European Union leaders are playing hard ball with Prime Minister Theresa May. On September 20, they warned May if she does not give ground on trade and the Irish border by November, they are ready to cope with Britain crashing out of the European Union.
“Don’t worry, be happy,” joked EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker after telling reporters after a summit in Austria that the Europeans had full plans in place in the event there was no deal before Britain leaves next March.
As reported by the Reuters news agency, May promised new proposals to reassure Dublin that it would not get a “hard border” with the British province of Northern Ireland. However, she also warned that she too could live with a no-deal outcome.
May said her “Chequers” proposals for trade with the EU, intended also to resolve arguments over the borders of Northern Ireland, were the only way forward. EU leaders repeated their view the plans would undermine their cherished single market.
May faces a fight with angry Conservatives at her party’s conference in 10 days. They deride her willingness to bind Britain into much EU regulation in return for free trade; some would prefer a no-deal “hard Brexit” in March, despite warnings that would ravage the British economy, reported Reuters.
“Ritual dance is always a part of such negotiations,” a senior adviser to one of May’s summit peers told Reuters. “It may be that they will just accept what we have proposed after the Tory conference.”
In a separate report, France24 online noted that French President Emmanuel Macron warned that May’s Chequers plan for Brexit was not acceptable following two days of EU talks in the Austrian city of Salzburg.
Addressing a press conference after the bloc’s 27 leaders met (without May) Macron said, “We are today at the hour of truth” and that the bloc expected “new British proposals in October”.
Meanwhile, European Council President Donald Tusk told reporters that the Chequers plan for Brexit would undermine the bloc’s single market. “It must be clear that there are some issues where we are not ready to compromise, first off the four fundamental freedoms, the single market, this is why we remain sceptical of Chequers,” Tusk said.
“The Irish question remains our priority too and for this we need only goodwill – which we feel, the atmosphere was better than two or three weeks ago – but the Irish question needs something more than good intentions,” added Tusk.
Speaking to reporters after the summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there was “still a lot of work to do on the question of how future trade relations will look… You can’t belong to the single market if you are not part of the single market, but you can develop a lot of creativity to find practical, good, close solutions”.