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Furious Theresa May has blazing row with EU's Tusk and rounds on 'bullying leaders who hung her out to dry' over Chequers plan - as snubbed PM edges closer to walking away without a deal

Furious Theresa May has blazing row with EU's Tusk and rounds on 'bullying leaders who hung her out to dry' over Chequers plan - as snubbed PM edges closer to walking away without a deal

A visibly furious Theresa May rounded on EU leaders for hanging her our to dry yesterday as she battled to keep her Chequers Brexit plan alive in the face of fierce Tory criticism.

At an extraordinary press conference in Salzburg, 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'.

It came after Brussels issued a calculated snub to her Chequers plan, saying it was a non-starter.

EU chief Donald Tusk said the other 27 leaders 'all agreed' that the complex plans at the heart of the Chequers deal 'will not work'. 

It forced Mrs May to declare she was closer than ever to walking away without a deal and her close ally Chris Grayling said last night that she would unless Euroocrats soften their position on the Irish border.

The Prime Minister 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.'

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.'

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.

Chris Grayling said last night that Britain was heading for a no-deal Brexit if the EU refused to soften its position on the Irish border.

The transport secretary told Newsnight the government would not drop its Chequers Plan despite Donald Tusk's rejection of it.

Mr Grayling said: '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.'

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 suggested that 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.

He also cast doubt on whether a special Brexit summit pencilled in for November would take place at all unless Britain changes course.

The diplomatic ambush led to recriminations last night against Mrs May's advisers, who had briefed that she was poised for a breakthrough.

Mr Duncan Smith said: 'I don't know what the civil service were up to when they told her the EU would accept the Chequers deal. It's clearly not going to fly and Ollie Robbins [Mrs May's chief Brexit adviser] should take the blame for that.'

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' adding: 'Brexit shows that it is not easy to leave the EU. It is not without costs. It is not without consequences.'

Mrs May insisted 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 £39billion [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. Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs, said: 'Everyone expected 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'.'

Former Brexit Secretary David Davis last night claimed more than 40 Tory Brexiteer MPs are ready to vote against Chequers. He said rebels have a 'solid core' of around three times the number needed to defeat the plan in Parliament.

Why did PM's aide tell her Chequers was a 'game changer'? 

Theresa May's EU adviser last night faced questions about his role in the Salzburg summit after he assured the Prime Minister that her Chequers plan would be a success.

Amid shock and anger over the rejection of her deal by the EU yesterday, Olly Robbins's name was repeatedly mentioned. The senior civil servant, who Mrs May appointed as her personal Brexit adviser last year, helped draw up the Chequers strategy, which is threatening to split her party.

Earlier this month he assured the PM that EU leaders thought her Brexit plan was a 'game changer'. He indicated that his attempts to sell the proposals to the remaining EU 27 member states had been a success.

The wholesale rejection of the Chequers blueprint yesterday – just over a week before the Tory party conference – will make the PM's job even more difficult.

As a furious Mrs May returned to London, pressure was mounting on the man she trusted to be her 'eyes and ears' in Brussels.

Mr Robbins, 43, joined her team a year ago as part of a move by Number 10 to exert more control over the Brexit negotiations.

He repeatedly clashed with then Brexit secretary David Davis, and was said to have suggested that he should be the opposite number to Michel Barnier, the EU's chief negotiator. Earlier this month, Mr Robbins refused to say whether he believed leaving the EU would be a 'good thing'.

A Europhile since his days at Oxford University, he became private secretary to Tony Blair aged just 31. He was steadily promoted before becoming an adviser to Mrs May and taking the helm of the Brexit negotiations. This summer, it emerged that Mrs May's right-hand man was paid a bonus of up to £20,000 despite the chaos surrounding the Brexit strategy.

The PM personally signed off on the money, which comes on top of Mr Robbins's bumper pay packet of up to £165,000 a year.

But his performance in selling the Chequers deal to the EU will raise questions about his future.

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.

So what on earth happens next? 

Theresa May is facing a bruising and potentially nightmarish end to 2018.

After the EU yesterday all but killed off her post-Brexit Chequers plan, she flew home last night to lick her wounds and work out how to navigate the choppy months ahead.

