Chris Grayling told the BBC last night that the EU needed to realise that no deal was possible if they insisted on a border in Ireland
Theresa May’s cabinet ally Chris Grayling has said Britain is heading for a no deal Brexit unless Euroocrats change their minds on the Irish border
The Transport Secretary says the Government will not drop its Chequers plan despite a disastrous summit in Salzburg leaders where EU leaders threw it back in Mrs May’s face.
She was ambushed in Austria yesterday when No 10 had hoped there was going to be breakthrough in negotiations.
Last night Chris Grayling said the EU knew Mrs May’s red line was the Irish border issue and warned them without a softening of position by Brussels there will be no deal.
He told Newsnight: ‘We are in the midst of a negotiation where people are setting out robust, firm positions – and this is often the way with the European Union. They build up, there’s tough language and actually a deal is done at the last. And I’m still confident that we will reach agreement.’
He added: ‘We have put forward the only proposal that we believe meets the UK’s red lines and also provides the right solution for the Irish border. At the moment what the European Union is asking in and around Northern Ireland is actually impossible for the UK to accept. If they stick with that position, there will be no deal.
‘No UK government, certainly not this one – and the Labour party have said the same – could possibly accept any border in the Irish sea, between northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.’
Theresa May was seen shaking with anger after being ambushed by EU leaders at a conference that left the Chequers deal hanging by a thread
At an extraordinary press conference in Salzburg, a visibly furious Prime Minister rounded on EU leaders for hanging her out to dry as she battles to keep her Chequers plan alive in the face of fierce Tory criticism.
Macron: Pro-Brexit campaigners ‘lied’
Emmanuel Macron branded the leaders of the pro-Brexit campaign ‘liars’ for telling voters it would be easy to leave the EU.
The French president said the decision was ‘not without costs’ and ‘not without consequences’.
‘Brexit is the choice of the British people and it is a choice pushed by certain people who predicted easy solutions,’ he said in Salzburg.
‘Brexit has shown us one thing – and I fully respect British sovereignty in saying this – it has demonstrated that those who said you can easily do without Europe, that it will all go very well, that it is easy and there will be lots of money, are liars.
‘This is all the more true because they left the next day, so they didn’t have to manage it.’ Mr Macron said it was true that Brexit negotiations had been complex and lengthy.
But he added: ‘That fact must not be exploited by those very people who are the cause of this problem, who got us into the Brexit situation and who now tell us that Europe is going from crisis to crisis.’
His claim the leaders of the Brexit campaign ‘left the next day’ after the vote appeared to confuse them with David Cameron, who quit as PM after calling on voters to back Remain. By contrast, Brexit supporters David Davis, Boris Johnson and Liam Fox were brought into the Cabinet.
Mrs May said she still believed a deal was possible, and offered a fresh concession on Northern Ireland – but acknowledged there was ‘a lot of hard work to be done’.
In a blunt assessment, EU president Donald Tusk said the other 27 leaders ‘all agreed’ that the complex plans at the heart of the Chequers deal ‘will not work’.
Mrs May acknowledged she had had a ‘frank’ meeting with Mr Tusk shortly before she faced the press – diplomatic code for a blazing row.
In a warning to EU leaders that she cannot be pushed much further, she added: ‘Let nobody be in any doubt… we are preparing for no deal so that if we get to a position where it is not possible to do a deal then the British people can have confidence that we will have done what is necessary to ensure we make a success of leaving the European Union regardless of the terms on which we do so.’
Former Tory leader Iain Duncan Smith accused the EU of ‘bullying’ Britain.
‘This demonstrates that the EU are behaving like bullies, throwing their weight around and using the Irish border as an excuse,’ he said.
‘This will demonstrate to so many people why we need to leave. Mrs May should go for free trade, and call their bluff.’
The Prime Minister also angrily rejected calls for a second referendum, after the prime ministers of Malta and the Czech Republic publicly backed the idea. She said: ’There will be no second referendum.’
Mrs May had travelled to the EU summit in Austria hoping for warm words from fellow leaders to give her political cover for the Chequers plan, which is set to be savaged by critics like Boris Johnson at next month’s Tory conference.
