Major blow for Theresa May as EU leaders say her Chequers plan for Brexit 'will not work'
Theresa May has been dealt a huge blow today as EU leaders said her Chequers plan for Brexit "will not work".
European Council chief Donald Tusk said the 27 remaining member states were united in their rejection of her plans to maintain close economic ties with Brussels in the future.
His comments came at the end of a special summit in Salzburg at which Mrs May had been hoping to persuade her fellow leaders to make key concessions.
Under the Prime Minister's blueprint, agreed by the Cabinet at Chequers in July, the UK would agree to a "common rule book" on goods, while collecting tariffs on behalf of Brussels in a bid to keep the Northern Irish border open.
But effectively killing off her plan, Mr Tusk said: "Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal the suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least because it risks undermining the single market."
Mr Tusk also poured cold water on suggestions that talks could be extended into November, with a special summit convened to hammer out the final points of a deal.
He said an extra summit would be merely a rubber stamping exercise to formalise what is agreed at a make-or-break European Council summit in October.
“The moment of truth for Brexit negotiations will be the October European Council,” he said. “In October we expect maximum progress and results in the Brexit talks. Then we will decide whether conditions are there to call an extra summit in November to finalise and formalise the deal.”
He added that EU member states will not sign up to a withdrawal agreement “without a solid, operational and legally binding Irish backstop” which would guarantee no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
The Prime Minister has put forward the proposal that the whole of the UK would remain in the single market and customs union for a period of time if everything breaks down.
But the EU is pushing for a plan that would see Northern Ireland alone remaining in the trading zones, which has been rejected by the Government as unacceptable as it would effectively create a new border in the Irish Sea.
However Mr Tusk sounded a note of hope for the talks, when he said: "The atmosphere today and yesterday was much better than two or three weeks ago - but the Irish question needs something more than good intentions."
French president Emmanuel Macron also rubbished the Chequers plans - and launched an astonishing broadside at the "liars" who campaigned for Leave in the EU referendum.
He said: "In a very clear manner, I also want to say that the proposals as of today are not acceptable, in particular the economic aspects."
Mr Macron added: "Brexit is... pushed by those who predicted easy solutions. Those people are liars. They left the next day so they didn’t have to manage it."
Speaking immediately after Mr Tusk, Theresa May insisted her plans could still be salvaged.
She said: "Yes, concerns have been raised, I want to know what those concerns are. There's a lot of hard work to be done, but I believe that there is willingness to do a deal.
"But let nobody be in any doubt, that as I've always said we are preparing for no deal. So that if we get to the position where it is not possible to do a deal, then the British people can be confident that we will have done everything to ensure that we make a success of leaving the European Union, regardless of the terms on which we do so."
But she was mocked on Twitter by leading Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg.
Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said: "It has been clear for weeks that Theresa May’s Chequers’ proposals cannot deliver the comprehensive plan we need to protect jobs, the economy and avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
"With just weeks to go until a deal must be struck, the Prime Minister cannot keep ignoring this reality. She needs to urgently drop her reckless red lines and put forward a credible plan for Brexit."
Labour MP David Lammy, of the pro-EU Best for Britain campaign, said: "The Prime Minister's bluff has turned out to be a duff. Her desperate pleas for EU leaders to keep her in power have failed spectacularly and Tusk just wrote the Chequers obituary.
"No one wants it because it's the worst of all worlds: tied to the EU without having a veto over new rules, while not protecting jobs up and down the country from the Brexit crash.
"Theresa May has shown she can't provide the solution the country is crying out for, preferring instead to ignore everyone and push on with her deal. But Chequers' nine lives have run out now. It's time for a people's vote on Brexit, with the option to stay and lead reform from within the EU. That's what the country wants and that's the solution to the logjam."