Brexit: EU leaders 'almost unanimous' in support for second UK referendum - latest news

James Rothwell
Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar - AP

There is "almost unanimous" support among EU leaders for the UK to hold a second Brexit referendum, as Theresa May warned that Britain is willing to walk away without a deal.

The Prime Minister's 27 European counterparts are set to consider the next stage of the Brexit process in Salzburg on Thursday after she told them her Chequers plan was the only credible route to a deal.

Mrs May had insisted the UK's March 29 2019 departure from the European Union would not be delayed and, with time running short, the onus was on the bloc's leaders to find a solution - or face the prospect of a no-deal scenario.

But Mrs May faced calls to hold a second referendum amid warnings about the risk of a no-deal Brexit as leaders gathered to discuss the EU's next move in the negotiations.

Speaking ahead of the talks, Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat said: "There is a unanimous, or almost unanimous I would say right now, point of view around the table that we would like the almost impossible to happen, that the UK has another referendum."

And Andrej Babis, the Czech Prime Minister, said he would like to see Britain hold a second referendum on membership of the EU.

He said: "I am very unhappy that the UK is leaving, so it would be better maybe to make another referendum and maybe the people in the meantime could change their view."

Addressing the 27 other member states for the first time since her Chequers plan was revealed, Mrs May set out her plans over dinner on Wednesday night.

However, leaders said afterwards there had been no progress on Brexit and the Irish border.

Earlier Donald Tusk, the EU council president, said that Chequers would have to be “reworked and further negotiated” as leaders struggled to find common ground over the border issue. 

Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, also said the UK and Europe were still “far away” from reaching a satisfactory deal.

Stay with us for the latest updates throughout the day.

10:52AM

EU official: Don't get hopes up for a breakthrough

A senior EU diplomat said that EU27 leaders would not give Theresa May any assurances over Britain's Brexit future at today's summit but predicted the dial would move in the coming weeks and months. 

He told the Telegraph:

Don't expect the dial to move today...but I do expect the dial to move in the run-up to October provided that the British engage and the signal they are sending is that they are prepared to engage.

There will be a discussion on the political declaration and future relationship but no final decision would be reached, the  senior diplomat added. 

He predicted that today's summit would end with a strong statement of the unity of the EU27 and a declaration of "total solidarity" with Ireland. 

10:48AM

Peter Foster: Is EU really divided on Chequers? 

Our Europe editor has an interesting take on the emerging narrative today that the EU is spit, with Hungary and Poland backing Britain and the larger member states taking a harder line. 

He points out that one of the EU's fears about Chequers is that it could give Britain a competitive advantage, such as by slashing regulations. 

This would affect the whole of the single market, including Hungary - a fact that is not lost on Budapest. 

 

10:38AM

Irish PM: Time is running short, so we are preparing for no deal

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister, warned that he was hiring extra customs officials and setting up new IT systems to cope with the impact of a 'no deal' Brexit. He said:

Time is running short... Ireland is a country that obviously wants to avoid a no deal scenario, we want to avoid a no deal Brexit, (but) we are preparing for that, we are hiring extra staff and officials, putting in IT systems, we're ready for that eventuality should it occur. But I think we need to double our efforts over the next couple of weeks to make sure that we have a deal."

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar

 

10:31AM

Macron: We are very clear on protecting the single market 

Emmanuel Macron, the French president, offered up some classic EU orthodoxy as he entered the summit: 

We have very clear principles regarding the integrity of the single market and regarding precisely the Irish border. It was precise in March and it was endorsed by the 27 members. So, we have to find collectively and we need a UK proposal precisely preserving this backstop in the framework of a withdrawal agreement.

France's President Emmanuel Macron

 

10:28AM

Hungarian PM: Some EU leaders want to punish Britain 

Speaking to reporters on his way into the summit, Hungarian leader Viktor Orban said: 

The other camp of prime ministers, they would like to deliver evidence that to make that kind of decision [leaving EU] is to be punished and the British must suffer. I don’t like that approach at all. What we need is a fair Brexit and good cooperation between UK and EU in future.

Hungary is one of Britain's strongest allies within the EU along with Poland and, to a certain extent, the Netherlands. 

Hungary's Prime Minister Viktor Orban

 

10:19AM

Diplomats behind closed doors have long considered a second vote 

An interesting tweet has popped up from Henry Newman, Director of the thinktank Open Europe and ally of Brexiteer cabinet minister Michael Gove. 

Mr Newman points out that supporters of the so-called "People's Vote" - a second Brexit referendum - have been promoting the idea among EU diplomats for the past two years. 

 It's an attractive proposition for EU ambassadors and officials. It would, after all, throw them a lifeline if the public voted to overturn Brexit altogether. 

But this only creates more problems for Mrs May: many on the continent, having had those private discussions with anti-Brexit supporters, believe Britain may eventually balk at the prospect of leaving the EU. 

 

9:45AM

Maltese PM: We would like the almost impossible to happen... another referendum'

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat has said there is "almost unanimous" support among EU leaders for Britain to hold a second referendum on membership of the union.

Mr Muscat said that any deal would be "sub-optimal" to continued membership, saying "it won't be as easy as yesterday to trade between the two sides".

