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All 27 EU leaders believe Theresa May's Brexit trade plan 'will not work’

Council president Donald Tusk says member states agree the proposals would harm single market

Jon Stone
Salzburg
Thursday 20 September 2018 15:33 BST
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All 27 EU leaders believe Theresa May's Brexit trade plan 'will not work’, says Donald Tusk

A discussion of Theresa May’s Chequers Brexit trade plan by the 27 EU leaders resulted in “everybody” agreeing that the proposal “will not work”, the president of the European Council has said.

Speaking at the end of the Salzburg summit Donald Tusk told reporters that a planned November summit to finalise a deal might not happen and that the Council would decide in October “whether conditions are there to call an extra summit”.

Downing Street had billed this week’s Salzburg meeting as the first opportunity for the EU member states to consider the trade proposals agreed by the cabinet in detail.

“Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested element for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it risks undermining the single market,” Mr Tusk said, giving his account of the Council’s working lunch discussion.

“The moment of truth for Brexit negotiations will be the October European Council. In October we expect maximum progress and results in the Brexit talks. Then we will decide whether conditions are there to call an extra summit in November to finalise and formalise the deal.”

He added: “It must be clear that there are some issues where we are not ready to compromise: our four fundamental freedoms and single market. This is why we remain sceptical and critical when it comes to this part of the Chequers proposal. The Irish question remains our priority too. For this we need not only good will, which we feel today … we need tough, clear, and precise guarantees.”

Turning to the possibility of a special November summit to finalise a deal, Mr Tusk said: “Without October’s ‘grand finale’ in a positive sense of the word there’s no reason to organise a special meeting in November. This is the only condition when it comes to this possible November summit.”

Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested element for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it risks undermining the single market

Donald Tusk, European Council president

He said the summit, if called, would be 17 and 18 November – a Saturday and Sunday.

The European Commission’s president Jean-Claude Juncker and its chief negotiator Michel Barnier have repeatedly said that the Chequers plan crosses EU red lines.

Sebastian Kurz, the chancellor of Austria and the summit’s host, struck a conciliatory tone.

Speaking at the same press conference, he said: “I think it’s important for both sides to move towards each other to give a little. We’ve got to avoid a hard Brexit. We’ve had good discussions of an informal nature here – among the 27 of us we agreed we would use October to finalise negotiations and then in November we would put a final line under the negotiations.”

At a separate press conference following the meeting, Theresa May stood by the white paper, however.

“There is no solution that will resolve the Northern Ireland border which is not based on the frictionless movement of goods,” she said, visibly angry and shaking. “Our white paper remains the only serious and credible proposition on the table for achieving that objective.”

She added: “If there are concerns from the European Union, lets hear what those concerns are and sit down and look at those concerns.”

The concerns previously spelled out by European Commission regarding the proposal include not wanting to split the single market, not wanting to delegate EU customs checks to a non-member state, and not wanting to give UK service providers a competitive advantage over those on the continent.

The rebuffing from the EU member states is a huge blow for the prime minister; sources ahead of the summit had suggested leaders were looking for something positive to say about Chequers. Ms May addressed leaders over dinner on Wednesday night for a short time to make her case, but was not allowed in the main discussion about Brexit on Thursday.

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