EU blames ‘uncompromising’ May for Brexit tension

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
Prime minister Theresa May and EU Council president Donald Tusk (Getty)

Donald Tusk has said the Brexit row that blew up at a summit of EU leaders this week was caused by Theresa May’s approach to negotiations.

The European Council president made the claim in a statement responding to the surprise speech delivered by the prime minister at Downing Street.

May’s address to the nation was triggered by the humiliatingly blunt rejection of her Chequers plan at a summit in Salzburg, where Tusk had declared that it “will not work.”

But Tusk has rejected claims of bullying, saying the EU were ready to offer warm words about Chequers being a “step in the right direction” in public “out of respect” for May.

MORE: ‘Show us respect’: Theresa May raises stakes with EU in surprise Brexit speech

He said that changed in response to the UK’s aggressive negotiating tactics at the summit.

“The UK stance presented just before and during the Salzburg meeting was surprisingly tough and in fact uncompromising,” Tusk said in his statement.

“The response of the EU27 leaders was to reiterate our trust in chief negotiator Michel Barnier and to reiterate our position on the integrity of the Single Market and the Irish backstop.

He also hit back at May’s claim that the EU hadn’t explained how her plans on trade threaten the future of the single market.

MORE: EU gives May 28 days to change Chequers plan or face no-deal Brexit

In her speech, May called on the EU to provide a “detailed explanation” as to why they had rejected her proposal to maintain the single market for goods.

Tusk said simply: “The results of our analysis have been known to the British side in every detail for many weeks.”

While May’s speech hasn’t changed the substance of the EU’s response, there was a distinct softening of tone in Tusk’s statement designed to deescalate a row he helped to create with a photo posted on his Instagram account.

The image of Tusk offering May a selection of cakes was accompanied with the caption: “Sorry, no cherries.”

It was a reference to the EU’s longstanding criticism of the Chequers plan that it cherry picks freedom of movement for goods while trying to do away with it for services and labour.

Tusk’s aides insist it was a light-hearted attempt to reach out to young people in line with a recent action movie style trailer they produced.

MORE: Tusk tells May to ‘rework’ Brexit plan in pre-emptive strike on PM’s summit speech

May didn’t see it that way. In her speech on Friday, she said: “Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same.”

Tusk sounded apoletic in his statement, describing himself as a “close friend of the UK and a true admirer” of May and reiterating that the EU “fully respect” the referendum result of 2016.

He also stressed that the EU have “studied the Chequers proposals in all seriousness” and remains “convinced that a compromise, good for all, is still possible.”