Brussels must come up with new ways to break the Brexit logjam or the risk of a no-deal scenario will only increase, UK prime minister Theresa May has warned.
She said Brexit talks are at an “impasse” after the EU rejected her Chequers proposals and accused the EU of failing to respect the UK in negotiations.
A defiant Mrs May rejected any attempts to divide Britain as discussion over an Irish backstop continue to hit bumps in the road.
“Creating any form of customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK would not respect that Northern Ireland is an integral part of the United Kingdom,” she said from Downing Street.
“It is something I will never agree to - indeed, in my judgement it is something no British Prime Minister would ever agree to. If the EU believe I will, they are making a fundamental mistake.”
Mrs May said the EU was only offering two options. One would involve the UK staying in the European Economic Area and customs union with the EU. This would cause “uncontrolled immigration” and prevent the UK from making the fresh trade deals it wanted with other country.
A second proposal would allow a basic free trade deal but 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,” said Mrs May.
The prime minister has proposed a third option, one which would allow a frictionless trade in goods and would avoid a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. To achieve this, Mrs May said the EU suggested effectively keeping Northern Ireland in the customs union. She insisted the government would do “everything in our power” to prevent a return to a hard border and an alternative proposal is to be set out soon.
“It will be in line with the commitments we made back in December - including the commitment that no new regulatory barriers should be created between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK unless the Northern Ireland Executive and Assembly agree,” said Mrs May.
Mrs May also reiterated that a no deal would be better than a bad deal – but a good deal was still the desired outcome.
“At this late stage in the negotiations, it is not acceptable to simply reject the other side’s proposals without a detailed explanation and counter proposals.”
“So we now need to hear from the EU what the real issues are and what their alternative is so that we can discuss them. Until we do, we cannot make progress.”
“The EU should be clear: 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.”
Mrs May softened the worries of the 3 million EU citizens living in the UK and promised that whatever deal was agreed, they would be protected. “You are our friends, our neighbours, our colleagues. We want you to stay.”
She was speaking following talks between European leaders in Salzburg that finished on Thursday.
"The suggested framework for economic co-operation will not work, not least because it is undermining the single market,” Donald Tusk, president of the European Council had said in Salzburg.
In a statement on Friday, Mr Tusk said he remained convinced that a Brexit compromise that is "good for all, is still possible."
He added that "the U.K. stance presented just before and during the Salzburg meeting was surprisingly tough and in fact uncompromising." In spite of that viewpoint, he insisted he remained "a close friend of the U.K. and a true admirer of PM May."
Mrs May's statement, planned for 13.45pm UK time, was initially delayed by connection problems in 10 Downing Street.
“From day one, the Prime Minister has looked incapable of delivering a good Brexit deal for Britain,” opposition and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn responded.
“The political games from both the EU and our Government need to end because no deal is not an option,” he added.
“I think the PM is in denial. It was blindingly obvious the Chequers proposal was not going to be agreed by the EU or her own party. I’m surprised she’s surprised. She’s boxed herself into a corner,” said Labour’s Brexit chief, Sir Keir Starmer.
Earlier, the UK’s Brexit minister Dominic Raab had said there was “no credible alternative” to Mrs May’s plans.
"We have been rebuffed on our plans without any coherent explanation as to why,” he told the BBC's Politics Live.