Theresa May to meet Donald Tusk ahead of Brexit ‘end state’ speech

Theresa MayImage copyright
AFP

Theresa May will meet top EU official Donald Tusk on Thursday, 24 hours before a major speech on British relations with the bloc after Brexit.

Her talks with the European Council president come amid tensions over the EU’s draft withdrawal treaty.

Mrs May has said the EU’s proposals on Northern Ireland threaten the UK’s constitutional integrity.

The EU says the UK needs to come up with a workable alternative to what they describe as a “backstop” option.

Mrs May, due to chair a meeting of the cabinet before her talks with Mr Tusk, has already pledged not to accept the draft treaty as it stands.

The treaty proposes a “common regulatory area” after Brexit on the island of Ireland – in effect keeping Northern Ireland in a customs union – if no other solution is found.

Both the EU and the Irish government say it is up to the UK to come up with concrete alternatives to what they describe as a “backstop” option.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told the Irish parliament on Wednesday: “If people do not like what they see today, it is incumbent on them to come up, with alternative solutions,”

Media captionMay: I’ll make opposition to plans ‘crystal clear’ to EU

Mrs May has said “no UK prime minister” could ever agree to a proposal that would create a customs and regulatory border in the Irish Sea and that she would make that “crystal clear” to EU officials.

Media captionEU’s Michel Barnier: I’m not trying to provoke anyone

Speaking on the BBC’s Newsnight programme, veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash said there were “technical ways” of managing the Irish border and accused the EU of trying to create a “constitutional crisis” for the UK.

Cabinet ministers have suggested Friday’s speech will give the EU the clarity that it has been seeking about what kind of trade relationship the UK wants after its departure on 29 March 2019.

In an apparent concession to the EU ahead of the speech, the government said EU nationals coming to the UK during a transition period after Brexit, expected to last two years, would get indefinite leave to remain.

Mrs May has said her long-term goal is a “bespoke economic partnership”, underpinned by a comprehensive free trade agreement guaranteeing tariff-free access to EU markets for British goods and services.

But her predecessor Sir John Major warned on Tuesday that an “a la carte entrance” to the European market was not possible if the UK left the single market and customs union – which Mrs May is committed to doing.

Losing existing trade advantages, he said, would make the UK a less attractive place for inward investment and could put 125,000 jobs at Japanese firms at risk.

Conservative Brexiteers have criticised Sir John’s intervention, in which he held out the possibility of another referendum on the final deal, one describing it as “un-statesmanlike” and full of “cheap comments”.

But the message will be echoed by former Labour prime minister Tony Blair later in a speech in Brussels.

He will call for the public to have a “real choice” while urging the EU to put forward new ideas to address “genuine underlying grievances beneath the Brexit vote, especially around immigration”.

In a new report, the Commons Business Committee warned failure to reach any kind of deal would be damaging for the car industry and only close alignment with the EU would ensure its survival.

But on Tuesday the industry received a vote of confidence when Toyota said it would build the next generation of its Auris hatchback at its Burnaston plant in Derbyshire, safeguarding more than 3,000 jobs.

Theresa May to meet Donald Tusk ahead of Brexit ‘end state’ speech

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