Theresa May last night warned EU leaders that Britain is ready to walk away without a deal unless they reach a ‘workable’ agreement on Brexit in the next two months.
In a blunt ultimatum, the Prime Minister ruled out any delay to Britain’s departure from the EU in March – and said there were no circumstances in which she would consider a second referendum.
Mrs May also rejected the EU’s latest proposals for resolving the Northern Ireland border issue, warning leaders that they would break up the UK.
In recent weeks, senior figures in Brussels have floated the idea of extending the Article 50 process for up to a year to allow the talks to drift on. With Labour and several Tory MPs wobbling on the issue, some harbour hopes that ministers could even agree to hold a second referendum.
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Speaking after a dinner at the Salzburg summit Mrs May told the 27 EU leaders there could be no delay on making a deal with the Brexit deadline looming
The gathered EU leaders were told that Britain would be prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if a deal was not struck quickly
Treasury minister Mel Stride went off message yesterday when he warned Eurosceptics that they could ‘end up in the situation where we could have a second referendum’ if they vote down the Chequers deal in Parliament.
But speaking directly to EU leaders at a special summit in Salzburg last night, Mrs May said delaying Brexit was ‘not an option’.
Over a dinner of wiener schnitzel and Austrian wines, she said: ‘We all recognise that time is short, but delaying or extending these negotiations is not an option. I know for many of you, Brexit is not something you want, but it is important to be clear – there will be no second referendum in the UK.
‘The public has delivered its verdict and I as Prime Minister will deliver on that. The UK will leave on March 29 next year. I have put forward serious and workable proposals.
‘We will not, of course, agree on every detail, but the onus is now on all of us to get this deal done.’
The leaders of Lithuania and Slovakia last night said there had been no breakthrough on the border issue.
‘It’s a standstill,’ said Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite after the leaders’ dinner.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel said she hoped Brexit would take place with ‘respect’ on both sides
French President Emmanuel Macron arriving at the summit in Salzburg to discuss a number of bilateral issues within the bloc
Large-scale protests were undertaken near the venue in opposition to the Austrian government’s controversial migration policies
Slovak PM Peter Pellegrini said: ‘There has been no progress.’
EU president Donald Tusk yesterday confirmed plans for an emergency Brexit summit of all 28 EU leaders in mid-November.
UK sources said that with Mrs May ruling out any extension to the talks, this was now the last realistic opportunity to strike a deal in time for it to be ratified before Britain’s departure.
Arriving at the summit yesterday, Mrs May said she remained ‘confident’ of a good deal – but warned that the EU would have to ‘evolve’ its position and move closer to her Chequers proposals, which have been greeted with scepticism in Brussels.
Mr Tusk described elements of the Chequers proposals as a ‘positive evolution in the UK approach’, particularly on security co-operation.
But he said key differences remained, adding: ‘On other issues such as the Irish question or the framework of economic co-operation the UK proposals will need to be reworked and further negotiated. Today there is perhaps more hope but there is surely less and less time.’
President of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said the EU and UK were ‘far away’ from a deal at the moment
Mrs Merkel also said she hoped there could be agreements reached in areas such as security
EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the two sides remained ‘far away’ from a deal.
The commission is hostile to the proposal for a ‘common rule book’ with the UK on goods and the idea of the UK collecting tariffs for the EU, but some EU leaders made it clear they were desperate to avoid a no-deal Brexit.
Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz, who holds the EU’s revolving presidency, said: ‘We are convinced that we need a deal. We must do everything to avoid a hard Brexit.
‘It would not just harm British, but would also cause damage for us in Europe. We are striving to make a compromise possible.’
Luxembourg prime minister Xavier Bettel said: ‘We need to find a deal, a no-deal is a really bad solution. It’s a terrible solution for the UK and a bad solution for Europe. So we need to find a deal.’
The Chequers proposals led to the resignations of Boris Johnson and David Davis.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel was among the group of EU leaders Mrs May addressed last night (she is pictured arriving at the summit)
May and Britain’s Permanent Representative to the EU Tim Barrow arrive for the informal meeting on Wednesday
EU leaders are expected to deliver their first public verdict on the issue today following discussions from which Mrs May will be excluded.
