European Union leaders will push for a Brexit deal next month but warned Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday that if she will not give ground on trade and the Irish border by November they are ready to cope with Britain crashing out, Reuters reports.
“Don’t worry, be happy,” joked EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker after telling reporters after a summit in Austria that the Europeans had full plans in place in the event there was no deal before Britain leaves next March.
May promised new proposals to reassure Dublin that it would not get a “hard border” with the British province of Northern Ireland but warned she too could live with a no-deal outcome — though many round the summit table in picturesque Salzburg see that as more of a negotiating tactic than a credible threat.
She said her “Chequers” proposals for trade with the EU, intended also to resolve arguments over the borders of Northern Ireland, were the only way forward. EU leaders repeated their view the plans would undermine their cherished single market.
But leaders also tried to put a positive spin on their 24 hours of talks. Summit chair Donald Tusk said he was more optimistic about getting agreements both to ease Britain out gently and to sketch out a future free trade pact.
Tusk said a Brussels summit on Oct. 18 would be a “moment of truth” to overcome remaining big problems and leaders pencilled in the weekend of Nov. 17-18 to formalise a final agreement.
But May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those who stressed there was still “a lot of work” to do.
May faces a fight with angry Conservatives at her party’s conference in 10 days. They deride her willingness to bind Britain into much EU regulation in return for free trade; some would prefer a no-deal “hard Brexit” in March, despite warnings that would ravage the British economy.
EU leaders understand that she can give little away before the conference ends on Oct. 3. But they hope their negotiator, Michel Barnier, can secure her agreement next month to what will be new EU proposals. These will be fundamentally unchanged but may be politically more palatable, notably on Northern Ireland.
“Ritual dance is always a part of such negotiations,” a senior adviser to one of May’s summit peers told Reuters.
“It may be that they will just accept what we have proposed after the Tory conference.”