An angry Prime Minister Theresa May on Friday demanded the European Union make a new offer on Britain’s withdrawal from the bloc.
Speaking at 10 Downing Street in London, May said it was “not acceptable” that the EU had rejected her plan without offering alternatives following talks with EU leaders in Salzburg on Thursday.
“So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them,” May said. “Until we do, we cannot make progress.”
She challenged European Council President Donald Tusk who said on Thursday Britain’s proposals would “undermine the single market”.
“He didn’t explain how, in any detail, or make any counter-proposal,” May said. “So we are at an impasse.”
Tusk said at a summit in Salzburg that May’s plan would not work.
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May said both sides want a deal, but remain far apart on key issues of future trade relations and the Irish border. She called for “serious engagement” to solve the problems.
“Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect,” she said. “The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it.”
The pound fell on May’s comments, which seemed to make the prospect of an economically disruptive “no deal” Brexit more likely.
May faced headlines on Friday detailing her “humiliation” at an EU summit in Salzburg, where she was given just weeks to strike a Brexit deal acceptable to the bloc and hardliners at home.
The embattled British leader gave a defiant press conference before leaving Austria, insisting her plan for a UK-EU free trade area just for goods was “the only proposal on the table”.
Cabinet colleagues reiterated her message on Friday.
“She is sticking up for Britain, sticking up for what will work for our country,” Housing Secretary James Brokenshire told BBC radio.
“These are tough negotiations – that is what this is all about. I think we will still get a deal … notwithstanding the situation we’ve seen yesterday.”
Euro-sceptic publications accused European leaders of mafia-style behaviour.
Popular tabloid The Sun even mocked up pictures of Tusk and French President Emmanuel Macron as “Euro mobsters” under the headline “EU Dirty Rats”.
Tusk and Macron tore into May’s so-called Chequers plan, which they believe will fragment the bloc’s prized single market and “not work”.
EU Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker conceded on Friday the Brexit negotiations were prickly – likening them to the courtship of two hedgehogs – but insisted the two sides were “moving closer”.
Later this month, May faces the annual conference of her Conservative party, which includes a euro-sceptic faction that is strongly against her plan, with some legislators angling for a new leader.
Simon Usherwood, politics professor at the University of Surrey, told AFP news agency May irked EU leaders with an uncompromising article on Wednesday for German newspaper Die Welt, followed up by a similar summit dinner speech and an unproductive sideline meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
“Yesterday was really about irritation and bad tempers that the UK really hasn’t got the measure of this properly,” Usherwood said.
The EU has proposed that Northern Ireland, a British province, continue to follow many EU trade rules and regulations to maintain the status quo with Ireland, a remaining bloc member.
But London strongly rejects treating any province in Britain differently and ruled out having any internal customs checks.