FURIOUS MAY: WE’RE READY TO WALK AWAY
As EU chiefs stun PM by snubbing Chequers plan...
THERESA May last night warned she was ready to walk away from the EU without a deal.
It came after Brussels issued a calculated snub to her Chequers plan, saying it was a non-starter.
At an extraordinary press conference in Salzburg, a visibly furious Prime Minister rounded on EU leaders for hanging her out to dry as she battles to keep the plan alive in the face of fierce Tory criticism.
Mrs May said she still believed a deal was possible, and offered a fresh concession on the Irish border – but acknowledged there was ‘a lot of hard work to be done’.
In a blunt assessment, EU chief Donald Tusk said the other 27 leaders ‘all agreed’ that the complex plans at the heart of the Chequers proposal ‘will not work’.
Mrs May acknowledged she had had a ‘frank’ meeting with Mr Tusk shortly before she faced the Press – diplomatic code for a blazing row.
In a warning to EU leaders that she cannot be pushed much further, she added: ‘Let nobody be in any
doubt… we are preparing for “no deal” so that if we get to a position where it is not possible to do a deal then the British people can have confidence that we will have done what is necessary to ensure we make a success of leaving the European Union regardless of the terms on which we do so.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the EU of ‘bullying’ Britain.
‘This demonstrates that the EU are behaving like bullies, throwing their weight around and using the Irish border as an excuse,’ he said. ‘This will demonstrate to so many people why we need to leave. Mrs May should go for free trade, and call their bluff.’
The Prime Minister also angrily rejected calls for a second referendum, after the prime ministers of Malta and the Czech Republic publicly backed the idea. She said: ’There will be no second referendum.’
Mrs May had travelled to the EU summit in Austria hoping for warm words from fellow leaders to give her political cover for the Chequers plan, which is set to be savaged by critics like Boris Johnson at next month’s Tory conference.
But despite a personal plea from her over dinner, the EU leaders issued a humiliating rebuff designed to hand fresh ammunition to her critics.
Mrs May suggested that yesterday’s rejection of Chequers was a negotiating ‘tactic’ designed to wring further concessions from her. Privately, aides said they had expected a similar ‘stunt’ at some point in the negotiations, but had not anticipated EU leaders deserting her in her hour of need.
Mr Tusk, who came under pressure from Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to adopt a tough stance, said the two sides now faced a ‘moment of truth’ next month,
‘Britain must suffer’
which would decide whether a Brexit deal was possible or not.
He also cast doubt on whether a special Brexit summit pencilled in for November would take place at all unless Britain changes course.
The diplomatic ambush led to recriminations last night against Mrs May’s advisers, who had briefed that she was poised for a breakthrough.
Mr Duncan Smith said: ‘I don’t know what the civil service were up to when they told her the EU would accept the Chequers deal. It’s clearly not going to fly and Ollie Robbins [Mrs May’s chief Brexit adviser] should take the blame for that.’
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said EU leaders were split between those who want a pragmatic Brexit deal and those who want one that ‘punishes’ the UK.
He said some leaders believed ‘Britain must suffer’, adding: ‘ I don’t like that approach at all. What we need is a fair Brexit and good cooperation between the UK and EU in future.’ Asked if more people were coming round to his camp, he said he was ‘getting a majority’.
But hours later, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier persuaded the bloc to toughen its stance.
Mr Macron made it clear he wanted to punish Britain to dissuade other member states from heading for the EU’s exit door. The French President branded pro-Brexit politicians as ‘liars’ adding: ‘ Brexit shows that it is not easy to leave the EU. It is not without costs. It is not without consequences.’
Mrs May insisted Chequers was ‘ the only proposal’ that would deliver frictionless trade with the EU and keep the UK’s pledge to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
She said EU leaders were wrong to believe that her controversial plan for a ‘common rule book’ on goods would undermine the single market – a point made specifically by Mr Tusk yesterday. ‘ Yes concerns have been raised,’ she said. ‘I want to know what those concerns are. There is a lot of hard work to be done. But I believe that there is a willingness to do a deal.’
The hardline approach from Brussels prompted an angry reaction in the UK. Former Tory chairman Grant Shapps said the PM was right to stick to her pledge to leave without a deal if Brussels continued to act unreasonably.
Mr Shapps said: ‘I’m no Brexiteer – in fact I voted Remain – but we may fast be approaching a situation where our handling over £39billion [in ‘divorce’ payments] won’t work for us either.’ Fellow Remainer Tory MP Anna Soubry said it was clear the Chequers deal was ‘bereft of life’ and urged the PM to pursue membership of the EU single market after Brexit.
Meanwhile, Eurosceptic MPs stepped up their vows to kill off the Chequers deal at the Conservative conference. Jacob ReesMogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, said: ‘Everyone expected there would be some softening of Mr Barnier’s line. That hasn’t happened, it has been made firmer. I think Chequers now has no supporters at all. I doubt even the Downing Street cat is any longer backing the Chequers plan. I think the time has come for Mrs May to say, “This is not going to work”.’
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis last night claimed more than 40 Tory Brexiteer MPs are ready to vote against Chequers. He said rebels have a ‘solid core’ of around three times the number needed to defeat the plan in Parliament.
‘A lot of hard work to be done’
SITTING around a vast table in a cavernous theatre in Salzburg on Wednesday night, EU leaders did little to dispel the impression of a cosseted elite, far removed from the concerns of ordinary voters.
Indeed, the scene evoked a conference of Bond villains planning their next move. It will have reminded a great many Mail readers why they voted to leave this kleptocratic club.
But even more bizarre than the setting was the message sent yesterday morning by the Maltese PM, Joseph Muscat (a man mired in corruption allegations) and his Czech counterpart: that Britain should have a second referendum and abandon Brexit.
Who do they think they are? Do they imagine that Britain – like Ireland and Denmark before – can be bullied into reversing the vote for their convenience?
But if insulting us all with their contempt for democracy wasn’t enough, the EU then ambushed Mrs May by declaring her Chequers proposal dead in the water.
The timing couldn’t have been more cynical, coming less than a fortnight before Conservative Party conference. Was it a deliberate attempt to destabilise the PM and force her to roll over?
If so, they have underestimated both Mrs May and the British people, who will not be cowed into submission.
At considerable political risk – and the cost of two Cabinet ministers – Mrs May has compromised. Chequers is not perfect, but it is a pragmatic attempt to bridge the gap between the two sides, and the EU’s alternative would see Northern Ireland hewn from the rest of the UK and turned into an annexe of Brussels. That will not fly.
Neither will Monsieur Barnier’s flagrant attempt to keep Britain locked in the single market and customs union, forced to accept every Brussels diktat and endless unlimited immigration and without the freedom to negotiate our own trade deals.
So Mrs May, who was rightly furious yesterday, cannot blink first. She must hold her nerve. In all likelihood, this was simply brinkmanship, and when it comes to the crunch, a deal will be done. After all, the EU will not give up easily on their £39billion divorce payment.
The alternative – no deal – would be bad for both sides. But if Europe’s leaders are prepared to sacrifice the livelihoods and security of their voters on the altar of Brussels dogma, that is where they are taking us.
Feeling the heat: Mrs May at her press conference