Wednesday 18 September 2019

Donald Tusk concedes May's Brexit plan is 'step in the right direction' says he's a 'true admirer' of British PM


Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Downing Street in the aftermath of the Salzburg summit Credit: Jack Taylor/PA Wire
Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Downing Street in the aftermath of the Salzburg summit Credit: Jack Taylor/PA Wire
European Council President Donald Tusk (Virginia Mayo/AP)
Prime Minister Theresa May speaking in Downing Street in the aftermath of the Salzburg summit, saying that the EU must respect the UK in Brexit talks Credit: Jack Taylor/PA Wire
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives at the informal EU summit in Salzburg, Austria. (AP Photo/Kerstin Joensson)

Louise Kelly and Philip Ryan

European Council President Donald Tusk has conceded British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit proposal is a “step in the right direction”.

However, Mr Tusk said the Prime Minister was “surprisingly tough” and “uncompromising” during negotiations at this week’s EU Summit in Salzburg.

Mr Tusk was responding after the Prime Minister doubled down on her Brexit stance and called on the EU to respect Britain as negotiations intensify.

In a statement, the former Polish Prime Minister, who was criticised for goading Ms May with social media posts during the EU Summit, said he was a “true admirer” of the Conservative Party leader.

“After intensive consultations with Member States, we decided that for the good of the negotiations, and out of respect for the efforts of PM May, we will treat the Chequers plan as a step in the right direction,” Mr Tusk said.

“The UK stance presented just before and during the Salzburg meeting was surprisingly tough and in fact uncompromising. The response of the EU27 leaders was to reiterate our trust in chief negotiator Michel Barnier and to reiterate our position on the integrity of the Single Market and the Irish backstop.

“While understanding the logic of the negotiations, I remain convinced that a compromise, good for all, is still possible,” he added.

Earlier on Friday, Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May said she will never agree to a border in the Irish Sea in a speech outside Downing Street.

"If the EU believe I will, they are making a fundamental mistake...we both agree the Withdrawal Agreement needs to include a backstop," she said.

"The EU is proposing to achieve this by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union. As I have already said, that is unacceptable. We will never agree to it. It would mean breaking up our country."

She addressed Northern Ireland and said that she would do everything in her power to prevent a hard border.

Mrs May sounded frustrated as she said negotiations were at an impasse, in the statement made one day after EU leaders rejected key parts of her Brexit proposals.

"Brexit negotiations were always bound to be toughest in the final straight..there are two big issues where we remain far away," the prime minister said.

She told the European Union that it should come up with an alternative to her Brexit proposals and warned she would never accept a break-up of the United Kingdom.

Read more: In full: Theresa May's statement on Brexit talks after EU rejects her proposals

An economic relationship where the UK would stay in the European Economic Area and a customs union with the EU "would make a mockery of the referendum we had two years ago".

"Anything which fails to respect the referendum or which effectively divides our country in two would be a bad deal and I have always said no deal is better than a bad deal," she said.

"Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it."

Mrs May concluded her statement by saying: "The EU should be clear, I will not overturn the result of the referendum, nor will I break up my country. We need serious engagement in resolving the two big issues in the negotiations and we stand ready."

The office of the French president Emmanuel Macron said "no comment" when asked about Mrs May's speech on Brexit.

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