Saturday 3 December 2016

Make me happy, bin Brexit - president of the European Council tells Britain

Sam Lister

Published 21/10/2016 | 08:38

European Council President Donald Tusk (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)
European Council President Donald Tusk (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

The president of the European Council has said he still wants Britain to remain part of the EU, minutes after Theresa May told him there was no going back on Brexit.

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Donald Tusk said he would be the "happiest one" if the UK reversed the decision to quit and stuck with the bloc for years to come.

His admission came at an early-hours press conference on Friday, following a dinner with all EU leaders where Prime Minister Mrs May insisted there would be no second referendum.

She told her counterparts directly that Britain would be leaving after suggestions in Europe that the referendum result could be revisited.

But at the end of the summit dinner, Mr Tusk told reporters: "It's not our choice and if you ask me I would prefer 28 members not only for the next month, but also for the next years and decades.

"After the decision in the UK we have to respect the decision of the referendum. If it is reversible or not, this is in the British hands.

"I would be the happiest one if it reversible but we now we have to start our formal works."

At the European Council Mrs May was told Britain would not be given an easy ride as it severs ties with Brussels.

Taoiseach Enda Kenny greets Donald Tusk , the President of the European Council, on his arrival for a working lunch at Government Buildings. Pic Tom Burke
Taoiseach Enda Kenny greets Donald Tusk , the President of the European Council, on his arrival for a working lunch at Government Buildings. Pic Tom Burke

Read more: Theresa May to tell EU leaders there will be no second referendum

French president Francois Hollande warned the UK would face "hard" negotiations if it wanted to make a clean break with the bloc and European Parliament president Martin Schulz urged European leaders to "stand firm" in negotiations with Britain.

Leaders will discuss trade rules when the European Council continues on Friday, including anti-dumping measures.

Mrs May will then hold talks with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, which No 10 sources said would be an "opportunity to establish a relationship" and talk about "how we see the process ahead".

European People's Party leader Manfred Weber expressed anger that the UK was blocking some long-term EU defence measures.

He told the BBC Radio 4 Today programme: "When somebody wants to leave a club, it's not really normal that such a member who wants to leave a club wants to decide about the future of this club. That is really creating a lot of anger, the behaviour of the British Government.

"It's about the long-term project of the European Union, and the Brits decided not to stay in.

"I think it's totally understandable if we, as Germans, as French, as Italians, think about our - not your - long-term project, please don't stop it, don't block it, because that will have a lot of impact on the Brexit negotiations if you do so.

"It's a question of behaviour, it's a question of respect. You want to go away from the centre of the European debate."

Mr Weber repeated his call for Boris Johnson to stand down as Foreign Secretary after the draft pro-EU article he wrote, but did not publish, emerged.

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