Theresa May has told the EU to ‘show the UK some respect’ as she urged them to come up with an alternative Brexit plan.
In an unexpected speech from outside Downing Street, the Prime Minister defiantly told EU leaders it was unacceptable for them to dismiss her plans without coming up with their own detailed proposals.
Reaction to the speech has been mixed, with both Tories and Labour condemning her – Jeremy Corbyn branded her approach a disaster. The pound slumped 1.5% against the dollar.
At times visibly angry, Mrs May said: “Throughout this process, I have treated the EU with nothing but respect. The UK expects the same. A good relationship at the end of this process depends on it.
“At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals.
“So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”
She went on to say that if such counter-proposals were not offered up by the EU, the UK remained on course for a no-deal Brexit.
“Anything which fails to respect the referendum or which effectively divides our country in two would be a bad deal and I have always said no deal is better than a bad deal,” she said.
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She added: “The EU should be clear, I will not overturn the result of the referendum, nor will I break up my country. We need serious engagement in resolving the two big issues in the negotiations and we stand ready.”
The pound shifted sharply before, during and after Mrs May’s address. It began to decline shortly after Mr May’s imminent speech was confirmed – and continued dropping as she took the stage.
By mid-afternoon on Friday, the pound was down by 1.5% against the dollar.
Traders have been nervous about the prospect that negotiators would be unable to reach a comprehensive deal on trade, borders, immigration and other crucial items.
These ‘no-deal’ concerns have similarly led many UK-based businesses to hold off on making investments.
A new study released on Friday by the manufacturing group EEF found that one in four manufacturers have put investment plans on hold, or expect to lose skilled workers and contracts, because of Brexit.
There was a glimmer of support for the PM, with the DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds unsurprisingly welcoming reassurances on the Northern Ireland border issue, but calling for her to now “stand up” for the UK’s interests.
Mrs May ‘a disaster’
Tory and Labour MPs have united in their criticism.
Former education secretary Justine Greening said the Prime Minister’s approach was now “neither fair, nor sensible”.
Tory Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the powerful European Research Group, praised Mrs May for being “strong and forthright” in her speech, but also urged her to ditch Chequers.
He said: “There is still no reason to suppose that Chequers can work either for the UK or the EU.
“It is time for the Government to start putting forward as its plan a Canada-style free trade agreement for the whole of the UK.
“This is the most realistic approach and similar to the EU’s proposal.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said that the Prime Minister had shown herself to be “incapable of delivering a good Brexit deal”.
He said: “Theresa May’s Brexit negotiating strategy has been a disaster. The Tories have spent more time arguing among themselves than negotiating with the EU.
“The political games from both the EU and our Government need to end because no deal is not an option.”
Shadow Brexit secretary Sir Keir Starmer accused the Prime Minister of being “in denial” over the Chequers proposals.
EU says ‘no thanks’
The statement comes after the the rejection of her Chequers plan by EU leaders in Salzburg.
European Council President Donald Tusk rejected Mrs May’s blueprint for Brexit on Thursday, saying it risked the integrity of the EU single market and the Northern Ireland border.
European leaders including Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron also said significant progress was needed by the time of the European Council summit on October 18 if an agreement is to be reached on the UK’s withdrawal deal.
Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab earlier accused EU leaders of putting “the handbrake” on negotiations.
Appearing on the BBC’s Politics Live, he said: “We’ve been rebuffed on our plans without any coherent explanation as to why, there’s these sort of rather dogmatic pleas to the single market unity but our plans were very carefully crafted around that.”
He added: “We’re going to hold our nerve, stay calm and keep negotiating in good faith.
“We’ve revved up the motor of these negotiations, I’ve been out there a lot more frequently to get motoring, to make progress and the EU have just yanked up the handbrake and for the negotiations to go forward they’re going to have to take their hand off the handbrake.”
The Brexit Secretary went on to praise Mrs May, who has indicated that she will come forward “shortly” with new proposals regarding the Irish border, describing her as “stoic” and “resilient”.
The pound dropped against the dollar during Mrs May speech