May accuses EU leaders of driving talks into impasse
Prime minister says EU should treat UK with respect and stop making ‘unacceptable’ demands
In a seven-minute televised address from Downing Street, the prime minister said the EU should treat Britain with more respect and that its proposal to avoid a hard Irish border would break up the UK.
“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 said.
Ms May said Britain would set out its own backstop proposal, adding that it would include a commitment that there would be no new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly, which are currently suspended, agree.
The prime minister’s defiant statement followed an informal meeting of EU leaders in the Austrian city of Salzburg which left her humiliated when European Council president Donald Tusk and other leaders dismissed the economic proposals in her Chequers plan.
Under the Chequers proposal Britain would remain aligned with EU regulations for goods and agricultural products but not for services, gaining partial access to the single market without having to accept all its responsibilities such as the free movement of people.
In a statement last night, Mr Tusk dismissed her claim the EU had rejected her proposals without considering them or explaining their objections.
“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,” he said.
Senior EU sources did not expect Ms May’s statement to have a material impact on the negotiations, which will resume in Brussels next week. At their meeting in Salzburg, EU leaders agreed there must be progress on the backstop by next month’s summit before they agree to schedule a special Brexit summit in November.
Minister for Foreign Affairs Simon Coveney said the Government welcomed Ms May’s confirmation she would bring forward proposals on the backstop.
“We have been asking the UK to do this since March. The place for that to happen and for these negotiations to conclude successfully is Brussels, between the EU taskforce and the UK team.”
DUP leader Arlene Foster praised Ms May for standing up to the EU’s “disrespectful, intransigent and disgraceful behaviour” and promised to veto any attempt to introduce new regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“Any new regulatory barrier would be a matter for the Northern Ireland Assembly, where the DUP would veto any attempt to undermine the economic or constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom, ” she said.