Earlier on Wednesday, Mrs May also insisted there would be no second referendum in Britain in a warning both to Remain rebels in the UK and EU politicians who still hope Brexit can be stopped.
Earlier, the PM’s hopes of discussing her Chequers plan at length with counterparts for the first time were dashed, meaning her short speech was received in silence.
Meanwhile, Michel Barnier reiterated his demand for Northern Ireland to stay within the EU’s customs jurisdiction after Brexit – something the UK has repeatedly ruled out.
The DUP, which is propping the Tories up in power, dismissed the Eurocrat’s promise to ‘improve’ his Irish border solution by using technology to reduce the need for checks.
Just minutes before a crucial dinner where she will set out her plans, Mrs May said ‘just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to evolve its position too’.
The Prime Minister stuck to her line that Europe must evolve its position as Britain has done to reach a compromise deal as she addressed reporters tonight (pictured)
Mrs May arrived in Salzburg to a new warning from EU Council President Donald Tusk (pictured last night arriving at the dinner) that she must ‘rework’ her idea to make them palatable to Brussels
Arriving at the summit in Salzburg, Austrian chancellor Sebastian Kurz (pictured last night speaking to reporters) said Theresa May and the UK would need to compromise
EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (left) and EU Council President Donald Tusk (right) were among the arrivals for the crucial dinner in Austria
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel arrives at the Felsenreitschule prior to an informal dinner as part of the EU Informal Summit of Heads of State or Government in Salzburg
Despite the stand-off, Mrs May tried to strike an optimistic tone during the Salzburg summit – insisting her Chequers plan for future relations is the only realistic option on the table.
In an interview before she left for the summit, Mrs May said: ‘What I hear from other EU leaders is a recognition of that timetable and a recognition of the importance of showing we can sit down and come to an agreement.
‘I’m not going to be pushed away from doing what is necessary to get the right deal for Britain.
‘The plan that is on the table to take us forward, the plan that delivers on the Brexit vote but also protects jobs and maintains the unity of the UK is the Chequers plan. I haven’t seen another plan that delivers on all of those.
‘I think people want to come together. For most people, they want Brexit done and they want to feel the country at last has come together.
‘Neither side can demand the unacceptable of the other, such as an external customs border between different parts of the UK.’
Also in attendance for last night’s dinner was Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen (left) and Lithuanian President Dalia Grybauskaite
Speaking as the crucial summit kicked off in Salzburg, EU council president Donald Tusk said there was ‘more hope but less time’ to strike a Brexit deal
Theresa May, pictured delivering a speech in London yesterday morning, before she headed to Salzburg for the summit
Michel Barnier (pictured in Salzburg on Wednesday) has said he wants to ‘improve’ the EU’s proposals on the Irish border
Irish PM Leo Varadkar (pictured in Salzburg on Wednesday) has insisted the EU is united over Brexit
Mr Barnier renewed his efforts to ‘de-dramatise’ the Irish border issue on Wednesday evening by saying he was working on a new draft of his blueprint.
Eurocrats have been sounding a more optimistic tone about the way checks can be enforced over recent weeks, including admitting that technology and ‘trusted trader’ schemes can largely do away with the need for physical infrastructure.
The EU official suggested officials could inspect goods entering the UK via Ireland on ferries and in business premises away from the border.
He said: ‘We are ready to improve this proposal. Work on the EU side is ongoing. We are clarifying which goods arriving in Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK would need to be checked and where, when and by whom these checks could be performed’.
Mr Barnier said talks were in the ‘home straight’, although two key issues remained unresolved ahead of October’s deadlines – one being the problem surrounding the Irish border.
He insisted an Irish ‘backstop’ must be legally operationally and respect the UK’s constitutional integrity.
Earlier, Mr Barnier was in Brussels with Jean-Claude Juncker for other meetings about Brexit
The Prime Minister, pictured leaving No10 on Wednesday, was only given ten minutes to deliver her Brexit pitch
He said: ‘We are ready to improve this proposal. Most checks can take place away from the border, at company premises, or the market,’ Barnier said of customs and regulatory checks on goods that might move from British mainland to Northern Ireland.