The Tory conference

The first of the Prime Minister's challenges is the Tory party conference which starts on Sunday September 30 in Birmingham.

Former foreign secretary and arch Brexiteer Boris Johnson is planning a pro-Brexit rally for hundreds of the party's grassroots activists. The event, hosted by the ConservativeHome website, will see further scorn poured on Mrs May's Chequers plan.

Its aim will be to put more pressure on her to 'chuck Chequers'. The event is the night before her keynote party conference speech.

Former UKIP leader Nigel Farage is planning a nationwide tour of 'Leave Means Leave' rallies to hammer home the anti-Chequers message.

It starts in Bolton this Sunday and he will lead a Save Brexit rally on September 30 at the National Exhibition Centre in Birmingham where he will be joined by Tory MPs Peter Bone and Andrea Jenkyns.

Mrs May will have painful memories of her disastrous speech to the conference last year – wrecked by a coughing fit and a collapsing stage set.

Return of Parliament… and leadership plotting

Parliament returns from recess on October 9, having stopped sitting for the conference season. This will be the first time when MPs outraged at Mrs May's insistence on sticking with her Chequers plan will have a chance to voice their opinions.

Many Eurosceptics will delight in telling Mrs May 'I told you so' when she reports back on the Salzburg summit. It would also provide the first opportunity for a potential leadership challenge.

A handful of members of the pro-Brexit European Research Group of Tory MPs, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, have been threatening to overthrow the Prime Minister for weeks. Last night former Brexit secretary David Davis claimed he had 40 MPs signed up to vote against Chequers.

More awkward dates with EU leaders

EU president Donald Tusk has warned that the next EU summit on October 18 is the moment Brexit talks could collapse if Britain does not make more concessions on Chequers and the Irish border.

This would lead to him abandoning a further special summit that is due to be held on November 15.

Mrs May yesterday said she was willing to walk away without a deal. But it is unclear what her position would then be after she has spent months failing to sell her Chequers plan to MPs and the EU.

If she manages to get past the October summit with the basis of an agreement with the EU, she then faces the emergency summit, at which both sides have said they will aim to finalise matters. Any 11th-hour complications could turn this summit into a nightmare.

But will any deal get MPs' backing?

Mrs May's biggest challenge could be getting any Brexit 'divorce' deal past MPs. Labour has said it will vote against any deal she reaches.

This, combined with Brexiteers angry about her not seeking their preferred Canada-style free trade deal, could mean she does not have the numbers to get it passed.

Both the UK and EU have agreed that a deal should be done by no later than November so there is enough time to get it signed off by their respective parliaments in time for March 29, 2019, when Britain will leave the EU.

'Chequers is DEAD': Brexiteers and Remainers unite to declare May Brexit blueprint is finished after EU leaders snub her desperate plea for a compromise - but furious PM insists her proposal is the only credible option 

Brexiteers and Remainers declared Theresa May's Chequers plan dead after it was brutally savaged by the EU at a crucial summit.

The Prime Minister made a plea to European leaders to compromise as she desperately tries to get a deal agreed with less than two months to go in negotiations. 

But leaders across the EU lined up to savage her plans in a series of scathing press conferences at the Salzburg summit.

EU council chief Donald Tusk insisted her Chequers proposal 'will not work' while German Chancellor Angela Merkel said 'substantial progress' is still needed.

May's allies within the Conservatives have even moved to distance themselves from the Chequers plan.

Former minister Sir Mike Penning, who helped to orchestrate her 2016 leadership campaign, said her proposals were 'as dead as a dodo' and that she was 'deluded' if she thought she could persuade Tory Eurosceptics to vote in favour of any Brexit deal based on Chequers.    

A visibly shaken Mrs May appeared tetchy as she faced the world's cameras at a press conference to defend her embattled plans.

She bluntly dismissed the EU commission's latest proposals for resolving the Northern Ireland border issue, saying they would break up the UK.

'The backstop cannot divide the UK into two customs territories,' she told a press conference at the close of the summit.

And she insisted that Chequers remains the only viable and serious proposal on the table.

But after the unexpected onslaught of criticism from EU leaders she conceded that there is 'a lot of work to be done' over the next few weeks.

