Donald Tusk: EU must stay united or face Brexit 'defeat'

Donald Tusk

The EU will be “defeated” in Brexit negotiations unless it maintains absolute unity, European Council president Donald Tusk has said.

The ex-Polish prime minister told the European Parliament the UK’s departure was the EU’s “toughest stress test” and it must not be divided at any costs.

“If we fail it then the negotiations will end in our defeat,” he told MEPs.

The outcome of Brexit, in terms of whether there was a deal or not, was largely “up to the UK”, he claimed.

The UK is due to leave the European Union at the end of March 2019 and until Mr Tusk’s comments, both sides have sought to avoid talking about victory, defeat and winners and losers in the negotiations.

In an update following last week’s Brussels summit where the Brexit process was discussed, Mr Tusk said he was “obsessed” with preserving the unity of the other 27 members.

“We must keep our unity regardless of the direction of the talks,” Mr Tusk said. “The EU will be able to rise to every scenario as long as we are not divided.”

“If we fail it then the negotiations will end in our defeat,” he told MEPs.

He added: “It is in fact up to London how this will end: with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit. But in each of these scenarios we will protect our common interest only by being together.”

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier are also addressing the Parliament.

So far, the Brexit negotiations have focused on the three “separation” issues of how much the UK has to pay to “settle its accounts” when it leaves, what happens to EU citizens in the UK and Britons elsewhere in the EU after Brexit, plus what happens with the Northern Ireland border.

The EU says it will only move on to discuss the UK’s future relations with the EU after “sufficient progress” has been made on these three issues.

At last week’s summit EU leaders decided more work was needed on these items before trade talks could begin with the UK – although the remaining 27 EU members have agreed to talk about the future options among themselves.

The UK wants the second phase to start as soon as possible.

On Monday, Theresa May told MPs she had a “degree of confidence” of making enough progress by December to begin trade talks.


Speaking in Tuesday’s debate, Conservative MEP Syed Kamall, who heads the European Conservatives and Reformists Group, called for more pragmatism and less idealism from the EU in their approach to the talks.

The rest of Europe, he said, must recognise that the UK’s “main motivation” in building a future relationship of equals was maintaining open trade.

“There needs to be an understanding from the EU 27 where the British people are coming from,” he said.

“Perhaps the more the EU talks about the issues which resonate with the UK, it may find the UK is more willing to give concessions on the issues the EU 27 care most about and prioritise.”

Gabriele Zimmer, a German MEP who heads the European United Left group, said she did not want the British people to “pay the price of a no deal”.

She urged EU leaders to explain what criteria would be used to determine whether “sufficient progress” had been made to move onto trade discussions or whether it was a question of “political discretion”.

For UKIP, MEP Ray Finch warned that the UK would “remain subservient to the EU legally and financially” if talks continued on their current trajectory.

Accusing the UK government of “surrender” and the EU of “extortion”, he said the two sides should “shake hands and walk away” now.

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