One of the EU’s most senior politicians has warned Theresa May that the ultimate outcome of Brexit is up to the UK and not Brussels, after the British prime minister told her parliament she was waiting for the EU to decide the future relationship.
Donald Tusk, who chaired last week’s EU summit as European Council president, raised the pressure on Mrs May — buffeted by infighting within her own party over Brexit — by saying it was the responsibility of her government to decide how negotiations would proceed.
“This is in fact up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit,” Mr Tusk told the European Parliament in a post-summit report.
Mrs May on Monday told the House of Commons that the summit’s conclusions showed the remaining 27 EU countries 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”.
Mr Tusk appeared to directly challenge that assertion, saying: “It is in fact up to London how this will end.”
The remaining 27 EU governments are set to begin talks among themselves on the future relationship with the UK and on an immediate post-Brexit transition period, in the hope that by December “sufficient progress” can be made with London on divorce issues such as Britain’s exit bill to widen the scope of negotiations.
“Ahead of us is still the toughest stress test. If we fail it, the negotiations will end with our defeat,” Mr Tusk said.
The issue of whether to move to a second phase of talks, where a future trade relationship and a two-year transition period can be negotiated, has become the central point of dispute between London and Brussels. Mrs May’s team has urged a widening of the discussions while the EU insists more firm UK commitments on the divorce bill must be made.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has already given an indication of Brussels’ thinking on future relationship issues, telling a group of European newspapers that Britain’s decision to leave the EU single market and customs union means that negotiators “will have to work on a model that is closer” to the EU’s free-trade deal with Canada.
Mrs May has dismissed a “Canadian model”, saying Britain deserves a closer relationship with the EU after having been a member of the bloc for decades.
In an indication of how hard it will be for Mrs May to succeed in her strategy, set out in a speech in Florence in September, of trying to find an arrangement that offers greater market access than the Canada deal, while avoiding the single market membership and rule-taking of Norway, Mr Barnier stressed that the integrity of the single market is “non-negotiable”.
“Either you’re in or you’re out,” he said.
Mr Barnier also shot down UK hopes that details of a trade deal could be settled by March 2019, saying instead that negotiation and ratification of a permanent future relationship would take “several years.”
While Mr Tusk and other leaders strived at last week’s summit to maintain a positive tone on the Brexit talks, the sentiment was quickly dented at the weekend after a German newspaper reported that Mrs May had begged for help at a dinner with Jean-Claude Juncker, European Commission president, in Brussels last week.
The story led to a public spat between Mr Juncker’s chief of staff and a former top adviser to Mrs May. The commission on Monday refuted details of the account and denied being the source of the leak.
Speaking alongside Mr Tusk in Strasbourg, Mr Juncker insisted that he and his team are 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 deals — they have no friends in the commission.”