Speaking at a news conference in Brussels, Barnier said: ‘It is then we shall see whether agreement we are hoping for is in our grasp.Mr
‘October is the key point in time – it is the moment of truth. We will see whether an agreement is in reach at that moment based on a subjective evaluation which I will be submitting in reporting to the European leaders on the state of negotiations.’
Flatly rejecting Mr Barnier’s latest overtures, DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said: ‘So Michel Barnier says he can do different kinds of checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK as if that makes it more palatable.
‘The fundamental point is that internal UK checks are only needed if it is intended to separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
‘Despite the talk of ‘improvements’ the backstop being insisted upon by the EU … still means a border down the Irish Sea although with different kinds of checks.
‘The fact is that both Theresa May and the Labour Party have said no British prime minister could accept such a concept.’
Mrs May delivered a speech to the National Housing Federation yesterday (pictured) before heading for the summit
Mr Barnier (right) and EU competition commissioner Margrethe Vestager (centre) greeted each other warmly in Brussels on Wednesday
What’s at stake at the key summit?
What is happening in Salzburg?
Austria is hosting a one-off summit to discuss Brexit and the migrant crisis tearing apart the EU. Last night Theresa May outlined her Chequers proposals to fellow leaders for the first time. Today they are expected to deliver their initial verdict on her plans.
What did Mrs May tell them?
The PM warned that she will not delay Brexit or hold a second referendum – leaving just two months to strike an agreement ahead of the UK’s departure on March 29. Effectively, she asked them to accept the Chequers proposals or risk the economic turbulence of a no-deal departure.
What are the sticking points?
Northern Ireland and trade. Mrs May has said she will never accept the EU’s fall-back plan, which would introduce a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. The EU is resisting her plan to effectively keep the UK in the single market for goods via a common rule book.
Hasn’t the EU compromised on Northern Ireland?
Not really. EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier said this week he was ready to make an ‘improved offer’ on the border issue. But his new concession appears to be to allow British, rather than EU, officials to police customs and regulatory checks between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
What will happen today?
EU leaders are anxious not to destabilise Mrs May ahead of next month’s Tory conference for fear of sparking her replacement by a hardline Brexiteer, such as Boris Johnson. Leaders are expected to issue warm words of encouragement today, while making it clear they want further concessions.
What are the EU’s tactics?
Some in Brussels are determined to make sure the UK loses out as a result of Brexit in order to dissuade other countries from leaving. Others believe Mrs May is not serious about leaving without a deal and will eventually agree further concessions.
What happens next?
The original deadline for reaching a deal at next month’s EU summit has been all but abandoned. Leaders are expected to propose a special Brexit summit in mid-November, but sources in Brussels are suggesting a final deal could slip even later.
Where does this leave the Chequers deal?
Hardline Brexiteers and diehard Remainers are both using the EU’s scepticism about Chequers to step up their own campaigns to kill it off.
As part of the drive to set out the UK’s position to the EU’s leaders, she used an article in German newspaper Die Welt to explain her stance.
The Chequers blueprint – a ‘common rulebook’ for trade in goods and ‘business-friendly facilitated customs arrangement’ – is the only way to resolve the thorny issue of the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland, she said.
‘It is profoundly in both sides’ economic interest, it respects the integrity of the single market and, crucially, no-one else has come up with a proposal that could command cross-community support in Northern Ireland that is the only true foundation for stability there.’
Mrs May said: ‘To come to a successful conclusion, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to do the same.
‘Neither side can demand the unacceptable of the other, such as an external customs border between different parts of the United Kingdom – which no other country would accept if they were in the same situation – or the UK seeking the rights of EU membership without the obligations.’
Mrs May is expected to use the Salzburg summit to hold formal face-to-face talks with Belgian premier Charles Michel later and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar and Mr Tusk on Thursday.
Brexiteers could spark second referendum by voting down Chequers, minister warns
Treasury minister Mel Stride today
Brexiteers could trigger a second referendum by voting down a Chequers-style deal with the EU, a minister warned today.
Treasury minister Mel Stride raised the prospect as he urged all MPs to get behind the PM’s plan.
The comments are an indication of the brinkmanship likely to happen if a package comes before parliament.
Mr Stride said Eurosceptic Tories should ‘be very concerned that if that deal does not prevail, they will end up in the situation where we could have a second referendum or we could end up not leaving the EU altogethe’.
