Theresa May tells Donald Tusk EU Brexit plans for Northern Ireland 'unacceptable'

Posted On: 
1st March 2018

Theresa May has warned Donald Tusk that EU proposals which would effectively keep Northern Ireland in the customs union after Brexit are "unacceptable".

Donald Tusk and Theresa May in Number 10.
PA Images

The Prime Minister delivered the stark message to the European Council president over lunch in Downing Street.

Meanwhile, President Tusk told Mrs May that he was "not happy" with the red lines she has set out for the Brexit negotiations.

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A draft EU withdrawal agreement published by Brussels suggested moving the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic into the Irish Sea as a "backstop" option if all other solutions fail.

A Downing Street spokesman said the Prime Minister had made clear to President Tusk that the Government "remains steadfast in its commitment to avoiding a hard border between Northern Ireland and Ireland".

But he added: "The PM said that the draft text put forward by the European Commission yesterday was unacceptable to the UK as it would, if implemented, undermine the UK common market and constitutional integrity of the UK.

"The PM reiterated that both she and the Taoiseach have said that their priority is to resolve the border question through the overall relationship between the UK and the EU."

The clash came as Mrs May prepares to deliver a major speech tomorrow on her plans for "an ambitious economic partnership" with the EU, the spokesman said.

He added: "This will sit alongside the deep security partnership that she argued for in her Munich speech last month. 

 "The PM said that she hoped that European leaders would engage with this thinking constructively."

The talks took place over a menu of poached fillet of lemon sole with brown shrimp, chervil cream sauce, potato terrine and seasonal vegetables. For dessert, they had chocolate pavlova with poached pear.

In a sign of the tensions between the pair as they posed for photographs, President Tusk was heard saying: "I'm absolutely sure that after your so-called red line, we'll I'm not happy with it, you know, but of course, but it's natural that you have maybe different point of views when it comes to the essence of Brexit.

"Anyway, after your decision on no customs union and no single market it's some kind of breakthrough and we can start our substantive negotiations immediately."