But despite a personal plea from her over dinner, the EU leaders issued a humiliating rebuff designed to hand fresh ammunition to her critics.
Mrs May put on a brave face as she started crucial talks with EU leaders in Salzburg after several said talks over Brexit are ‘at a standstill’. She is pictured with Jean-Claude Juncker (centre) and Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel (right)
Mrs May suggested that yesterday’s rejection of Chequers was a negotiating ‘tactic’ designed to wring further concessions from her.
Privately, aides said they had expected a similar ‘stunt’ at some point in the negotiations, but had not anticipated EU leaders deserting her in her hour of need.
Mr Tusk, who came under pressure from Emmanuel Macron and Angela Merkel to adopt a tough stance, said the two sides now faced a ‘moment of truth’ next month, which would decide whether a Brexit deal was possible or not.
At a press conference in Salzburg (pictured), EU council chief Donald Tusk insisted Theresa May’s Chequers plan would undermine the single market
He also cast doubt on whether a special Brexit summit pencilled in for November would take place at all unless Britain changes course.
Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orbán said EU leaders were split between those who want a pragmatic Brexit deal and those who want one that ‘punishes’ the UK.
He said some leaders believed ‘Britain must suffer’, adding: ‘I don’t like that approach at all. What we need is a fair Brexit and good cooperation between the UK and EU in future.’
Asked if more people were coming round to his camp, he said he was ‘getting a majority’.
But hours later, President Macron, Chancellor Merkel and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier persuaded the bloc to toughen its stance.
Mr Macron made it clear he wanted to punish Britain to dissuade other member states from heading for the EU’s exit door.
The French President branded pro-Brexit politicians as ‘liars’ who had ‘left the next day, so they didn’t have to manage it’.
He added: ‘Brexit shows that it is not easy to leave the EU. It is not without costs. It is not without consequences.’
Mrs May insisted that Chequers was ‘the only proposal’ that would deliver frictionless trade with the EU and keep the UK’s pledge to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland.
She said EU leaders were wrong to believe that her controversial plan for a ‘common rule book’ on goods would undermine the single market – a point made specifically by Mr Tusk yesterday.
‘Yes concerns have been raised,’ she said. ‘I want to know what those concerns are. There is a lot of hard work to be done. But I believe that there is a willingness to do a deal.’
The hardline approach from Brussels prompted an angry reaction in the UK.
Former Tory chairman Grant Shapps said the PM was right to stick to her pledge to leave without a deal if Brussels continued to act unreasonably.
Mr Shapps said: ‘I’m no Brexiteer – in fact I voted Remain – but we may fast be approaching a situation where our handling over £39 billion [in ‘divorce’ payments] won’t work for us either.’
Fellow Remainer Tory MP Anna Soubry said it was clear the Chequers deal was ‘bereft of life’ and urged the PM to pursue membership of the EU single market after Brexit.
Meanwhile, Eurosceptic MPs stepped up their vows to kill off the Chequers deal at the Conservative conference and force Mrs May to pursue a free trade deal.
Former Brexit minister Steve Baker said he was ‘entirely unsurprised’ by the EU’s position as Brussels had always been clear it would only accept the UK being in the single market or subject to a standard free trade deal.
He added: ‘The Prime Minister has tried to go through the middle. It was obviously never going to work. It is time now for everyone to focus on pragmatic solutions.’
Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, said: ‘Everyone expected that there would be some softening of Mr Barnier’s line. That hasn’t happened, it has been made firmer.
‘I think Chequers now has no supporters at all. I doubt even the Downing Street cat is any longer backing the Chequers plan. I think the time has come for Mrs May to say, “This is not going to work”.’
Henry Newman, director of the think tank Open Europe, said it was now impossible for Mrs May to argue that the Chequers deal could still succeed.
He added: ‘Theresa May cannot simply claim that “nothing has changed”. She will need to re-asses her Brexit policy and use this opportunity to shift position at party conference, healing divisions which opened in the Conservatives after Downing Street’s botched handling of Chequers.
‘It’s also now time to abandon the fanciful Facilitated Customs Arrangement.’