Salzburg (Austria): Time is running out for a Brexit deal, leaders of European countries warned on Thursday as they began an informal summit in the Austrian city of Salzburg to discuss the bloc’s most pressing issues, including migration and strengthening external borders.
There was still no agreement on issues including how to avoid new checks on the Northern Irish border, the BBC reported.
For British Prime Minister Theresa May, the meeting here provided her one of the final occasions to seek consensus on her country’s withdrawal from the bloc and, at a dinner late Wednesday, she urged her counterparts to focus on sealing a Brexit deal within two months.
She stressed her “serious” proposals for future co-operation would ensure a “shared closed relationship” and warned that she would not extend negotiations. However, the leader still faced questions about the future of the Irish border.
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker described May’s 10-minute presentation as “interesting”. “It was polite, it was not aggressive, she was doing her job,” he said on the second day of talks.
Later on Thursday, the other EU leaders were expected to discuss Brexit in May’s absence, focusing on the differences over the Irish border and how detailed a “political declaration” for future relations needed to be.
French President Emmanuel Macron stressed the EU’s “very clear principles” about preserving the “integrity” of its single market, something that Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat described as a “big fat red line”.
May’s team met the Indian-origin Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar on Thursday morning.
Varadkar said that Ireland evidently wanted to avoid a no-deal Brexit, but that it was preparing for all eventualities. “We need to redouble our efforts over the next couple of weeks to make sure that we have a deal,” he said.
Luxembourg’s Prime Minister Xavier Bettel said time was “getting short”. The Netherlands’ Mark Rutte warned of a failure to reach agreement, saying: “As long as there is no deal, there is the risk of ‘no-deal’.”
Muscat and his Czech Republic counterpart Andrej Babis told the BBC that they hoped the UK would hold another referendum on Brexit in a bid to reverse the 2016 result.
Muscat said most of his counterparts would like the “almost impossible” to happen, while Babis added he hoped the British people might change their minds.
However, May said there was no question of the UK seeking to extend its EU membership.
The UK is due to leave the EU on March 29, 2019, and both sides have been trying to reach a deal in time, with a crunch summit specially convened in mid-November.
May’s proposal for the UK to sign up to a common rule book for trade in goods and a combined customs territory with the EU is unpopular with many in her own party, who believe it will erode British sovereignty and is not what people voted for when they backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum.