European Union pushes October Brexit agreement, threatens no deal

Leroy Wright
September 22, 2018

Despite reports of a friendly spirit at a summit in Salzburg, Austria, the fundamental differences remained and EU Council President Donald Tusk said parts of May's Brexit plan - dubbed Chequers after a key Brexit meeting at the premier's country residence of the same name - simply will not work.

"The suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it risks undermining the single market".

May promised new proposals to reassure Dublin that it would not get a "hard border" with the British province of Northern Ireland but warned she too could live with a no-deal outcome - though many round the summit table in picturesque Salzburg see that as more of a negotiating tactic than a credible threat.

"If the political will is there on the other side I am confident we will reach a deal which is in the EU's interests as well as the UK's", she said.

The "backstop" Brussels is proposing would keep Northern Ireland under EU economic oversight if London and the EU can not agree on a trade deal to keep borders between the United Kingdom and European bloc open after the transition period that ends in 2020.

As the stalemate continued, the Irish protocol - a legal guarantee that would ensure no hard Border no matter the outcome of Brexit - again emerged as a sore point, with the European Union 27 rowing in behind Ireland's position that there can be no deal without first agreeing on the backstop.

Macron bluntly said May's Brexit proposals, known as Chequers after the country house where they were agreed by the British cabinet in July, were "unacceptable".

"The moment of truth for Brexit negotiations will be the October European Council (summit)", Tusk said.

But May said that after she presented her so-called Chequers plan on post-Brexit trade ties this summer, Brussels must also give ground.

May is keen to show hardline Brexiters, who will be out in force at the party conference and who have called on her to "chuck Chequers", that her plan is the only one that can be negotiated with the EU.

Later this month, May faces the annual conference of her Conservative party, which includes a eurosceptic faction that is strongly against her plan, with some lawmakers angling for a new leader.

The tone of the summit surprised many commentators, however, after briefings on both sides of the Channel beforehand that they would avoid any surprises.

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European Union leaders say that is "cherry-picking" on the part of Britain, which would be able to go its own way in services and on other issues such as the freedom of movement of labour.

They realize May is the only one who can seal a deal on Brexit and they do not want her to "go belly up", the diplomat said.

May responded to Musk's criticisms by saying that her proposals were "the only serious, credible" way to avoid a hard border with Northern Ireland.

"Unfortunately we can not at this stage exclude a no-deal - it depends on both sides of negotiations".

European Union officials have been cool on the plan from the start, saying Britain can't "cherry-pick" elements of membership in the bloc without accepting all the costs and responsibilities.

This might come as music to Mrs May's ears as she prepares to head off to Salzburg today for an informal summit with her fellow European Union leaders.

"It was a good and courageous step by the prime minister", Macron told reporters.

Pro-EU and pro-Brexit supporters reacted to the Maltese and Czech leaders' comments.

But without a final plan for the breakup, numerous one million Poles and other European Union citizens living in the United Kingdom, and many British nationals on mainland Europe, feel uncertain about the future, as do some EU companies working directly or indirectly with British-based firms. But he also said he thought there would be a deal.

Simon Usherwood, politics professor at the University of Surrey, told AFP the EU's "desire to help Theresa May have a bit more space back home collapsed" in Austria.

She repeated that she would bring forward alternative proposals to the backstop, which would come into effect until a new trade deal is struck.

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