Brexit: EU president Donald Tusk says 'we will not renegotiate the deal' as he calls emergency meeting

Jon Stone

The president of the European Council has ruled out renegotiating Theresa May’s Brexit deal and its controversial backstop at a scheduled summit in Brussels later this week.

Donald Tusk said leaders would discuss the agreement struck last month at a meeting and that leaders were “ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification”.

But he warned that the bloc would use the meeting to discuss no-deal planning “as time is running out”.

His comments came after Theresa May said she would go back to Brussels to seek further concessions from the EU after an overwhelmingly negative reception to her deal from MPs.

The European Commission and several key member states on Monday also ruled out changing the controversial withdrawal agreement.

“I have decided to call European Council on Brexit on Thursday,” Mr Tusk said on Monday evening. “We will not renegotiate the deal, including the backstop, but we are ready to discuss how to facilitate UK ratification. As time is running out, we will also discuss our preparedness for a no-deal scenario.”

The council president is said to be consulting with EU27 leaders ahead of the summit. On Monday, Ms May postponed a Commons vote on the deal, which she was expected to lose badly.

A European Commission spokesperson said: “We have an agreement on the table that was endorsed by the European Council in its Article 50 format on the 25 November. As president Juncker said, this deal is the best and only deal possible.

“We will not renegotiate, our position has not changed, and as far as we are concerned, the United Kingdom is leaving the European Union on 29 March 2019.”

The prime minister told the Commons on Monday that she would go back to Brussels and was confident of getting legally binding assurances that the “backstop” portion of the deal – which is unpopular with her MPs – would never be used.

But EU member states who broke their silence all said the agreement was not up for discussion – a united line they have taken since it was agreed last month. Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, who has been central to Brexit talks because of the Northern Ireland border issue, said in Dublin on Monday that there could be no changes to the agreement but suggested clarifications could be made.

“The withdrawal agreement, including the Irish backstop, is the only agreement on the table. It’s not possible to reopen any aspect of that agreement without reopening all aspects,” he said.

But he warned that “no statement of clarification can contradict what’s in the withdrawal agreement”.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, blasted the government for suspending the planned vote formerly scheduled for Tuesday.

“I can’t follow any more. After two years of negotiations, the Tory government wants to delay the vote,” Mr Verhofstadt said.

Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister (PA)

“Just keep in mind that we will never let the Irish down. This delay will further aggravate the uncertainty for people and businesses. It’s time they make up their mind!”

The Brexit coordinator’s comments echo the feelings of many in Brussels who were shocked by the UK’s decision to suspend the parliamentary showdown. That intervention came as Commons speaker John Bercow described the decision, apparently taken by the prime minister this morning, as “discourteous”.

The prime minister’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins returned to Brussels on Monday and was spotted in the European Commission headquarters – apparently trying to seek concessions on the deal.

British officials declined to comment on his presence but EU officials confirmed they were in contact with the UK.

The Independent understands that a forthcoming debate in the European Parliament scheduled for Wednesday to discuss the Brexit deal could be cancelled if no vote goes ahead in the Commons. Sources say there would be nothing to discuss if it does not take place.

Officials at the EU’s parliament, however, said their debate was still due to go ahead as of Monday afternoon.