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Theresa May fires back at EU: 'I will not overturn the referendum result, or break up my country'

EU Council President Donald Tusk has said he remains “convinced that a compromise, good for all, is still possible”.

Updated Sep 21st 2018, 7:28 PM

Britain Brexit Source: Jack Taylor

UK PRIME MINISTER Theresa May has responded to EU leaders’ criticism of her Chequers plan, saying that ”I have treated the EU with nothing but respect – the UK expects the same”.

In a statement given inside 10 Downing Street this afternoon, May reiterated the UK’s stance on Brexit negotiations, repeating that a border on the Irish Sea would not be accepted by any UK Prime Minister. 

“I will not overturn the result of the referendum, or break up my country,” she said, echoing the statement she gave yesterday where she said Chequers was the only proposal that respected the Brexit vote and the integrity of the UK.

She said that although both sides want a deal, they were currently at an “impasse” and that there were “two main issues where we remain a long way apart”: the economic relationship after Brexit, and the EU’s proposal for the Brexit backstop.

She said that the EU was proposing to remain in the economic area, which “in plain English, would mean we’d still have to abide by all the rules of the EU”. 

That would mean accepting migration and being unable to strike up trade deals with other countries outside the EU.

That would make a mockery of the referendum we held two years ago.

The second option would be a free trade deal with Britain, and would mean that Northern Ireland would remain inside the Customs Union and would be “permanently separated from the UK by a border down the Irish Sea”.

“Parliament has already unanimously rejected this idea,” she said.

Accepting any deal that divides her country was out of the question, May reiterated:

It is something that I will never agree to… If the EU believes I will, they are making a fundamental mistake.

She said that there could be no customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, but commentators speculated that she left the door open to a regulatory border – if the Northern Ireland Assembly were to agree to it.

We cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of our union, just as they cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of theirs.

May also repeated her pledge from yesterday to put forward proposals for a solution that would avoid a hard border and would still “be in line with the commitments we made back in December”. 

She then pushed the EU to come forward with a response on what the specific problems with the Chequers proposal are, and to give their alternatives. In the meantime, she said “we must continue the work ourselves for no deal”.

EU Informal Heads Of State Summit - Salzburg President of the European Council Donald Tusk. Source: Newspix/ABACA

Addressing those in Northern Ireland, May added that in the event of a no deal, the UK will do “everything in our power” to prevent a hard border.

She also pledged that the rights of EU citizens in the UK would be protected, telling them: “We want you to stay.”

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The British pound, already down against the dollar and the euro, fell sharply following May’s comments.

‘Good for all’ compromise

EU Council President Donald Tusk hit back this evening at May’s criticism of the EU’s negotiating position: “The results of our analysis have been known to the British side in every detail for many weeks.”

“The UK stance presented just before and during the Salzburg meeting was surprisingly tough and in fact uncompromising,” he said in a statement.

Tusk added he remains “convinced that a compromise, good for all, is still possible” in Brexit negotiations and that he is “a close friend of the UK and a true admirer of PM May”.

Yesterday, EU leaders such as Council President Donald Tusk, and French President Emmanuel Macron criticised the Chequers plan, which contains the UK’s proposal for an orderly exit from the European Union.

May was then forced to answer the criticism levelled at her plan by EU leaders; the Financial Times reports that the PM was ”blindsided” by the timing of the remarks and was ”pretty fired up”, according to one aide.

When Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab was asked whether yesterday could be described as an ambush, he answered “Yes, it probably was”. 

This exchange comes just a month before a vote on the final Brexit plan is expected to happen.

EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said that 80% of Brexit issues have been agreed; Tánaiste Simon Coveney qualified this progress by saying that a lot of the remaining issues – including the Irish border issue – relate to Ireland.

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