Tusk kicks Brexit ball back into Theresa May’s court

European Council president says UK must decide between good deal, bad deal and ‘no Brexit’

European Council president Donald Tusk during  a debate on the outcome of last week’s European summit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

European Council president Donald Tusk during a debate on the outcome of last week’s European summit at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday. Photograph: Christian Hartmann/Reuters

 

In the latest iteration of the now familiar “the ball is in your court” series of Brexit exchanges, European Council president Donald Tusk has told the British prime minister that responsibility for the direction and fate of the talks now lies with her.

Mr Tusk, who chaired last week’s EU summit and was reporting on it to MEPs in Strasbourg, said “it is in fact up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit.”

He said that for the 27 remaining states, “ahead of us is still the toughest stress test. If we fail it, the negotiations will end with our defeat”, but that the strong unity they had managed to build and preserve would see them through. “The EU will be able to rise to every scenario as long as we are not divided”.

British prime minister Theresa May, alluding to the summit’s agreement to start internal preparations for talks on the future EU-UK relationship, told the House of Commons on Monday that the summit conclusions showed the 27 had decided that “it’s up for them to consider what they want to see from the future relationship so that the next phase of negotiations can begin”.

Speaking alongside Mr Tusk in Strasbourg, European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker insisted that he and his team were seeking a “fair” Brexit deal.

“The commission is not negotiating in a hostile mood,” Mr Juncker said. “Those who don’t want a deal, the no-dealers, they do not have friends in the commission. We want a fair deal and we want a fair deal with Britain. The no-deal is not our working assumption.”

That was also the view being taken by EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier in an interview with a group of European newspapers . He said the EU wanted a deal, but could not exclude the no-deal option. He predicted the UK would seek a deal with the EU along the lines of the Canada free trade deal, although Ms May has spoken of wanting a closer relationship.

Mr Tusk also spoke optimistically of the forward march of the union and the “Leaders’ Agenda” he had proposed to the summit. Again he reiterated his commitment to unity and the need to advance as one, recalling a proverb: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”

Today, he said, “I feel we have a real chance to go together, far and faster.”