Good Brexit deal is in Britain's hands, says European Council president
IT is up to the UK to decide whether there is a good Brexit deal – or even if the country decides to leave the European Union at all, Donald Tusk has told MEPs.
The European Council president said it was up to Theresa May's government whether there is a "good deal, no deal or no Brexit" at all.
Meanwhile, the EU's chief Brexit negotiator indicated that agreement on a free trade deal with Britain after it leaves the European Union will take years to complete.
Michel Barnier said the discussions would be very different from the first phase of the negotiations on the terms of Britain's withdrawal and would entail "risks".
His comments came after Mrs May told MPs there could be no transition period after Britain leaves the EU unless there was agreement on a trade deal.
In a Commons statement, the prime minister said she remained confident that a deal was possible following the latest EU summit last week in Brussels.
However, her remarks caused consternation among opposition MPs who warned the UK was heading for a "cliff-edge" break with the EU which businesses have been desperate to avoid.
Updating the European Parliament on last week's Brussels summit, Mr Tusk stressed his obsession with the unity of the 27 members who will remain in the EU after the UK's departure.
"Ahead of us is still the toughest stress test. If we fail it, the negotiations will end in our defeat," he 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.
"It is in fact up to London how this will end: With a good deal, no deal or no Brexit.
"But in each of these scenarios we will protect our common interest only by being together."
European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker moved to reassure the UK that there was no "hostile" agenda from Brussels and a "no-deal" scenario was "not our working assumption".
Mr Juncker told MEPs in Strasbourg: "The commission is not negotiating in a hostile mood. We want a deal. Those who don't want a deal – the no-dealers – they had no friends in the commission."
Leaders of the other 27 EU member states agreed on Friday to begin discussions among themselves on a possible transition period – prompting hopes in Downing Street that they will agree to move on to trade talks in December.
In an interview with France's Les Echoes newspaper, Mr Barnier said agreement on a time-limited transition period after Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019 should be possible.
"If we reach an agreement on the orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom, such a period, both short and framed, is possible," he said.
"To my mind, it makes sense that it covers the financial period, so until 2020. It would leave us more time to prepare for the future relationship."
However he warned that the negotiations would continue to be "difficult" and that agreeing the future relationship between the EU and the UK would take time.
"The two phases are difficult. The second will be very different and will last several years," he said.
"It is truly unique because, instead of promoting regulatory convergence, it will aim to frame a difference.
"It will involve risks, including about its political ratification, making all the more necessary transparency around these topics."
Mrs May's spokesman said the government believed it could agree a trade deal with the EU quickly.
He told a Westminster briefing: "We are confident of achieving that deal, and we come at this from a unique position in terms of our existing relationship with the EU, and that we can achieve that trade deal quickly.
"This needs joint endeavour, we need to work together. We believe that a deal is in the best interests of the United Kingdom and the European Union, and that we are going to work together to achieve that."
Responding to Mr Tusk's remarks on the UK being able to stop withdrawal, the PM's spokesman said: "Brexit is not going to be reversed."