Britain may decide not to leave the European Union when faced with the reality of a “hard Brexit”, Donald Tusk, the president of the European Council said last night, warning that the upcoming EU-UK divorce talks would be “painful” for Britain.
His intervention came as Europe continue to harden its approach towards the negotiations after Theresa May’s shift towards a “hard Brexit” at last week’s Conservative Party conference.
Mr Tusk said Mrs May’s pledge to end the free movement of EU workers, stop EU budget payments and restore the primacy of UK law-making meant Britain had opted to “radically loosen” its ties to Europe.
“The only real alternative to a hard Brexit is no Brexit, even if today hardly anyone believes in such a possibility,” he said in a speech to the European Policy Centre, a Brussels think-tank.
The toughening of Europe’s stance came as Brexit continued to dominate the news agenda, amid rows over foreign-based supermarket suppliers “profiteering” from the falling pound and a High Court bid to force a parliamentary vote on triggering Article 50.
After a day of closed-door talks Unilever, the Anglo-Dutch consumer conglomerate, apparently backed down in its stand-off with Tesco over a 10 per cent price hike on foods such as Marmite, which it had blamed on Brexit.
The climb-down came after Unilever, which had insisted it needed to charge suppliers more because of the falling pound, was accused on social media of “profiteering” from Brexit. A Telegraph analysis discovered that of its 40 leading brands at least 33 are made in its nine UK factories.
As pressure continued to rise over the falling pound, Mr Tusk – who next week will chair a European Council meeting in Brussels which will be Mrs May’s first as prime minister – said it was “pure illusion” that Britain could leave the EU while retaining the benefits of membership.
He singled out Boris Johnson, the Foreign Secretary, for saying that Britain could have its cake and eat it. “The brutal truth is that Brexit will be a loss for all of us,” Mr Tusk added. “There will be no cakes on the table for anyone.
There will be only salt and vinegar.” For his part, an ebullient Mr Johnson dismissed such negativity, telling MPs that it would “take time” for the full benefits of Brexit appear but promising that those who “prophesied doom” over Brexit would be proved wrong.
He added that Britain can get a Brexit trade deal that is “of greater value” to the UK economy than access to the EU single market, adding that Commonwealth countries were already “stepping up” to reach trade agreements
“Those who prophesied doom have been proved wrong and will continue to be proved wrong,” he told the Foreign Affairs Committee, adding that it would be “wrong” for the EU to punish UK financial services over Brexit.
Seeking to ease MPs concerns about the fallout from a “hard Brexit” Mr Johnson added: “You seem to think the single market is like the Groucho Club or something. We are leaving the European Union and will continue to have access to trade and services from the EU.”
His upbeat message came as the Attorney General contested a legal bid by Remain supporters to force the government to hold a vote in Parliament on triggering Article 50 – a process that could be used to delay Britain’s exit from the EU.
Jeremy Wright said the legal move by Gina Miller, a wealthy City investor and anti-Brexit campaigner, would be a “backdoor” attempt to bypass the democratically expressed will of the people.
The Brexit negotiators
Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union
Born: 23 December 1948
Personal life: married to Doreen Davis, who he met at the university of Warwick. They have three children
Education: an Army scholarship took Mr Davis to Warwick University. Then studied at the London Business School and Harvard
Also known as: “Monsieur Non” is his nickname in France. They see him as a tough negotiator
Hobbies: Writing, flying, mountaineering
Growing up: Brought up by single mother on south London council estate
Life before politics: worked for Tate & Lyle for 17 years, rising to senior executive. Also served as a part-time SAS trooper
Route into politics: entered Parliament in 1987 and was a whip within three years. Defeated in 2005 Tory leadership election
Route to the very top: shadow Home Secretary from 2003 to 2008. Foreign minister in the last parliament. After the 1997 election defeat refused a front-bench position so he could chair the powerful Commons public accounts committee
Political style: as a ruthless campaigner Labour ministers came to fear him. As shadow home secretary, he claimed the ministerial scalps of Beverley Hughes, David Blunkett and Charles Clarke
European Commission’s head of Brexit negotiations
Born: 9 January 1951
Personal life: married to Isabelle, a consultant at the French Ministry of Health. They have three children, Nicolas, and twins, Laetitia and Benjamin
Education: graduated from High School of Commerce in Paris (ESCP), a pan-european business school in 1972
Also known as: “le cretin des alpes”, a jibe at his origin in the mountains of Savoy and a reference to the 18th-century Alpine valley dwellers who suffered brain damage caused by iodine deficiency
Hobbies: fond of music, particularly jazz
Growing up: born at La Tronche in Isère, Rhône-Alpes
Life before politics: always worked in politics.
Route into politics: served on the staff of various Gaullist ministers in the 1970s, before being elected in 1978, aged 27, to the French National Assembly
Route to the very top: held a number of ministerial posts, including foreign affairs, agriculture and environment. EU commissioner for internal markets and services between 2010 and 2014.
Political style: the ruthless arch-federalis takes no prisoners. In 2010 the Telegraph described him as “the most dangerous man in Europe”.
Tags: ‘hard’ Brexit, Boris Johnson, Britain, Britain could leave the EU while retaining the benefits of membership, Conservative Party, David Davis, Donald Tusk, European Council, European Policy Centre, Foreign Secretary, Leaving the European Union, Michael Barnier, Theresa May, UK