EU won't reopen Brexit talks with new Prime Minister, Irish deputy PM warns Tory leadership rivals
Tory leadership contenders have been warned that the European Union will not offer any renegotiation of Theresa May's Brexit deal once she stands down as Prime Minister.
Ireland's deputy prime minister Simon Coveney told broadcaster RTÉ that "the personality might change but the facts don't".
And he hit out at "impossible" Conservative MPs for their treatment of "decent person" Mrs May.
The Prime Minister told senior Tory MPs last week that she would stand aside within weeks following a Commons vote on the Withdrawal Agreement Bill.
The EU has repeatedly stated in recent months that the deal thrashed out by Mrs May over the past two years will not be reopened, although some Brexiteers argue that stepping up preparations for a no-deal Brexit in October will force the bloc to come back to the negotiating table.
But Mr Coveney said: "The EU has said very clearly that the Withdrawal Agreement has been negotiated over two-and-a-half years, it was agreed with the British government and the British Cabinet and it's not up for renegotiation, even if there is a new British Prime Minister."
Taking direct aim at Conservative MPs, the Irish deputy prime minister added: "They have tried to dumb this debate down into a simplistic argument whereby it's Britain versus the EU, as opposed to two friends tying to navigate through the complexity of a very, very difficult agreement."
The Tánaiste meanwhile warned that ongoing gridlock at Westminster could see Britain head for a no-deal exit from the European Union on October 31, and made clear that the EU would ramp up its own contingency planning to prepare for that outcome.
"The danger of course, is that the British system will simply not be able to deal with this issue and even though there's a majority in Westminster that want to avoid a no-deal Brexit, and that is why over the summer months we will continue to focus significant efforts and financial resources on contingency planning to prepare for that worst case scenario," Mr Coveney said.
BORIS VS HUNT?
The intervention came as former Tory chairman Grant Shapps predicted that the crowded field of Conservative leadership hopefuls would eventually be whittled down to ex-Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson and his successor Jeremy Hunt.
Mr Shapps told the BBC's Westminster Hour that there were "10 serious candidates" for the top job, with Mr Hunt and Mr Johnson likely to be joined in the race by ex-Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab and Environment Secretary Michael Gove.
"You’ll notice I didn’t mention Sajid Javid in there," he added.
"I think his role as Home Secretary has essentially kept him very busy and may mean that he hasn’t been able to sit down and speak to as many colleagues as some of these other contenders.
"Whittled down I guess something like a Jeremy Hunt, Boris Johnson final two for the members would be the sort of thing I could imagine."
The Tory ex-chairman said he believed Conservative members would ultimately "go for a Leaver" - warning that the party's preference for a Brexiteer would leave a "a question mark" over former Vote Leave campaigner Michael Gove "because he’s stuck so closely alongside Theresa May".
Speaking on the same programme, Conservative MP Vicky Ford signalled her support for Mr Hunt, praising him as someone able to address "big global challenges".
She said: "I see him to be very competent, very capable and one of the first jobs of a new leader and the prime minister will be to sort out the relationship with Europe and we need to have someone who is seen as competent on the international stage, and goodness if he can sort out what’s happened in Yemen with so much energy in that situation, someone who’s brave enough to take on big global challenges, is what I would like to see.”