BRUSSELS – European Council President Donald Tusk took a swipe Wednesday at some Brexit-backers in Britain, wondering aloud what “special place in hell” might be reserved for those who had no idea how to deliver the country’s exit from the European Union.
With just 50 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU and with mounting concerns about a potentially chaotic Brexit, Tusk, who chairs meetings of EU summits, also appeared to dash any British hopes that the bloc would soon reopen discussions over the Brexit deal that was overwhelmingly rejected by U.K. lawmakers last month.
“I have been wondering what a special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of plan how to carry it out safely,” Tusk told reporters after talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 – the first time a country has ever done so. British Prime Minister Theresa May is due in Brussels on Thursday with what she says is a parliamentary mandate to re-open the draft agreement, sealed after 18 months of intense and highly technical negotiations.
“The EU 27 is not making any new offer,” Tusk said, adding that the legally binding withdrawal agreement sealing the divorce cannot be renegotiated.
Tusk and Varadkar underlined that preparations are being intensified for a ‘no-deal’ scenario under which Britain would leave without an agreement; a possibly disastrous development that could inflict heavy economic and political damage in the U.K. and the EU alike.
“A sense of responsibility also tells us to prepare for a possible fiasco,” Tusk said.
May is signalling she will seek changes to the deal rather than outright removal of the so-called backstop, designed to preserve the open border between Northern Ireland and EU member state Ireland. The border area was a flashpoint during decades of conflict, and the free flow of people and goods across the frontier underpins the region’s peace process.
“I hope that tomorrow we will hear from Prime Minister May a realistic suggestion on how to end the impasse,” Tusk said.
During a speech Tuesday in Belfast, Northern Ireland, May restated her “unshakeable” commitment to avoiding a hard border and said she didn’t plan to remove the “insurance policy” entirely.
“What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop,” she said.
Lawless reported from London.