He told Sky News: ‘I think those on the other end of the spectrum will equally be very concerned that if Chequers does not prevail, we could end up in a no-deal situation.’
She may talk to other leaders in the margins of the summit.
Attention had been increasingly focused on the prospect of a special summit in November to finalise an agreement, but Mr Barnier said it should be clear before then whether a deal was possible.
Mrs May hailed the potential opportunities of Brexit and dismissed calls for a second referendum in her interview.
‘As a nation, we’re at a really important point in our history. Brexit is that important point because our future is in our own hands,’ she said.
‘We’ll have the opportunity to take the freedoms that people voted for and use them to deliver that better future for everybody.’
‘Brexit gives us the opportunity to build a better future and to help people to realise the British dream.
‘We gave people the opportunity to make a choice. They made that choice.
‘If we as politicians want people to trust us, then we have to deliver for them on that.
‘I’m putting on the table what we think is the right plan for the UK and deliver a good deal for the EU.
‘When the referendum took place, we gave people the opportunity to make a choice. They made that choice. If we as politicians want people to trust us, then we have to deliver for them on that. If we were to go back on that vote, it would destroy trust in politicians.
‘A lot of people out there, however they voted in the referendum, say a decision’s been taken, let’s get on with and do it.
‘I’m confident we can get a good deal. We’ve put the Chequers plan on the table and that does deliver for people.
‘I believe that what we’re proposing is the Brexit that delivers the freedoms that people voted for – making our own laws, controlling our own borders, controlling our money.’
Former Brexit Secretary David Davis will deliver another blow to Mrs May’s Chequers plan today.
In a speech on Thursday, Mr Davis will say the PM’s proposals cross all of her own negotiating red lines.
‘Chequers is devoid of democracy altogether. This is why many of us will shortly be presenting an alternative plan which will outline a more ambitious vision,’ he will say.
Reach a deal or risk safety – warn airports in Europe
European airports have warned Brussels they face ‘major disruption and heightened safety risks’ if a Brexit deal is not agreed.
More than 6 million passengers a year who change flights in Europe after setting off from the UK face extra security and screening if the country is excluded from an EU scheme.
At present, travellers do not have to undergo extra checks before embarking on the second leg of the journey because the UK is part of the ‘one-stop’ security regime.
Airports Council International (Europe) has warned the European Commission that under a ‘no deal’ scenario, passengers would have to be re-screened at the airport where they change flights. In a letter obtained by Sky News, the group representing European airports warns they face having to ‘purchase additional security equipment, build new security checkpoints, recruit extra security and service staff at significant costs for airlines and airports and ultimately passengers’.
ACI highlights how 2.5 million passengers transfer flights at Schipol airport in Amsterdam each year after taking off from the UK.
The group warns that if there is no deal the airport would have to undergo ‘significant and expensive terminal infrastructure modifications’ costing 100 million euros (£88 million). It would also have to more than double its fleet of transfer buses from 21 to 46.
Countdown to Brexit: The key milestones on the road to exit day
Theresa May (pictured in Downing Street) meets EU leaders in Salzburg tomorrow in the first of a series of choreographed moments on the final road to Brexit
Salzburg Summit, September 19-20
In a crucial moment tomorrow, the Prime Minister will address EU leaders on her Chequers proposals for the first time.
She will set out why the proposals are the only ‘credible and negotiable’ plan that both honours the referendum vote and – in her view – works for the EU.
The response of EU leaders will be crucial. Most have been cool on the ideas so far but expectation is rising they could give EU Negotiator Michel Barnier new guidelines within which to strike a deal.
EU Council President Donald Tusk has said the meeting must reach a ‘common view’ on the shape of the future UK-EU relationship and agree the final phase of talks.
Failure would dramatically raise the chance of no deal.
Next round of negotiations, September 21 to mid-October
The following month of detailed talks will be among the most crucial so far.
If the Salzburg summit sees EU leaders agree a broad framework as planned, the UK and EU negotiators will have just weeks to frame a ‘political declaration’ on the future relationship and finalise the withdrawal treaty.
How far they get in drafting the documents – and how much is left to EU leaders themselves – will determine when, if at all, an agreement can be struck.
