As EU chiefs stun PM by snub­bing Che­quers plan...

Daily Mail - - Front Page - From Ja­son Groves and David Churchill in Salzburg

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

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