By Ahmet Gurhan Kartal
The EU should explain why they are rejecting the U.K.’s Brexit plans, as just turning away Britain’s proposals without offering any alternative is not acceptable, British Prime Minister Theresa May said Friday.
In a statement from Downing Street, May said the U.K. has treated the EU with “nothing but respect” and the U.K. expects the same.
Speaking about the discussions held with EU leaders in Salzburg, Austria earlier this week, May said the “EU is still only offering us two options.”
“The first option would involve the UK staying in the European Economic Area and a customs union with the EU.
“In plain English, this would mean we’d still have to abide by all the EU rules, uncontrolled immigration from the EU would continue, and we couldn’t do the trade deals we want with other countries.
“That would make a mockery of the referendum we had two years ago,” May said, referring to the June 2016 Brexit vote.
She added: “The second option would be a basic free trade agreement for Great Britain that would introduce checks at the Great Britain/EU border.
“But even worse, Northern Ireland would effectively remain in the Customs Union and parts of the Single Market, permanently separated economically from the rest of the UK by a border down the Irish Sea.
“Parliament has already -- unanimously -- rejected this idea.”
May said anything “which fails to respect the referendum or which effectively divides our country in two would be a bad deal and I have always said no deal is better than a bad deal.”
May said both the U.K. and the EU “agree that the Withdrawal Agreement needs to include a backstop to ensure that if there’s a delay in implementing our new relationship, there still won’t be a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
“But the EU is proposing to achieve this by effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the Customs Union,” she added.
“As I have already said, that is unacceptable. We will never agree to it. It would mean breaking up our country.”
May said “neither side should demand the unacceptable of the other,” stressing: “We cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of our union, just as they cannot accept anything that threatens the integrity of theirs.”
May reiterated that “we cannot accept anything that does not respect the result of the referendum.”
EU citizens and the Irish border
The premier said that “even in the event of no deal,” the rights of 3 million EU citizens living in the country will be “protected.”
She said: “You are our friends, our neighbors, our colleagues. We want you to stay.”
Also reassuring the people of Northern Ireland, May said: “In the event of no deal we will do everything in our power to prevent a return to a hard border.”
Respecting the referendum
The 2016 Brexit referendum was the “largest democratic exercise this country has ever undergone,” May said.
“To deny its legitimacy or frustrate its result threatens public trust in our democracy.”
She said the EU “should be clear” about her course: “I will not overturn the result of the referendum. Nor will I break up my country.”
“We need serious engagement on resolving the two big problems in the negotiations. We stand ready.”
The issue of the future of the border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland is among the most contentious in the Brexit talks.
After Brexit is implemented, set to start on March 29, 2019, the border will become the only land border between the U.K. and EU.
Since the 1998 Belfast Agreement, the border between the two sides has been all but invisible.
Imposing a hard border there with checkpoints and customs officers would be locally unpopular, so a solution that would work for the U.K., EU, Ireland, and Northern Ireland – all of whom prefer the status quo – would be preferred.
May has proposed adopting a common rulebook for goods and services and keeping the standards within the U.K. the same as the EU’s so that trade is not disturbed and there would be no need for border checks.
She has also rejected a solution where checks could be done away from the border on both sides, saying that would still constitute a hard border.
A Brexit deal between the U.K. and EU could still be within reach, with the next opportunity presenting itself at the European Council Summit in October.
If progress can be made there, the EU will call an emergency Brexit summit in November. Otherwise, there will be a "no-deal" scenario at the end of next March.