Donald Tusk, the European council president, has said there is a “special place in hell” for politicians who promoted Brexit “without even a sketch of a plan”, while he reiterated the EU’s refusal to renegotiate the withdrawal treaty.
Speaking to journalists after meeting the Irish prime minister, Leo Varadkar, Tusk also took aim at Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn, claiming there was a leadership void at the heart of the remain movement.
Tusk, who has never disguised his hopes that the UK might change its mind, said he knew there were “still a very great number of people” in the UK, on the continent and in Ireland who wanted to reverse the decision. “I have always been with you with all my heart, but the facts are unmistakable. At the moment the pro-Brexit stance of the UK prime minister and the leader of the opposition rules out this question. Today there is no political force and no effective leadership for remain.”
He said the EU’s top priority was to prepare for the “fiasco” of a no-deal Brexit, while ruling out any renegotiation of the Irish backstop.
“There is no room for speculation here. The EU is first and foremost a peace project we will not gamble with peace or put a sell-by date on reconciliation,” he said, rejecting British demands for a time limit on the Irish backstop.
He added: “I’ve been wondering what that special place in hell looks like, for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan how to carry it out safely.”
In less colourful terms, Varadkar said the withdrawal agreement May agreed with the EU in November was “the best deal possible”. He said the backstop was intended never to be used, but was needed as a legal guarantee, “to ensure that there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland while protecting the integrity of our European single market and customs union”.
Reflecting a widespread view in Brussels, Varadkar said: “The instability in British politics in recent weeks demonstrates exactly why we need a legal guarantee and a solution that is operable that we know will work, will last.”
The latest interventions pile pressure on May, who is due in Brussels on Thursday to meet Tusk and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker.
On Tuesday, the prime minister raised the ire of hardline Eurosceptic backbenchers, when she said there was “so suggestion” the UK would leave the EU without a backstop, although she is still seeking changes. But the EU has ruled out changes and Tusk called on May to set out “a realistic suggestion on how to end the impasse”.
May will also meet MEP leaders, including the Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt and the European parliament president, Antonio Tajani. The European parliament’s Brexit steering group, chaired by Verhofstadt, said it would not vote for the Brexit deal, if there was no “all-weather” backstop, ie a backstop with no time limit.