British Prime Minister Theresa May has appealed directly to fellow European leaders to drop “unacceptable” Brexit demands that she said could rip Britain apart, and urged the bloc to respond in kind to her “serious and workable” plan.
Over Wiener schnitzel in Salzburg, May tried to win over the leaders of the European Union by effectively asking them what they would do if they were asked to agree a “legal separation” of their countries — something she says the EU is asking for by insisting Northern Ireland might stay under EU economic rules.
EU officials have again said Britain needs to move its own position over how to avoid erecting border posts between the British province and EU member Ireland – as well as on future economic cooperation after Brexit day in March.
With just over six months to Brexit day, both sides agree on one point – that time is running out to secure a deal that will mark Britain’s biggest policy shift in almost half a century.
“I believe that I have put forward serious and workable proposals. We will of course not agree on every detail, but I hope that you will respond in kind,” she told the other leaders at the Felsenreitschule theatre.
“The onus is now on all of us to get this deal done,” she said, according to the senior British government source.
The talks, which have gone on for over a year, are bogged down in how to ensure that what will become Britain’s only land border with the EU, between Northern Ireland and Ireland, will not become home again to the checks and tensions of the past.
May has rejected an EU proposal to keep the province in a customs union with the bloc if they fail to reach a deal to keep the entire EU-UK border open, instead offering a time-limited customs arrangement that would cover the whole of Britain.
Over dinner, she said the problem could be solved by securing the type of “frictionless trade” envisaged in her Chequers plan, and that Britain was still committed to agreeing a fall-back scheme with the EU.
May has shown little sign of moving away from her Brexit plan, shrugging off criticism not only from Brussels but also at home over her proposals for future trade relations and Northern Ireland.
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar told reporters there had been no advance on the issue, while European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said a deal with Britain was still “far away”.