Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May rules out any delays to Brexit as pressure grows to reach a deal

The Prime Minister told her fellow leaders in Salzburg that the onus was on all of them to find an agreement.

Theresa May ruled out any delay to the Brexit process as she told European Union leaders that her Chequers plan was the only credible route to a deal.

The Prime Minister set out a blueprint to her 27 counterparts over dinner in Salzburg after being told by EU chiefs that significant elements of it would have to be reworked.

However, at the gathering in Austria, Mrs May told them there would be no delay beyond the UK’s March 2019 departure, no second referendum and therefore the onus was on the continent’s leaders to find a solution if they wanted to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

European Council president Donald Tusk said the Prime Minister’s Chequers blueprint was a “welcome evolution” in the UK’s approach but major issues remained to be resolved including avoiding a hard border in Ireland and the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU.

Warning that there was “less and less time” to reach a deal before the UK’s March 29 2019 exit date, Mr Tusk confirmed he would propose an emergency EU Brexit summit in November.

Arriving at the meeting in Salzburg, Mrs May said Chequers was “the only credible and negotiable plan on the table that delivers no hard border in Northern Ireland and also delivers on the vote of the British people”.

She added: “If we are going to achieve a successful conclusion then, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to evolve its position too.”

Her comments came just hours after Mr Tusk said that on key issues “the UK’s proposals will need to be reworked and further negotiated”.

UK Government sources revealed that Mrs May was using the dinner to acknowledge the difficulties and that she had “never pretended Brexit would be easy or simple”.

But she made clear the high stakes of the negotiations over the coming weeks if a deal is to be struck this autumn in time for ratification ahead of March 29, 2019 Brexit day.

A senior UK official said her message to them was “we all recognise that time is short but delaying or extending these negotiations is not an option”.

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Theresa May is greeted by Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz at the informal EU summit in Salzburg (Kerstin Joensson/AP)

She said: “I believe that I have put forward serious and workable proposals.

“We will, of course, not agree on every detail but I hope that you will respond in kind. The onus is now on all of us to get this deal done.”

The domestic difficulties facing Mrs May – which EU leaders are all too aware of – were further illustrated as it emerged her former Brexit secretary David Davis has described Chequers as a “non-starter”.

In extracts of a speech he plans to deliver in Munich on Thursday, Mr Davis said the PM’s plan crossed all of her own negotiating red lines.

He said: “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.”

Ahead of the summit in Austria, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was ready to come forward with a new offer on the Irish border.

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(PA Graphics)

However, Mrs May’s DUP allies poured cold water on the suggestion and the Prime Minister stressed she would not be prepared to accept anything that resulted in Northern Ireland effectively being “carved away” from the rest of the UK.

In order to “de-dramatise” the main obstacle to a withdrawal deal, Mr Barnier suggested arrangements could be made to conduct the majority of checks on imports and exports away from the border itself.

The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mrs May’s minority administration in Parliament, dismissed Mr Barnier’s proposals as unpalatable, because they would involve a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“It still means a border down the Irish Sea although with different kinds of checks,” said the party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds.

Mrs May said: “I welcome the fact that Michel Barnier is recognising the need to find a new solution because the original proposal put forward by the European Commission was unacceptable to us.

“We have always recognised that there are unique circumstances that apply in Northern Ireland – for example in relation to checks for some
agricultural products.

“But what we cannot accept is seeing Northern Ireland carved away from the UK customs territory because regardless of where the checks would be, what that would mean would be that it would be a challenge to our constitutional and economic integrity.”

The Salzburg meeting came as campaigners in the UK published a roadmap setting out how MPs could force the Prime Minister to accept what they call a People’s Vote on her deal, with the option of remaining in the EU.

Despite Mrs May insisting the choice was between her deal or no deal, Treasury minister Mel Stride appeared to suggest that a second poll was still a possibility.

But Mrs May slapped down any suggestion that her government could hold a so-called People’s Vote.

“I want to be absolutely clear, this government will never accept a second referendum,” she said.

“The British people voted to leave the European Union and we will be leaving on March 29, 2019.”

She challenged the Labour leadership to rule out the prospect of support for a second referendum – something that is likely to be a hot topic as Jeremy Corbyn’s party gathers for its conference in Liverpool starting on Sunday.

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