with the EU and refused to rule out a no-deal scenario.

In a move campaigners have called “the Chequers obituary”, the European Council president Donald Tusk said: “We can’t exclude a no deal.”

Speaking at the end of a two-day EU27 summit in Salzburg, Tusk added EU leaders agreed Theresa May’s Chequers blueprint for Brexit will not work, and accused the prime minister of attempting to undermine the single market.

He said: “Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market.”

Tusk told reporters: “We cannot at this stage exclude a no deal - it depends on both sides of negotiations.”

He added that the “moment of truth” in the Brexit negotiations would come at the next full summit in October.

Tusk said they would decide in October whether there had been sufficient progress in the Brexit talks to call a special summit in November to finalise a deal.

“In October we expect maximum progress and results in the Brexit talks, and then we will decide whether conditions are there to call an extra summit in November to finalise and formalise the deal,” he said.

May hit back at the criticism, describing her plan as “the only serious proposition on the table”, and said two key issues needed to be resolved.

She said: “We both agree there can be no withdrawal agreement without a legally-operative backstop. But that backstop cannot divide the United Kingdom into two customs territories, and we will be bringing forward our own proposals shortly.

“On the economic partnership, there is no solution that will resolve the Northern Ireland border which is not based on the frictionless movement of goods.

“Our White Paper remains the only serious and credible proposition on the table for achieving that objective.”

Anti-Brexit campaigner and MP David Lammy said: “The prime minister’s bluff has turned out to be a duff.

“Her desperate pleas for EU leaders to keep her in power have failed spectacularly and Tusk just wrote the Chequers obituary.”

German chancellor Angela Merkel said “substantial progress” was needed on the UK’s withdrawal agreement by the next European Council meeting in October.

Merkel there was “still a large piece of work” on the separate issue of future trade relations with the UK.

Controversial Hungarian leader Viktor Orban claimed some in the EU wanted to “punish” the UK but he wanted a “fair” Brexit.

Orban, who is at odds with Brussels over issues including human rights and the rule of law, said: “I don’t like the approach to punish the British just because they decided to leave.

“It’s a great nation so we should have a fair approach and to have a good deal.”

He said there was a “general approach” to punish the UK but Hungary was part of a “camp” that “don’t like that kind of approach and we would like a fair Brexit”.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker described Theresa May’s presentation to EU leaders in Salzburg as “interesting”.

“It was polite, it was not aggressive, she was doing her job,” he told reporters as he arrived for a second day of talks.

French president Emmanuel Macron emphasised the importance of protecting the single market in the Brexit negotiations.

“We have very clear principles regarding the integrity of the single market,” he said.

He said it was now up to the UK to come forward with proposals for a solution to the Irish border issue.

“We need a UK proposal precisely preserving this backstop in the framework of a withdrawal agreement,” he said.

Speaking in Salzburg, Theresa May said that the UK would “shortly” be coming forward with new proposals on the “backstop” arrangements for the Northern Irish border.

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