Donald Tusk, the president of the European council, launched an extraordinary broadside at pro-Brexit politicians Wednesday, saying there was a “special place in hell…for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan [for] how to carry it out safely.”
Tusk was speaking to reporters after meeting with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar to further discuss how to approach the issue of the Irish backstop, which is rapidly becoming the most significant Brexit hurdle.
In essence, the backstop is a guarantee that, even without a deal, the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland would remain open, owing in large part to the region’s complicated and violent history which might otherwise be reignited.
British Prime Minister Theresa May, however, has been seeking to renegotiate the backstop to placate pro-Brexit Conservative MPs (as well as the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party, which is propping up May’s government), who see the backstop as a way for the U.K. to remain part of the EU’s customs Union.
The EU, however, has repeatedly ruled out re-negotiating the backstop, as Tusk re-iterated again on Wednesday. “There is no room for speculation here,” he said. “The EU is first and foremost a peace project. We will not gamble with peace or put a sell-by date on reconciliation.”
Tusk added that while he knew that there were “a very great number of people” in the U.K. who wanted to remain in the EU, there was “no political force and no effective leadership for remain.”
Reaction to Tusk’s comments from Brexiteers was predictably furious. “The man has no manners,” pro-Brexit MP Andrea Leadsom told the BBC. “It goes to the heart of why I am a passionate Brexiteer because who is Donald Tusk, who voted for him?” Nigel Farage, meanwhile tweeted that Brexit would free the U.K. of “unelected, arrogant bullies like [Tusk].”
This, of course, conveniently omits the years of fearmongering undertaken by Brexiteers who, among other false claims, said Turkey would be joining the EU, that migrants were flooding into the U.K. unchecked because of EU open borders, and that the EU was dictating the shape of Britain’s bananas.
While politicians bicker, the clock ticks down towards the potential catastrophe of a no-deal Brexit, and ordinary workers and services are scrambling to prepare by themselves.
The same day as Tusk’s comments, the Brighton & Hove News reported that all Sussex Police leave requests for the month after March 29 (the deadline for the U.K. to leave the EU) had been cancelled. Police in Scotland have also put an additional 360 officers on standby for dealing with “reasonable worst case scenarios”. A senior EU official has warned that, in the event of a no-deal the residency, the work and healthcare rights of five million British and EU citizens could be left in legal limbo.
Meanwhile, the economic reality of Brexit is starting to bite in the city of Sunderland, an industrial town which was one of the first to vote leave during the 2016 referendum. The key employer in Sunderland is a Nissan car plant, which employs 7,000 people and supports 28,000 supplier jobs. Earlier this week it was revealed that the U.K. government had promised a secret package of aid worth more than $100 million to Nissan in return for them manufacturing a new model at the plant.
Last Sunday, however, Nissan declared it would be moving the manufacturing back to Japan. The company cited “the continued uncertainty around the UK’s future relationship with the EU” as one of the key factors driving its decision.