And she said that Britain is pumping resources into preparing for a no deal Brexit if Britain crashes out of the bloc.

As the pressure on Mrs May increases, Nicola Sturgeon has called for all British political parties to back an extension to the Article 50 process - meaning Brexit could be delayed.

She told the BBC: 'Taking the UK off the Brexit cliff edge without knowing where it lands would be the most irresponsible thing any prime minister has done in a very, very long time.

'That's why I think if that's the situation we end up in (then) extending Article 50 is a far better way of proceeding.'

The bruising clashes came as the bloc's leaders warned a Brexit deal is still 'far away' - and urged the UK to hold another referendum.

Ramping up the pressure, Dutch PM Mark Rutte jibed that his country had made more preparations for a no-deal outcome than Britain.

French President Emmanuel Macron, whose stance on Brexit has been among the toughest, took a swipe at 'liars' who said the UK could 'live easily without Europe'.

Angela Merkel said 'substantial progress' must be made by October for there to be any chance of getting an agreement.

The unexpected ferocity of the language from the EU appeared to take Mrs May aback, as she looked tetchy and slightly shaken answering questions from journalists.

Downing Street had been hoping fellow leaders would give her a soft ride to avoid fueling a mounting mutiny by Tory Eurosceptics ahead of the looming party conference in Birmingham in a week's time.

Over dinner with her 27 counterparts last night, Mrs May ruled out any delay to Britain's departure from the EU in March – insisting there were no circumstances in which she would consider another national vote on the issue.

But her fellow leaders - who received the speech in stony silence as they have vowed not to discuss Brexit directly with the UK - were unimpressed.

At a press conference closing the gathering this afternoon, Mr Tusk said: 'Everybody shared the view that while there are positive elements in the Chequers proposal, the suggested framework for economic cooperation will not work, not least as it risks undermining the single market.'

Mr Macron took a clear swipe at Mrs May's proposals to align with EU rules on goods but not services, saying he would not accept so-called 'cherry-picking' that eroded the EU single market.

'Those who explain that we can easily live without Europe, that everything is going to be alright, and that it's going to bring a lot of money home are liars,' he said.

Other leaders said the talks were at a 'standstill', and called for the UK to hold another public vote to reverse Brexit altogether.

Mr Rutte suggested little had changed over the two days in Salzburg.

'I do not feel more confident, but also at the same time not less optimistic.'

He added: 'I think we have made more preparations for a no deal than the UK has.'

Mrs May greeted Mr Juncker warmly at the summit but the negotiations are deadlocked

EU council president Donald Tusk took to Instagram to joke about the standoff, posting a picture of himself choosing cakes with Mrs May and the message: 'Sorry, no cherries.'

Tory MPs rounded on Theresa May's Chequers Brexit plan after the EU's damning verdict - with Remain-voting Grant Shapps calling for the divorce bill to be withheld

Arch Remainer and Conservative MP Anna Soubry also declared the Brexit proposal dead.

Tory MP Marcus Fysh urged the PM to accept that her Chequers plan is unworkable and to move on to a new proposal 

Mrs Merkel told her own press conference in Salzburg that 'substantial progress' was needed on the UK's withdrawal agreement by the next European Council meeting in October, in order to pave the way for it to be finalised at a special summit in November.

She warned there was 'still a large piece of work' on the separate issue of future trade relations with the UK.

The EU27 were 'united that, in the matter of the single market, there can be no compromises', she said.

'No-one can belong to the single market if they are not part of the single market.'

Mr Tusk mocked Mrs May on social media, posting a picture of them choosing cake at the summit with the message: 'Sorry, no cherries.'

It was a swipe at EU claims that Britain is trying to 'cherry pick' from the Brussels project.

Asked at her press conference how she can cling on to her Chequers plan in the face of so much opposition, Mrs May said: 'Yes concerns have been raised, 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.

'But let nobody be in any doubt, as I've always said, 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 be confident 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.'

Mrs May said that the UK would 'shortly' be coming forward with new proposals on the 'backstop' arrangements for the Northern Irish border.

This is the major stumbling block to agreeing a deal with the bloc.

