European Union President Donald Tusk revived the notion that the U.K. will stay in the bloc after all, as British Prime Minister Theresa May struggles with persistent splits in her government.
Speaking 16 months to the day since Europeans woke up to the news that Britons voted to leave the EU, Tusk said the outcome of negotiations on a Brexit accord is fully in the U.K. government’s hands. He signaled the scenarios include no departure from the bloc as scheduled in March 2019.
“It is in fact up to London how this will end — with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit,” Tusk, who chairs EU summits, told the European Parliament on Tuesday in Strasbourg, France. “But in each of these scenarios we will protect our common interests only by being together.”
The comment reveals a consensus across the EU that Brexit is a colossal mistake for the U.K., a major headache for the continent and a choice that Britons could reverse if only they can muster the political courage. It also reflects a lingering view in Europe that an anti-EU faction in May’s Conservative Party led by the likes of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson is holding the whole country hostage.
Separation talks between the U.K and its 27 EU partners have progressed much more slowly than had been anticipated, preventing the start of parallel negotiations on a future free-trade deal between the EU and Britain and on transitional arrangements. The bloc denies the delays have been caused by any uncooperative attitude by Brussels officials, saying London’s refusal to agree on a method to settle the divorce bill is to blame.
Jean-Claude Juncker, head of the European Commission, the EU’s executive arm conducting the Brexit talks with London, told students on Monday in Strasbourg that the June 23, 2016, U.K. referendum in which 52 percent of Britons voted to leave the bloc was a “tragedy.”
On Tuesday in the EU Parliament, Juncker said his negotiating team was working to ensure Britain doesn’t crash out of the bloc without an agreement.
“The commission is not negotiating in a hostile mood,” he said. “Those who don’t want a deal, the no-dealers — they have no friends in the commission.”