Any hope of a last-ditch deal to prevent a crash-out Brexit is vanishing after EU leaders warned British prime minister Theresa May they will offer her nothing in make-or-break talks today and tomorrow — telling Brexiteers they have “a special place in hell”.
European Council president Donald Tusk and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker maintained the hardline stance as they said that the backstop and Ireland will not be “abandoned”.
In a series of meetings in Brussels before Ms May travels to the EU headquarters today and Dublin tomorrow, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and EU leaders said they cannot ignore the fact nothing has changed
And despite Ms May’s hopes of striking some form of alternative to the backstop, they said in the clearest language yet a new deal offer, backstop reforms, or even re-running of the Brexit referendum are now entirely off the EU table.
In their most vocal comments to date, EU leaders:
- Ruled out a re-run of the June 2016 Brexit referendum;
- Stressed no new deal will be offered to Britain under any circumstances;
- Guaranteed Ireland will not be “abandoned”;
- And warned any mooted alternatives to the backstop will not be considered if they “destroy” the backstop itself.
Speaking alongside Mr Varadkar, Mr Tusk said “the facts are unavoidable” and that while he “wishes” a referendum re-run were possible, the lack of a majority in favour of such a move in Britain “rules out the option of a second vote”.
He further confirmed “the EU27 is not making a new offer” to London under any circumstances, and insisted the EU “will not gamble” with the Northern Ireland peace deal no matter what demands Britain makes.
At a later media briefing, Mr Juncker was equally firm, insisting the EU will “hold the line” as the “backstop safety net cannot be destroyed”, warning Ireland will not be “abandoned”.
And in a move that sparked a furious reaction from DUP and other MPs last night, Mr Tusk went further, leaving the blame for the Brexit crisis at Brexiteer politicians’ feet.
“I was wondering what that special place in hell looks like for people who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan for how to carry it out safely.”
The hardline stance has intensified pressure on Ms May to back down on Westminster demands for the withdrawal agreement and backstop to be re-opened.
However, with just 50 days left until the EU-UK divorce date, the strategy runs the risk of deepening the Brexit standoff, with Brexiteer politicians including DUP MP Sammy Wilson lashing out at the EU last night, accusing Mr Tusk of being a “devilish Euro maniac” and claiming his remarks will “only strengthen our resolve”.
Ms May will travel to Brussels today for private talks with Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk, before travelling to Dublin tomorrow for a meeting with Mr Varadkar.
However, while the Taoiseach sought to be diplomatic yesterday, saying “one thing I can definitely say is no matter what happens in the next couple of months, Ireland and the UK, we have to have good relations no matter what happens,” he was clear no EU U-turn will occur.
There are fresh fears for Irish businesses and the economy if a no-deal Brexit strikes in just 50 days, with Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe saying on Tuesday up to 40,000 people could lose their jobs.
Asked how the EU would support Ireland in a no-deal scenario, Mr Juncker avoided giving details.
However, he confirmed millions of euro in EU funding has been discussed, and said: “When I said Ireland will not be left alone this is true, these kind of measures will have to be introduced.”