British PM meets EU's Tusk on eve of key Brexit speech
Theresa May hosted EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday on the eve of her keynote speech on Brexit.
LONDON (AFP) - British Prime Minister Theresa May hosted EU President Donald Tusk on Thursday on the eve of her keynote speech on Brexit, with the European chief saying he was "not happy" about London s "red lines" in talks.
Their meeting at Downing Street came as the European Union prepares its position on negotiations on the future relationship with Britain once it leaves the bloc.
May is due to set out her plans in a long-awaited speech on Friday, which her spokesman said she "hoped that European leaders would engage with this thinking constructively".
The duo discussed the transition period after Britain leaves the bloc and the fate of Northern Ireland, a day after May clashed with Brussels over the status of the Irish border.
The EU this week published a draft law codifying the divorce terms struck with Britain in December, which includes plans to avoid any customs checks on the border between Northern Ireland and Ireland.
May reacted angrily to the proposal that Northern Ireland -- part of Britain -- stay in a customs union with the EU if there is no better solution, warning she would not accept anything that risked the constitutional integrity of her country.
In a speech in Brussels on Thursday morning before travelling to London, Tusk said that if the prime minister did not like the idea, she should come up with an alternative.
Arriving at Downing Street, Tusk said he was "not happy" with May s stance on pulling Britain out of the European customs union and single market.
"Tusk took note of the repeatedly stated UK red lines and recalled that the red lines will shape the future relationship," an EU source told AFP following the bilateral meeting.
European chiefs including Tusk have repeatedly warned it is impossible to have the same trade relationship outside the customs union and single market.
But earlier on Thursday, May s spokesman asserted her aim of negotiating "a comprehensive and new economic partnership with the EU where we can trade tariff-free and on as frictionless a basis as possible".
The comment came after May chaired a two-hour cabinet meeting, during which her oft-divided cabinet held a "detailed and positive discussion" on her speech according to the premier s spokesman.
Divisions remain over how closely Britain should remain aligned to the EU and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, a key Brexiteer, has argued the Irish issue was being used to try to force Britain to change course and commit to a new customs union.
Remaining in the single market or customs union would require continued free movement of migrants and adherence to EU rules, which critics argue goes against the wishes of Brexit voters and are a hurdle to Britain s ability to sign global trade deals.
However, the opposition Labour party this week called for Britain to agree a new customs union, which it said would protect jobs and resolve the Irish question.
And two former prime ministers added their voices to the criticism.
Former Conservative premier John Major warned the government s promises were "just not credible", while his Labour successor Tony Blair said that May s hopes of keeping market access without following EU rules was "not possible".
"It s not a question of a tough negotiation or a weak negotiation, it literally is not going to happen," Blair told BBC radio, ahead of a speech in Brussels.
"So the dilemma you have is you re either going to have to stay close to Europe to minimise economic damage, in which case you abide by Europe s rules, or you re free from Europe s rules, in which case you re going to have economic damage."