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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

UK can still walk away from Brexit, says EU president

Donald Tusk says all options remain open for embattled British prime minister Theresa May

European Council President Donald Tusk delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 24 October 2017.  EPA/PATRICK SEEGER
European Council President Donald Tusk delivers a speech at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, 24 October 2017. EPA/PATRICK SEEGER

The UK does not have to go through with Brexit, EU president Donald Tusk told the European parliament on Tuesday, suggesting that the bloc would be happy to welcome the country back into the fold if it chose not to leave.

But Mr Tusk stressed the 27 nations in the European Union must remain united in their talks with British prime minister Theresa May and her government or else the union would face ruin.

“We have managed to build and maintain unity among the 27 [remaining EU members], but ahead of us is still the toughest stress test,” he said, referring to Britain’s impending exit in March 2019. “If we fail it, the negotiations will end in our defeat.”

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Mr Tusk surprised many by suggesting that there was still the possibility of the UK not leaving the EU. “It is in fact up to London how this will end — with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit. But in each of these scenarios we will protect our common interests only by being together.”

During last week’s summit between Britain and the EU, European leaders were seen to have given the beleaguered Mrs May a helping hand by agreeing to start preparations for the next round of talks while maintaining that not enough progress had been made on three key initial areas to move on just yet.

Mrs May’s offered in a speech in Florence last month that Britain would continue to pay contributions to the EU budget for two years after Brexit, totalling around €20 billion (Dh96.4bn).

But without a clear and exact commitment to a figure, European capitals are demanding a detailed breakdown of the proposed settlement before agreeing to start talks about the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU.

As well as the financial settlement, the EU wants progress on the rights of three million European citizens living in Britain and the issue of the Irish border.

Elsewhere in his address, Mr Tusk stressed the ties that bound the EU member states together. “We are a cultural community, which doesn't mean that we are better or worse — we are simply different from the outside world. Our openness and tolerance cannot mean walking away from protecting our heritage.”

“We have the right and obligation to care for what distinguishes us from other cultures — not in order to be against someone, but to be ourselves. Without a feeling of superiority, but with a feeling of justified pride,” the former Polish prime minister told MEPs.

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