The political declaration will explain in non-legal language what the two sides plans to agree in the final treaty.
A political declaration was used in December 2017 to outline the proposed transition deal and the £39billion divorce bill agreed by the UK. This is what is currently being turned into legal language for the withdrawal treaty.
EU Negotiator Michel Barnier (right in Brussels last week) maybe given new guidelines this week within which to strike a deal. EU Council President Donald Tusk (left) has said the meeting must reach a ‘common view’ on the shape of the future UK-EU relationship
EU Summit, Brussels, October 18-19
October’s EU summit has long been pencilled in as the opportunity for EU leaders to agree the withdrawal treaty on the terms of exit and a political declaration on the future relationship between the UK and EU.
If a deal can be struck in October, it leaves plenty of time for it to be agreed in the UK and ratified in the EU, paving the way for an orderly Brexit in March.
A deal is not expected to be finalised at this summit but both sides will hope for significant progress – even if the summit is used to set out the dividing lines one last time.
Emergency EU Summit, Brussels, November 13
A one-day emergency summit in November is now widely expected. If it happens, there will be acute political pressure to finalise both the withdrawal treaty and political declaration – if nothing else to allow the EU to return to other business.
Expect a high stakes meeting and a late night finish. Failure will see both sides walking up to the brink of a chaotic exit and peering over the edge.
The response of the European Council (including German Chancellor Angela Merkel) will be crucial in the next stages of the EU talks
EU Summit, Brussels, December 13-14
Given the need to ratify the deal, the December summit is the last chance to strike a deal. Brexit is not supposed to be on the agenda: if the talks reach this summit there has been a major breakdown.
The EU does infamously find a way to agreement at the 11th hour and if Brexit talks are still live in December, many will hope for a fudge that can get both sides over the line.
Last year, talks on the outline divorce deal were pushed to December and a deal was – just – reached.
The so-called ‘meaningful vote’ in the UK Parliament, January 2019
Assuming there is a withdrawal treaty and political declaration, the next stage is for the action is in the UK Parliament.
Mrs May promised Tory Remain rebels a ‘meaningful’ vote on the final deal in both the Commons and Lords.
This is expected to be a simple yes or no vote on what she has negotiated – so in theory a detailed withdrawal treaty, spelling out the divorce bill and other issues such as citizens’ rights, and the political declaration on the future relationship.
Linking the two will be a high stakes moment. Brexiteers do not want to sign off the divorce bill without a trade deal and Remainers are reluctant to vote for a blind Brexit.
But the Prime Minister has made clear it is deal or no deal: accept what she has negotiated or leave Britain crashing out on March 29, 2019 with no agreement in place.
If the meaningful vote is passed, there will be a series of further votes as the withdrawal treaty is written into British law.
The Prime Minister (pictured at the EU Council in June) has made clear it is deal or no deal: accept what she has negotiated or leave Britain crashing out on March 29, 2019 with no agreement in place
Ratification in the EU, February 2019
After the meaningful vote in the UK, the EU will have to ratify the agreement. This is a two stage process.
National parliaments in all 27 countries have to vote on the deal. It does not need to pass everywhere but must be carried in at least 20 of the 27 countries, with Yes votes covering at least 65 per cent of the EU population.
The European Parliament must also vote in favour of the deal. It has a representative in the talks, Guy Verhofstadt, who has repeatedly warned the deal must serve the EU’s interests.
In practice, once the leaders of the 27 member states have agreed a deal, ratification on the EU side should be assured.
Exit day, March 29, 2019
At 11pm on March 29, 2019, Britain will cease to be a member of the European Union, two years after triggering Article 50 and almost three years after the referendum.
Exit happens at 11pm because it must happen on EU time.
If the transition deal is in place, little will change immediately – people will travel in the same way as today and goods will cross the border normally.
But Britain’s MEPs will no longer sit in the European Parliament and British ministers will no longer take part in EU meetings.
Negotiations will continue to turn the political agreement on the future partnership into legal text that will eventually become a second treaty. Both sides will build new customs and immigration controls in line with what this says.
If there is no deal, there is little clarity on what will happen. Britain has outlined contingencies for a catastrophic breakdown in transport and goods networks; in practice short term, small side deals will be likely be rapidly negotiated to avert the worst consequences.