Negotiations over Britain’s exit from the European Union broke down into bitter recriminations Friday, with U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May accusing EU leaders of making a “mockery” of the process after they shredded her Brexit plan.
In a combative speech at 10 Downing Street, May said the two sides “remain a long way apart” on two major sticking points — the Irish border and the integrity of the common market.
“The EU has proposed the U.K. stays in the [European Economic Area] and customs union,” May said, according to the BBC. “In plain English this would mean we would still have to abide by all EU rules … that would make a mockery of the referendum we had two years ago.”
Brussels’ demand to revive customs barriers between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland is also a nonstarter, May asserted.
“It is something I will never agree to — indeed, in my judgement it is something no British Prime Minister would ever agree to,” she said.
May’s remarks came the morning after EU leaders gathered at a summit in Vienna largely rejected May’s so-called Chequers plan, named after the country retreat where she hashed it out with her cabinet over the summer. The plan calls for the U.K. to remain in the common market for goods — but not services — as a way to ensure free trade with EU countries and keep an open border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.
Many EU leaders had been skeptical of Chequers leading up to the Vienna meeting, and they dismissed it with frank language Thursday. EU President Donald Tusk said the plan “will not work” in its current form, while French President Emmanuel Macron said the entire concept of Brexit had been devised by “liars” who misled the British public about the costs of leaving the bloc. (RELATED: Tony Blair Calls For A Second Brexit Referendum)
The disappointing Vienna summit leaves Brexit talks stalled until the next European Commission meeting on Oct. 18, which Tusk has called “the moment of truth” for negotiators. As with Vienna meeting, the Ireland border question will be the biggest obstacle to overcome, Tusk said.
“Without clear a precise solution to the Irish question, and for the whole context of our economic future relations, it will be difficult even to imagine a positive process after October,” he told reporters Thursday, according to CNN.
May’s position is complicated by opposition to Chequers from members of her own Conservative Party, including former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who see it as an intolerable “soft” Brexit. They argue the plan will keep the U.K. bound to EU tariffs and regulations and prevent it from striking bilateral trade deals with other countries around the world.
Britain is set to formally leave the EU on March 29, 2019, with or without an exit deal. As a practical matter, Brexit negotiations must conclude within the next two months to give Parliament time to ratify an exit agreement.
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