EU's Tusk says bloc is 'prepared' for Brexit to be cancelled

Luke James
Brussels correspondent
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier and European Council president with the 585 page Withdrawal Agreement (Reuters)

EU chief Donald Tusk has said he’s ready to cancel Brexit amid the political chaos that’s broken out since a draft deal was unveiled.

The European Council president  announced on Thursday morning that a summit to sign-off the deal will take place at 9.30am on Sunday 25 November in Brussels – “if nothing extraordinary happens.”

The extraordinary circumstances began to unfold almost immediately with the resignation of Dominic Raab as Brexit secretary and continued throughout the day.

Asked about the situation a few hours later, he refused to comment on events in London but made a mischievous comment that will encourage pro-EU politicians to vote down Theresa May’s deal.

“The EU is prepared for a final deal with the United Kingdom in November,” he told reporters in Brussels. “We are also prepared for a no-deal scenario.

“But of course we are best prepared for a no-Brexit scenario”

Earlier he had promised to make the UK’s exit from the EU as painless as possible as he convened the long-awaited summit which now looks in jeopardy.

The event in ten days’ time will see the likes of German chancellor Angela Merkel and French president Emmanuel Macron give their blessing to the deal.

That had been expected to happen at a summit last month but a delay in talks caused by disagreement over the Irish border backstop has forced a special summit to be called.

MORE: Barnier hails ‘crucial step’ towards Brexit deal

Tusk was finally able to call the gathering to “finalise and formalise” the deal after a 7am meeting with EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

Speaking to the press in Brussels, the European Council president made no secret of the fact that he still doesn’t “share the prime minister’s enthusiasm about Brexit.”

“Since the very beginning, we have had no doubt that Brexit is a lose-lose situation, and that our negotiations are only about damage control,” he said.

But the Polish politician added: “As much as I am sad to see you leave, I will do everything to make this farewell the least painful possible, both for you and for us.”

Barnier and Tusk addressing Thursday’s 8am press conference (Reuters)

Tusk said Barnier and his team had “ensured the limitation of the damage caused by Brexit” and said he would not propose the deal if he wasn’t sure that it protected the EU’s interests.

His commitment to the deal is crucial to clearing a number of hurdles that block the way to next Sunday’s summit.

First, ambassadors of the EU27 countries will meet with Barnier’s team for the second time in three days on Friday to discuss the details of the 585-page Withdrawal Agreement.

“I hope that there will not be too many comments,” said Tusk pointedly.

Europe ministers from each member state will meet on Monday before the UK and EU agree the second document needed for a Brexit deal – the political declaration on the future relationship – on Tuesday.

MORE: EU accused of backdoor bid to keep UK in customs union

“Our work is not finished,” warned Barnier. “We still have a long road ahead of us on both sides.”

Barnier is now travelling to Strasbourg to meet members of the European parliamnent, who have a veto on the deal.

Guy Verhofstadt, the chair of the parliament’s Brexit steering group, has backed the deal that will “make it possible to maintain a close relationship between the EU and the UK.”

But he said: “I hope that one day the UK will come back home into the European family.”