Malta's Prime Minister Joseph Muscat Credit: Olivier Matthys /AP

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme he said: "There is a unanimous, or almost unanimous I would say right now, point of view around the table that we would like the almost impossible to happen, that the UK has another referendum.

"I wouldn't know what the result would be, whether it would be any different from the first result.

"I think most of us would welcome a situation where there is the possibility of the British people putting things into perspective, seeing what has been negotiated, seeing the options and then deciding once and for all."

9:43AM

Czech PM: Second referendum would 'solve the problem quite quickly'

Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis has said he would like to see Britain hold a second referendum on membership of the EU.

Mr Babis revealed he, along with many other EU leaders, had been "shocked" by the referendum result and said it had contributed to a "difficult time" for Europe.

Speaking to BBC Radio 4's Today programme Mr Babis said: "We hope that finally we will reach a deal but basically I am very unhappy that the UK is leaving, so it would be better maybe to make another referendum and maybe the people in the meantime could change their view.

"Europe has a lot of problems, we have problems with Mr Trump about tariffs, sanctions with Russia, Brexit, migration and so on. For Europe it's quite a difficult time.

"We were shocked when the referendum was announced that there was so much people practically unhappy, even the chief of commission didn't understand."

Andrej Babis, the Czech Prime Minister Credit: Martin Divisek/Bloomberg 

Mr Babis said a second referendum would "solve the problem quite quickly", but also said on the question of no deal that there would "hopefully" be a deal.

9:39AM

Brexit ball in your court, May tells EU leaders as she rules out departure delay

Good morning and welcome to our live coverage as Theresa May's 27 European counterparts are set to consider the next stage of the Brexit process on Thursday after she told them her Chequers plan was the only credible route to a deal.

The Prime Minister set out her blueprint over dinner with fellow leaders in Salzburg after being told by EU chiefs that significant elements of it would have to be reworked.

However, at the gathering in Austria, Mrs May insisted there would be no delay to the UK's March 2019 departure, no second referendum and therefore the onus was on the continent's leaders to find a solution if they wanted to avoid a no-deal Brexit.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon has reportedly written to UK opposition leaders calling for them to back an extension to Article 50 if no deal is reached and warned the PM against taking the country "off the Brexit cliff edge".

In Mrs May's absence on Thursday, the 27 other EU leaders will discuss issues including the UK's future relationship with the EU and how to resolve the problems around the Irish border.

Theresa May beside Jean-Claude Juncker, the President of the European Commission, as he talks to Luxembourg's Prime Minister Xavier Bettel in Salzburg on Thursday morning Credit: JOE KLAMAR /AFP

European Council president Donald Tusk identified both as areas where the UK's proposals would need to be "reworked".

But Mrs May said Chequers was "the only credible and negotiable plan on the table that delivers no hard border in Northern Ireland and also delivers on the vote of the British people".

She added: "If we are going to achieve a successful conclusion then, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to evolve its position too."

UK Government sources revealed that Mrs May used Wednesday night's dinner to acknowledge the difficulties and that she had "never pretended Brexit would be easy or simple".

She made clear the high stakes of the negotiations over the coming weeks if a deal is to be struck this autumn in time for ratification ahead of March 29, 2019 Brexitday.

A senior UK official said her message to them was "we all recognise that time is short but delaying or extending these negotiations is not an option".

She said: "I believe that I have put forward serious and workable proposals.

"We will, of course, not agree on every detail, but I hope that you will respond in kind. The onus is now on all of us to get this deal done."

In a signal that the UK would not deviate from its course, Mrs May stressed there would not be a fresh vote on the Brexit process.

"I want to be absolutely clear, this government will never accept a second referendum," she said. "The British people voted to leave the European Union and we will be leaving on March 29, 2019."

Ms Sturgeon warned that it would be reckless for Britain to leave the EU without a deal in March and has written to opposition leaders urging them to back a delay if no agreement has been reached.

"Taking the UK off the Brexit cliff edge without knowing where it lands would be the most irresponsible thing any prime minister has done in a very, very long time," she told the BBC.

"That's why I think if that's the situation we end up in (then) extending Article 50 is a far better way of proceeding."

The Prime Minsiter will hold talks with both Irish premier Leo Varadkar and Mr Tusk in the margins of the Salzburg summit.

Mrs May's approach to the Brexit negotiations received fresh criticism at home while she was in Austria from one of her former supporters.

Sir Mike Penning, one of Theresa May's hitherto most loyal allies Credit: David Rose for The Telegraph 

Sir Mike Penning, a former defence minster who voted Leave before backing Mrs May for the party leadership in the aftermath of the referendum, told The Telegraph she had treated Tory MPs "like children who belong on the naughty step".

The former soldier said he was joining the hardline Brexiteer European Research Group (ERG), saying: "I've come to the conclusion that this 'put up, shut up' attitude of the Prime Minister's - it's Chequers or nothing - you do as you're told or else, is a massive insult, not only to my colleagues but also to the voters.

"She is playing a game of Russian Roulette with the country which is frankly an insult to the referendum result and all those people who voted, no matter how they voted."