Brexit: May’s charm offensive dismissed by EU member states as prospect of no deal intensifies

It comes as The Independent’s campaign demanding a Final Say for the public on any Brexit deal attracts hundreds of thousands of signatures in just 48 hours

Ashley Cowburn
Political Correspondent
Friday 27 July 2018 21:39
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Brexit: Michel Barnier rules out Theresa May's Chequers customs plan

Theresa May’s efforts to bypass Brussels and deal directly with EU nations have been rebuffed as the risk of Britain hurtling towards no deal appeared to intensify.

The prime minister was also warned on Friday that the European parliament would veto her Chequers deal unless Ms May comes up with a new plan for the Irish border.

It comes as The Independent’s campaign demanding a Final Say for the public on any Brexit deal attracted hundreds of thousands signatures in just 48 hours and received backing from a string of prominent politicians.

As Ms May and her cabinet ministers began a charm offensive across European capitals, officials from across the continent voiced scepticism about her plan.

The embattled prime minister met Austrian chancellor, Sebastian Kurz, and Czech counterpart, Andrej Babis, in Salzburg on Friday afternoon in an effort to build alliances before the March 2019 Brexit date.

But hours earlier, Ales Chmelar, Czech state secretary for European affairs, warned there was a “clear problem with the fact that the EU will not have a mechanism to control its borders and it would be delegated – without any EU control – to a third country, which would be Britain after March”.

He suggested the UK proposals on single market regulations lacked “a certain balance between the rights and obligations” and urged Ms May to avoid “trying to find loopholes in the EU position”.

Sources familiar with the French position told the UK that officials in Paris were “puzzled” at why the EU would be expected to accept a British customs plan that was so complex, risky and burdensome for it and its businesses, to no benefit.

Nathalie Loiseau, France’s European affairs minister, insisted there was “no difference between what Michel Barnier says and what we would say individually, each and every member state”.

The European Parliament also dramatically upped the stakes by threatening to veto any deal unless Ms May comes up with new plans for the Northern Ireland border.

Speaking after the Salzburg meeting, Mr Kurz said his focus would be on avoiding a “hard Brexit” but added that he was hopeful a “solution” could be found.

It comes as a poll revealed that 72 per cent of voters do not have confidence in her ability to strike a good deal with Brussels.

Only 29 per cent of those surveyed said Ms May’s contentious Chequers blueprint for future UK-EU relations would be a good thing for Britain, with 47 per cent suggesting it would be bad and 19 per cent saying they did not know.

Earlier this week the European Commission’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, rejected a key part of the prime minister’s Chequers blueprint – the agreement that has already caused huge rifts within the Conservative Party.

During a week of cabinet ministers outlining preparations in the event of no deal – including stockpiling supplies of medicines and basic foodstuffs – the international trade secretary Liam Fox also said he would prefer such an outcome rather than prolonging negotiations with Brussels.

Describing any extension of Article 50 as unacceptable and a “complete betrayal” of voters in an interview with news website Business Insider, Dr Fox accused the EU of putting “political ideology” before the economic prospects for ordinary people with their uncompromising stance in the negotiations.

“The public have told us, it wasn’t a consultation, to leave the EU, and the public already wonders why it’s going to take more than four years after the referendum for us to fully remove ourselves from the EU,” he said.

“To attempt to extend our membership even longer, many voters would regard as a complete betrayal by the political class, and I think they would be right.”

The Independent’s campaign has been backed by former Labour prime minister Tony Blair, Sir Nick Clegg, the former Liberal Democrat deputy prime minister, and the senior Conservative MP Justine Greening, while Green party co-leader Caroline Lucas today announces her backing for a Final Say.

It has already been supported by MPs including former Tory attorney general Dominic Grieve, Labour ex-frontbencher Chuka Umunna and Lib Dem education spokesman Layla Moran.

On Friday a poll also revealed that the majority of students would back such a vote on the final deal as some 70 per cent said they believed they will be worse off after leaving the bloc.

Support among young voters for a new referendum surged from 58 per cent in February 2017 to 67 per cent this month, according to a survey of undergraduates conducted by Youthsight, the UK’s largest youth research group.

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