She again categorically ruled out holding a second referendum.

'There will be no second referendum. There has been a vote of the people, it took place in June 2016 and people voted to leave the European Union,' she said.

Meanwhile, Mrs May is facing a growing revolt at home with Tory plotters branding her 'deluded' and calling Chequers 'as dead as a dodo'.

Mrs May held talks with Irish PM Leo Varadkar this morning, and was seen deep in conversation with Mrs Merkel as they arrived at the summit venue this morning.

But after a discussion on security, she will again be shut out of proceedings as the 27 remaining member states hold a private discussion on Brexit.

Arriving this morning, EU Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker said the two sides remained 'far away' from a deal.

Slovak PM Peter Pellegrini said: 'There has been no progress' and Lithuanian president Dalia Grybauskaite said simply: 'It's a standstill'.

Malta's PM Joseph Muscat said there was 'almost unanimous' support among EU leaders for Britain to hold a second referendum on membership of the union.

Mr Muscat said that any deal would be 'sub-optimal' to continued membership, saying 'it won't be as easy as yesterday to trade between the two sides'. 

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said: 'There is a unanimous, or almost unanimous I would say right now, point of view around the table that we would like the almost impossible to happen, that the UK has another referendum.

'I wouldn't know what the result would be, whether it would be any different from the first result.

'I think most of us would welcome a situation where there is the possibility of the British people putting things into perspective, seeing what has been negotiated, seeing the options and then deciding once and for all.'

But Mrs May did get backing from controversial Hungarian PM Viktor Orban, who complained that some of his fellow leaders wanted the British to 'suffer' because they voted to leave. 

'I don't like that approach at all. So what we need is a fair Brexit and a good cooperation between the UK and the European Union in the future,' he said.

Tory conspirators believe the Prime Minister could be forced to stand down after Brexit according to a memo circulating among MPs last night.

The document also assesses who Mrs May's likely successor will be and rates their chances.

The document is based on the assumption that the 1922 Committee of senior backbench Tories will 'invite the PM to stand-down soon(ish) after March 2019'.

It advises MPs to 'manoeuvre immediately' and sets out details of 27 potential candidates, according to the Daily Telegraph. It describes Environment Secretary Michael Gove as being 'on manoeuvres', says Chancellor Philip Hammond is 'thinking he has a chance' but has 'not a hope', while Trade Secretary Liam Fox's prospects are 'fading'.

Boris Johnson is described as 'the front runner' but is considered an unlikely successor because 'the front runner never wins'. Jacob Rees-Mogg, chairman of the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tories, was not on the leaked list.

There is a deep rift in the party over her Chequers deal - with Brexiteers and Remainers both unhappy with it.

An ally of Mrs May said her Chequers plan was as 'dead as a dodo' and claimed the Prime Minister tried to 'blackmail' her MPs to support it.

Sir Mike Penning told the Daily Telegraph that Mrs May was 'deluded' if she thought she could persuade Tory Eurosceptics to back a Brexit deal based on Chequers.

The former minister said she was playing 'Russian Roulette' with the country and had treated her own MPs 'like children on the naughty step'.

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 as the Irish border issue caused deadlock.

With Labour and several Tory MPs wobbling on the issue, some harbour hopes that ministers could even agree to hold a second referendum.

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 at Felsenreitschule, the theatre where The Sound of Music was filmed, 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.'

Theresa May held talks with Irish PM Leo Varadkar before the summit entered its second day in Salburg this morning

Over dinner last night, gathered EU leaders were told that Britain would be prepared to walk away from the negotiating table if a deal was not struck quickly

The male premiers appeared to be enjoying themselves as they prepared for the group photo. Pictured front row left to right, Mr Macron, Austria's Sebatian Kurz, Mr Tusk; back row left to right, Mr Rutte, Luzembourg PM Xavier Bettel, Latvian PM Maris Kucinskis

Large-scale protests were undertaken near the venue in opposition to the Austrian government's controversial migration policies

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.'

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 Cabinet resignations of Mr Johnson and David Davis.

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.

Mr Barnier renewed his efforts to 'de-dramatise' the Irish border issue yesterday 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'.



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