EU leaders reject Theresa May’s Brexit proposals

Prospect of deal between EU and UK is as far away as ever after fractious EU summit at Salzburg

French president Emmanuel Macron has said the Brexit plan proposed by British prime minister Theresa May was unacceptable in its current form and that he expected new proposals from Britain in October.

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The prospect of an agreement between the EU and the UK on Brexit before time runs out on the process is as far away as ever after a fractious EU summit in Austria which saw Theresa May’s proposals roundly rejected by EU leaders, who reiterated their support for Ireland’s demands on the border backstop.

Although all sides reiterated their determination to reach a deal before an anticipated special Brexit summit in mid-November, events in Salzburg demonstrated the chasm between the two sides is as great as ever.

European Council president Donald Tusk closed the summit by saying unambiguously that although there were positive elements in Mrs May’s Chequers plan, it was not acceptable to the EU in its present form.

Significantly, however, he added it was necessary for both the British and the EU to compromise.

But the dismissal of the Chequers plan was seized on gleefully by hardline Brexiteers in London, and British media outlets were reporting the outcome as a catastrophe and a humiliation for Mrs May – weakening her in advance of the Conservative Party conference.

Nonetheless, Mrs May indicated she would bring forward new proposals on the backstop in the coming weeks, though senior Irish sources said there was little expectation that anything of substance would be forthcoming until after her party conference at the end of this month.

EU support

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar held a bilateral meeting with Mrs May, which both sides described as useful, but Mr Varadkar was keen to stress that the EU was united behind Ireland in seeking movement on the British position on the border backstop.

“All the EU leaders who spoke gave me their absolute support in standing behind Ireland,” Mr Varadkar told journalists, “and saying that an agreement that doesn’t work for Ireland doesn’t work for the EU. I am leaving here very reassured.”

Mr Varadkar said he was willing to compromise in the negotiations, but that Ireland could not step back from its requirement to have a legally enforceable guarantee that there would be no hard border in Ireland, even if the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU did not ensure it.

An intensive few weeks of negotiation between the EU and UK teams will commence in October in advance of a scheduled summit in Brussels on October 18-19th. Though few expect agreement to be reached by then, EU leaders will decide whether there is sufficient prospect of an agreement to hold a special summit in mid-November.

But with a no-deal Brexit – where the UK crashes out of the union next March – increasingly possible, the Irish Government is increasing Brexit preparations. The Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney told the Cabinet on Tuesday he now expected to bring details of Brexit contingency planning forward regularly – proposals expected to cost tens of millions of euros in additional staffing and other costs. A no-deal scenario is understood to have been discussed with chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier when the two men met in Brussels on Wednesday.

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