Donald Tusk kicked-off two days of intense top-level Brexit negotiations by warning that major elements of the Chequers plan must be “reworked” in order to reach a deal.
In a brief press statement at the start of the EU leaders’ summit in Salzburg, the European Council president said elements of Chequers, such as on security cooperation, “indicate a positive evolution in the UK’s approach.”
But he added: “On other issues, such as the Irish question, or the framework for economic cooperation, the UK’s proposals will need to be reworked and further negotiated.”
His comments were a pre-emptive strike on the speech Theresa May is due to deliver at the end of an informal working dinner of EU leaders on Wednesday evening.
In a slot of just 10 minutes, the prime minister is expected to push her proposals for a “free trade area in goods” and a “facilitated customs arrangement.”
“What we are proposing is a fair arrangement that will work for the EU’s economy as well as for the UK’s without undermining the single market,” she is expected to say.
The leaders of the other 27 EU member states will discuss May’s proposals without her over a working dinner on Thursday.
Afterwards, Tusk and May will meet for just 15 minutes to discuss the outcome of the debate.
Although some EU leaders are predisposed to Britain’s case, Tusk’s message is unlikely to be substantially different from the one he delivered in his two-minute press statement.
EU leaders have repeatedly rejected the economic pillars of the Chequers proposal – opposition is so deep the European Commission told Yahoo Finance UK that publishing its analysis would risk “jeopardising the the successful outcome of the negotiations.”
They say the plans to maintain freedom of movement for goods is cherry picking the best part of the single market, which would lead to its break-up.
On May’s customs plan, which involves the UK collecting tariffs on behalf of the Brussels, the EU say they would never outsource the customs union.
May took their criticisms head-on in an op-ed for German newspaper Die Welt on Wednesday, writing: “To come to a successful conclusion, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to do the same.”
EU Brexit chief Michel Barnier said on Tuesday evening: “It’s always possible to compromise … but what we will not do is compromise in a way that we destroy the single market or the European Union.”
In bid to give negotiations more time, EU leaders are set to push the target for a deal back from the European Council on 18 October to an emergency summit in mid-November.
Summarising the state of talks with just six months to go until Brexit takes effect, Tusk said: “Today there is perhaps more hope, but there is surely less and less time. Therefore, every day that is left, we must use for talks.”