In a sign that the UK Government was causing huge frustration in Brussels over Brexit, the President of the European Council took a swipe during a press conference marking the end of the EU summit today.
He said he expected the 27 European Union leaders to adopt their joint stance on the bloc’s post-Brexit ties with Britain at a meeting in March, regardless of whether London provides input.
Mr Tusk threatened he would press on “whether the UK is ready with its vision of our future relations or not”.
He said: “Naturally it would be much better if it were but we cannot stand by and wait.”
Mr Tusk said he was hoping for more clarity on the UK position when he meets Mrs May on Thursday, a day before her key Brexit speech.
And he later claimed the current UK position on its post-Brexit relationship with the bloc was “based on an illusion”, hitting out at the UK trying to get a bespoke deal.
He said: “If the media reports are correct I’m afraid that the UK position today is based on pure illusion.
“It looks like the cake philosophy is still alive.
“From the very start there has been a key principle there can be no cherry picking and no single market a la carte.”
He said the bloc would be “extremely realistic in our assessment of possible new proposals”.
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who saw May this week, echoed those comments in talking to reporters separately after the Brussels meeting.
“I made it clear to Theresa May that I believe it is crucial for the UK to set out its position on the transition, on issues like the Irish border, and particularly on the future relationship,” he said.
“We don’t like cherry-picking, so it will be difficult to come to a bespoke deal along the lines that some in the UK are suggesting.”
Mrs May will give a landmark speech on Brexit next week following a mammoth eight-hour Chequers meeting yesterday to thrash out the Government’s position.
Her official spokesman characterised the session as “very positive and a step forward, agreeing the basis of the Prime Minister’s speech on our future relationship”.
Jeremy Hunt, who was not at the meeting, said the committee agreed Britain must not be part of a customs union as it should have the right to strike free trade deals with other countries, and claimed “frictionless” trade was still possible without one.
He told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Customs union is one way of getting frictionless trade but it’s not the only way, and what we’re saying is we want to achieve frictionless trade by agreement between two sovereign bodies – the United Kingdom and European Union.”
He added: “You have divergent views on a big issue like Brexit, as you would expect, but the central common understanding is that there will be areas and sectors of industry where we agree to align our regulations with European regulations. The automotive industry is perhaps an obvious example because of supply chains that are integrated.
“But it will be on a voluntary basis, we will as a sovereign power have the right to choose to diverge, and what we won’t be doing is accepting changes in rules because the EU unilaterally chooses to make those changes.”
Downing Street dismissed reports that the PM was preparing for a U-turn on the rights of EU migrants who arrive in the UK during any transition period following the date of Brexit in March 2019.
Her official spokesman said there was no change in Mrs May’s position that the rights of EU nationals arriving after the date of Brexit in March 2019 would be different from those coming to the UK before.
Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the European Research Group of backbench Tory Eurosceptics, said it would be “unconscionable” for Mrs May to cave into Brussels demands for permanent settlement rights for anyone arriving before the end of the transition period – probably 2021.
Mr Rees-Mogg told Today: “I’d be astonished if Mrs May would make U-turn of that kind; she is a lady of great backbone and for her to kowtow to the European Union is I think unconscionable.”