Tusk slams UK slurs on EU, urges 'Canada plus plus plus' Brexit deal

BRUSSELS (Reuters) - European Council President Donald Tusk sharply criticized what he called “emotional” and “insulting” statements about the EU by British ministers and urged London on Thursday to accept an offer of very close post-Brexit ties.

FILE PHOTO: European Council President Donald Tusk attends a news conference at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing, China, July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Thomas Peter

The European Union was offering Britain a “Canada plus plus plus” arrangement, Tusk told reporters after meeting the Irish prime minister, explaining Britain could have not just a free trade accord like that with Canada but also extremely close relations in security, foreign policy and other areas.

“The EU wants a relationship with the UK that is as close and special as possible,” Tusk said. “From the very beginning, the EU offer has been not just a Canada deal, but a Canada plus plus plus deal. Much further-reaching on trade, on internal security and on foreign policy cooperation.”

Standing beside Irish premier Leo Varadkar and referring to arguments from British politicians rejecting EU proposals for keeping Northern Ireland inside EU economic rules, Tusk said:

“Emotional arguments that stress the issue of dignity sound attractive but they do not facilitate agreement. Every actor in this process has their dignity and confrontation in this field will not lead to anything good.

“No one can expect that because of Brexit, the EU will give up its fundamental values and key interests.”

Referring to sharp exchanges on both sides after EU leaders met British Prime Minister Theresa May at a summit in Salzburg two weeks ago, he urged her to work to a final accord by the next summit in Brussels in two weeks.

Noting his own experience as a political party leader, the former Polish prime minister said that now May had concluded her Conservatives’ annual conference on Wednesday it was time to “get down to business”.

But as a Pole, he took time during his statement to denounce comments by Britain’s foreign minister Jeremy Hunt earlier in the week in which he likened the EU negotiating stance on Brexit to the Soviet Union’s refusal to let states secede.

“Comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union is as unwise as it is insulting,” Tusk said. “As the president of the European Council and someone who spent half of my life in the Soviet bloc, I know what I’m talking about.”

“Unacceptable remarks that raise the temperature will achieve nothing except wasting more time. What needs to be done is maximum progress by the October European Council.”

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Richard Balmforth