UK is ‘wasting time’, Tusk says as leaders express hostility to Brexit delay

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker (L), European Council President Donald Tusk during a news conference at the end of European Council Summit in Brussels, Belgium, 21 June 2019. European leaders take the relevant decisions on appointments for the next institutional cycle and adopt the EU's strategic agenda for 2019-2024.

EU leaders again voiced their frustration with the UK as the European Council summit drew to a close on Friday (21 June), with Council boss Donald Tusk accusing London of wasting its six-month extension, which ends on 31 October.

“I am afraid that you (the UK) are wasting time. I am not happy with this but I have to accept political reality,” Tusk told reporters at his post-summit press conference.

The summit had been earmarked as an opportunity to discuss progress at the near halfway point of the six-month extension secured by the UK’s outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May. In the event, leaders spent only ten minutes discussing Brexit, sources told EURACTIV.

“On Brexit, there is nothing new because we repeat unanimously: there will be no renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement,” European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker added.

On Thursday (20 June), Tory MPs voted for Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt to compete in the run-off to replace Theresa May as prime minister. The winner is set to be announced on July 22 and Johnson is the heavy favourite.

Both have promised to renegotiate the UK’s Withdrawal Agreement or leave the EU without a deal on 31 October if improved terms cannot be obtained.

But the promises of the Tory leadership contenders have little traction among EU leaders.

“It is not possible that because you change the leader in the UK that we need to delay decisions,” Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said on Friday. “No, we need a reason.”

He added that “the decision (to renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement) is not taken in London.”

“It’s a deal we have done with Theresa May, it is the best possible deal. We won’t start to renegotiate again without having a reason to have a delay because I am speaking now about delaying, not renegotiating,” said Bettel.

The Irish premier, Leo Varadkar, told reporters on Thursday night that there was “enormous hostility” among European leaders to any further Brexit extension, adding that it would only be considered to allow a general election or a second referendum to be held.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel, however, struck a slightly more conciliatory tone.

“We will start consultations again when there is a new prime minister in the UK but we reaffirmed that the withdrawal agreement from our perspective is ready,” she said.

While both Johnson and Hunt are flatly opposed to a new referendum on the UK’s EU membership, the chances of a snap general election are rapidly increasing.

UK lawmakers have vowed to prevent the government from taking the UK out of the EU without a deal, which could lead to the new prime minister losing a confidence vote and being forced to hold an election within weeks of taking office.

Speaking to journalists on Friday morning, Bulgarian Prime Minister Boyko Borissov discussed Brexit, first bragging in his usual style that he said long ago there will be hard Brexit (indeed, he said so in November 2017). Then he commented that the statement by Boris Johnson that the UK would leave the EU without a deal, but with a transition period, was “nonsense”.

[Edited by Zoran Radosavljevic]

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