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Donald Tusk: UK seeking to change Brexit deal instead of building consensus is “wasted time”

June 22, 2019

European Council President Donald Tusk said Britain was wasting the seven-month delay of Brexit, as European Union leaders vowed to resist any attempts by a new U.K. prime minister to reintroduce Theresa May’s Brexit deal.

On Friday, at the end of a two-day Brussels summit, Tusk said there would be no changes to the withdrawal treaty, which the final two contenders for the U.K. premiership, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, said they wanted to renegotiate.

Theresa May’s deal was rejected three times in the House of Commons and hasn’t been brought to vote again since March 29, Britain’s original date to exit from the E.U. Brexit has been delayed to October 31.

Referring to the Conservative leadership race, Tusk said, “I am afraid that, yes, that you wasted time.” In April, Tusk had warned the U.K. to use the delay to build consensus around the deal rather than change it.

“Of course I can understand why… [because of] the political transformation in London,” Tusk continued. “This is also what we should respect. I’m not happy with this but I have to accept the political reality.”

Earlier that day, the remaining 27 leaders of the E.U. discussed Brexit and affirmed their opposition to reopening the withdrawal agreement, though both Johnson and Hunt have called to change “backstop” arrangements that would prevent a hard Irish border. Hunt has said that some E.U. leaders, including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, would be willing to consider the U.K. plans to change the backstop plans, though Eurosceptics have warned that the U.K. might be trapped in a customs union with Brussels.

On Friday, Merkel said that the E.U. was “willing to work cooperatively” with a new U.K. prime minister but that leaders had “stressed that this withdrawal agreement was closed and could not be renegotiated.” President of France Emmanuel Macron has also called for leaders not to reopen the withdrawal treaty.

According to E.U. officials, Friday’s Brexit discussion was in large part just a presentation by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker in preparation for a no-deal Brexit.

Speaking to reporters, Tusk said, “maybe the process of Brexit will be even more exciting than before because of some personnel decisions in London, but nothing has changed when it comes to our position.”

Tusk said that the E.U. was prepared to revise a part of Theresa May’s deal that would create a non-binding declaration on future relations between the two parties, if the U.K. change its red lines during the negotiations. Theresa May has expressed her intent to leave the European Union’s customs and single market. Brussels said this would create looser ties with the U.K.

“We look forward to working together with the next U.K. prime minister,” Tusk continued. “We want to avoid a disorderly Brexit and establish a future relationship that is as close as possible.”

Earlier this year, Tusk said that there was a “special place in hell” for politicians who had pushed for Brexit “without even a sketch of a plan” for how to see it through.

When the BBC asked Tusk if that applied to Boris Johnson, he said, “I think that intellectually it’s really easy to answer this question. I think that you understand also very well what I thought using this metaphor.”

– MK. II

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