Brexiteers with no plan of how to deliver on their exit plans deserve a “special place in hell”, EU Council President Donald Tusk said on Wednesday (6 February), sparking a new war of words with UK politicians bent on leaving the bloc this March.
“I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit, without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely,” Tusk told reporters in Brussels after a meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.
In his comments, Tusk reaffirmed the position of the EU-27 that the Withdrawal Agreement was “not open for renegotiation”.
Tusk said he had concluded that there was now “no political force and no effective leadership” for those wanting to remain in the EU as according to him, both Conservative Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn had a “pro-Brexit stance”.
“I hope that tomorrow we will hear from Prime Minister May a realistic suggestion on how to end the impasse in which the process of the orderly withdrawal of the UK from the EU has found itself following the latest votes in the House of Commons.”
The European Council president and former Polish premier also emphasised that the Irish border issue and the need to preserve the peace process there remained the EU’s “top priority” as the bloc is “first and foremost a peace project.”
“We will not gamble with peace or put a sell-by date on reconciliation. This is why we insist on the backstop,” he told reporters.
“Give us a deliverable guarantee for peace in Northern Ireland and the UK will leave the EU as a trusted friend.”
“I hope that the UK government will present ideas that will both respect this point of view and at the same time command a stable and clear majority in the House of Commons.”
Moments before his fire and brimstone rhetoric, Tusk struck a more placatory tone, saying “I strongly believe that a common solution is possible and I will do everything in my power to find it.”
Following Tusk’s remarks, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar was caught on hot mike suggesting to Tusk that “they’ll give you terrible trouble in the British press for that.”
“I know,” Tusk laughed in reply.
The comments have, unsurprisingly, infuriated Brexiteers, although they also drew welcoming remarks from the Scottish National Party.
“The man has no manners, I think it’s extremely regrettable, not at all helpful,” retorted Andrea Leadsom, a senior minister in Theresa May’s cabinet, and one of the Vote Leave campaigners to whom Tusk may have been referring to.
Meanwhile, Sammy Wilson, Brexit spokesman for the Democratic Unionist Party, described Tusk as “a devilish Euro maniac…fanning the flames of fear”.
May will travel to Brussels on Thursday for talks with EU leaders following a two-day visit to Northern Ireland. The UK prime minister is under huge pressure from her Conservative party to obtain legally binding changes to the backstop, following a vote in the House of Commons last week.
The Irish backstop appears to be the last major sticking-point for the draft Withdrawal Agreement to obtain majority support in the UK Parliament.
“The backstop is the main problem,” said Arlene Foster, leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.
She added that the Withdrawal Agreement was “flawed because the backstop would undermine the economic and constitutional integrity of the United Kingdom.”
But with just 51 days until the UK is due to formally leave the bloc (on 29 March), Emily Thornberry, Labour’s foreign affairs spokesperson, urged the government on Wednesday to seek a temporary extension of the Article 50 process.
[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]