French President Emmanuel Macron on Thursday said British Prime Minister’s so-called Chequers plan for Brexit was not acceptable following two days of EU talks in the Austrian city of Salzburg.
While noting that the Chequers plan was “a good and brave step” by Britain’s May, the French president stressed that the blueprint was not a “take it or leave it” plan and that the bloc would “never accept a deal which would damage the EU and its integrity”.
Addressing a press conference after the bloc’s 27 leaders met — without May — Macron said, “We are today at the hour of truth” and that the bloc expected “new British proposals in October”.
With Britain’s March 29, 2019 departure from the EU looming, there are growing concerns that a deal on the post-Brexit relationship may not be cobbled together in time to ensure a smooth and orderly British exit.
Tusk says Chequers plan ‘will not work’
The French president’s comments were echoed by EU President Donald Tusk, who also stated that May’s plan — which is named after the British prime minister’s official country residence — “will not work”.
Tusk told reporters that the Chequers plan for Brexit would undermine the bloc’s single market. The Polish former leader said the atmosphere in talks between May and the other 27 leaders had been better than before but that stark differences remained on trade and on the question of the Irish border.
“It must be clear that there are some issues where we are not ready to compromise, first off the four fundamental freedoms, the single market, this is why we remain sceptical of Chequers,” Tusk said.
‘Irish question remains our priority’
“The Irish question remains our priority too and for this we need only goodwill — which we feel, the atmosphere was better than two or three weeks ago — but the Irish question needs something more than good intentions,” said Tusk.
Tusk’s comments came a day after May told EU leaders meeting in Salzburg that she will not accept an EU proposal that would keep Northern Ireland in a customs union with the bloc if there is no other agreed plan to avert a hard border.
But Ireland has the EU’s backing for its drive to ensure that the border does not once again become a cause of the north-south tension that bedevilled it in the last century.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Tusk said, “We need tough, clear and precise guarantees. This is why we need more time, but we hope to be ready in October,” adding that the planned October 18 EU summit would be a “moment of truth”.
Both Tusk and summit host Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said a follow-on November emergency summit would only go ahead if enough progress is made by October to justify it.
May to face angry Conservatives
While May promised new proposals to reassure Dublin that it would not end up with a “hard border” with Northern Ireland, she warned that she could live with a no-deal outcome — though many around the summit in Salzburg do not believe that that is a credible threat.
May faces a likely confrontation with angry Conservatives at her party’s conference in 10 days. They deride her willingness to bind Britain into much EU regulation in return for free trade and some would prefer a no-deal “hard Brexit” in March, despite warnings that would ravage the British economy.
EU leaders understand that she can give little away before the conference ends on October 3. However, they hope their negotiator, Michel Barnier, can secure her agreement next month to what will be new EU proposals that will be fundamentally unchanged but may be politically more palatable, especially on Northern Ireland.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel noted that, “It was clear today that we need substantial progress by October and that we then aim to finalise everything in November.”
Speaking to reporters after the summit, Merkel said there was “still a lot of work to do on the question of how future trade relations will look… You can’t belong to the single market if you are not part of the single market, but you can develop a lot of creativity to find practical, good, close solutions.”
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)