Brexit outcome up to UK, says Donald Tusk, as he urges EU unity

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The outcome of Brexit is up to the UK, the president of the European council has said in a speech that stressed the importance of EU unity.

Related: European council president suggests Brexit could be halted - Politics live

“It is in fact up to London how this will end, with a good deal, no deal or no Brexit,” Donald Tusk told MEPs as he reported on last week’s EU summit. The next stage of Brexit talks would be “the toughest stress test” yet for the EU, he added.

“We have managed to build and maintain unity among the 27 but ahead of us is still the toughest stress test. If we fail it the negotiations will end in our defeat,” Tusk said. “We must keep our unity regardless of the direction of the talks. The EU will be able to rise to every scenario as long as we are not divided.”

Tusk has previously quoted the lyrics of John Lennon to express his faint hope Brexit could be avoided, although it is clear he does not see this as a likely outcome.

The head of the European commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, reiterated the message that the EU wanted a deal with the UK, after a spat between Brussels and London over an account of a dinner in a German newspaper, where Theresa May was reported to look despondent, tormented and tired.

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, was reported in the Times to be furious over the leaks about the dinner.

The EU27’s negotiating guidelines for the two-year Brexit talks stipulate that they must take place in two phases: separation and “orderly withdrawal”, followed by future relationship. Only when the EU27 decide “sufficient progress” has been made on phase one can phase two begin.

Broadly, phase one is about providing “clarity and certainty” to people and businesses on Brexit’s consequences and agreeing a sum covering the commitments the UK made as an EU member: avoiding a legal vacuum, protecting citizens’ rights, solving the Irish border, and reaching a financial settlement.

Phase two of the talks will then focus on agreeing the “framework” of the future trading relationship between the UK and the EU. A transition period can also be agreed as part of this second stage, but the detail of the future relationship can only be worked out once the UK has left.

Britain wants to move to stage two fast, but in order to keep as much leverage as possible in talks on the future relationship aims to delay agreeing the financial settlement as long as possible. The EU27 are adamant that all phase one issues must be addressed to their satisfaction before any talk of the future relationship.

“The commission is not negotiating in a hostile mood,” Juncker said. “Those who don’t want a deal, the no-dealers, they do not have friends in the commission. We want a fair deal and we want a fair deal with Britain. The no-deal is not our working assumption.”

His latest intervention chimed with the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, who told a group of European newspapers that the EU wanted a deal, but could not exclude the no-deal option.

In the interview Barnier said he expected the UK would seek a deal with the EU along the lines of the Canada free-trade deal. The comprehensive economic and trade agreement, which was agreed in 2016, was a groundbreaking trade deal between the EU and a foreign country, but would be a big step back for the UK, after decades in the EU single market.

“The single market is a set of rules and standards and is a shared jurisdiction,” Barnier said. “Its integrity is non-negotiable, as is the autonomy of decisions of the 27. Either you’re in or you’re out.”

This long-standing principle was picked up by Manfred Weber, an ally of Merkel, who leads the centre-right European People’s party.

Speaking to fellow MEPs Weber said no country outside the European Union can have the same status as a country inside the European Union.

While the British prime minister has long called for “a deep and special partnership” with the EU, European diplomats think she has not made a decision about what that means.

Weber said: “The Brexiteers have no common plan for the future of their country and especially the relationship towards the European Union.”

The Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable warned that a deal akin to that signed by the EU and Canada would be a disastrous result for the UK.

“A Canadian deal would leave our hugely important financial services sector without passporting rights,” he said. “It would also leave manufactured goods that contain components from outside Britain subject to tariffs.”

“This would be a very poor substitute for our membership of the single market and customs union. The exodus of firms would accelerate. Nobody voted to be poorer, and this would hit living standards … If this is the best the UK can hope for, we are in trouble.”

Powered by Guardian.co.ukThis article was written by Jennifer Rankin in Brussels, for theguardian.com on Tuesday 24th October 2017 11.32 Europe/Londonguardian.co.uk © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010