Donald Tusk told a press conference in Brussels that the UK is “cherry-picking” its future relationship with the EU, adding: “It seems like the ‘cake’ philosophy is still alive.”
“I am glad that the UK government seems to be moving towards a more detailed position,” Tusk said after 27 EU leaders - all apart from May - met in Brussels.
“However, if the media reports are correct, I am afraid that the UK position today is based on pure illusion.”
His comments come after May hosted an eight-hour meeting of her so-called Brexit war committee on Thursday at Chequers.
Although few details of the discussions were released, one source said that May had accepted the argument of those ministers who wanted to diverge more quickly from EU rules and regulations, Reuters reports.
“It was a very positive meeting and a step forward, agreeing the basis of the prime minister’s speech on our future relationship,” May’s spokesman told reporters, adding that she would deliver her speech on March 2.
“The prime minister has set out her plans clearly; we are working towards getting a deal that we believe will work for all parts of the UK and deliver as frictionless a border as possible and tariff-free trade.”
Britain has little time to negotiate the terms of the divorce and the outlines of the future relationship before it leaves the EU on March 29 next year.
The other 27 members of the EU, who together have about five times Britain’s economic might, have a strong incentive to deny the UK a deal so attractive that it might encourage others to follow the British example.
“It seems like the ‘cake’ philosophy is still alive,” Tusk said. “From the very start it has been a key clear principle of the EU 27 that there can be no cherry-picking and no single market ‘a la carte’.”
He said the remaining EU states would adopt a joint stance on the post-Brexit relationship in a summit at the end of March, whether London provided input or not, and would be “extremely realistic in our assessment of possible new proposals”.
Many businesses and investors complain that they still lack details on how trade will flow between the world’s biggest trading bloc and its sixth largest economy after Brexit.
May will set out the Brexit agenda in a major speech next week following a meeting of the full Cabinet.
According to reports, the Chequers meet saw ministers agree on the phrase “managed divergence” to describe the nature of EU withdrawal and that the UK’s opening position would be to seek mutual recognition on goods standards.
It is thought the UK will suggest a dispute settlement mechanism, which is not the European Court of Justice, which will manage the process of divergence.
Finance minister Philip Hammond, the most pro-European of May’s senior team, said he felt a “real sense of momentum” towards agreeing a transition deal with the EU at the summit.
But former prime minister Tony Blair said the government was not being realistic.
“They’re basically still in ‘have cake and eat it’ mode and it won’t work,” Blair said. If Britain wanted a close trading relationship with the EU, it would have to keep in line with EU rules and standards, he added.