British Prime Minister Theresa May demanded new proposals from the EU in a pugnacious speech delivered a day after EU leaders rejected her Brexit blueprint at a summit in Austria.
“It’s not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals,” May said in a televised statement.
“So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are, what their alternative is, so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”
May’s speech came a day after EU leaders meeting in the Austrian city of Salzburg dismissed her so-called Chequers Brexit plan, with French President Emmanuel Macron noting that the bloc would “never accept a deal which would damage the EU and its integrity”.
With British newspapers declaring that May had been “humiliated” by EU leaders in Salzburg, the prime minister used her televised statement, delivered from 10 Downing Street, to tell the bloc, essentially, to put up or shut up.
“I will not overturn the result of the referendum nor will I break up my country,” she asserted.
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.
No ‘border down the Irish Sea’
At the Salzburg summit, May told EU leaders 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.
In her address Friday, May said she could not agree to any deal that treated Northern Ireland differently from the rest of the UK. Firmly rejecting an EU proposal to keep the UK in a customs union, May asserted that she would not accept a plan that would see her country “permanently separated economically from the rest of the UK by a border down the Irish Sea”.
She said no UK prime minister would ever agree to that: “If the EU believe I will, they are making a fundamental mistake.” Following the cool reception in Salzburg of her Chequers plan, May stuck by her position that “no deal is better than a bad deal” and blasted EU leaders for what she called “an impasse” in Brexit negotiations.
“Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect,” she said Friday. “The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it.”
‘Dreadful’ responds Sturgeon
May’s speech failed to impress her critics or the markets.
The British pound tumbled 1.5 percent as May addressed the nation Friday with the pound falling to as low as $1.3064, from an earlier level of around $1.3175 more than two cents below where it began the day.
Reacting to May’s speech, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon called it “dreadful”.
In a statement posted on Twitter, Sturgeon said, “The EU view was bluntly expressed yesterday but not new – she just hasn’t been listening. If her tactic now is to double down on the Chequers dead duck, and then blame EU for a no deal, she will do huge damage to all those she is supposed to serve.”
In a second tweet, Sturgeon added, “the only remotely workable way to do Brexit is to stay in the single market and customs union. If PM not prepared to do that, Brexit shouldn’t happen. ‘No deal’ or ‘no detail‘ Brexit simply not acceptable – especially for Scotland, where we did not vote for this.
The leader of Britain’s opposition Labour Party Jeremy Corbyn said the time for political games involving Brexit must end.
“The political games from both the EU and our government need to end because no deal is not an option,” Corbyn said in a statement. “Theresa May’s Brexit negotiating strategy has been a disaster. The Tories have spent more time arguing among themselves than negotiating with the EU.”
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.
(FRANCE 24 with AFP, AP and REUTERS)