SALZBURG — Council President Donald Tusk on Thursday rejected U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s “Chequers” plan for a post-Brexit relationship — the most blunt dismissal of her proposal by the EU27 so far.
“While there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work,” Tusk said at the closing news conference at an informal EU leaders’ summit, “not least because it will risk undermining the single market.”
The EU27 and its chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, have long warned that they would not accept May’s proposal — that was agreed by the British Cabinet at a meeting in July at May’s Chequers country residence — to create a “free trade area” for goods not services. Brussels argues that the plan would divide the EU’s single market.
But Tusk’s forceful rejection, on the day after May addressed all EU27 leaders at a dinner here in Salzburg and urged further compromises, seemed to sharply raise the possibility that talks will break down.
Still, Tusk proclaimed himself “more optimistic” that agreement would be reached on a withdrawal treaty after the summit in Salzburg. And he, like other leaders, stressed that there were other aspects of May’s proposals, particularly on security and foreign policy, that they supported.
Pressed on the point, Tusk — who had met with May immediately before the press conference — said that the EU simply would not back away from its redline on the integrity of the single market, and the sanctity of its four freedoms, including free movement of workers, which the U.K. says it will not allow after Brexit.
“We need to compromise on both sides,” Tusk said. “This is the very essence of negotiations.”
“It must be clear that there are some issues where we are not ready to compromise, first of all this is our four fundamental freedoms and single market, this is way we remain sceptical and critical when it comes to this part of the Chequers proposal. The Irish question remains our priority too, and for this we need not only good will,” he said.
Tusk said the EU was aiming to complete the withdrawal treaty in October, and in a move clearly designed to maintain pressure on London, Tusk declined to designate a special summit in November.
He added though, that if such a summit were needed it would be held on the weekend of November 17 and 18.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel, the EU’s most influential leader, reiterated that the EU viewed the integrity of its single market as non-negotiable.
“We’ve already come a long way with the Withdrawal Agreement,” Merkel said at her own news conference in Salzburg. “We still have a lot of work to do regarding the future relations and the necessary political declaration.”
“There is a lot of common ground on the basis of Chequers, particularly when it comes to domestic security and foreign policy cooperation and other issues,” Merkel said. “But there’s still a lot of work to do on future trade relations. And today we were all agreed that there can be no compromises on the single market. Michel Barnier will now continue the talks on this basis.”