Theresa May was given a harsh welcome on arrival at an EU summit in Brussels, with a warning that the relationship between the UK and Europe “isn’t going to be one of absolute equals”.
The UK was taken to task by EU leaders for its failure to agree a unified position on post-Brexit trade amid continued disagreement within Mrs May’s cabinet.
Little progress is expected to emerge from talks that were set to last late into the night. The Prime Minister was scheduled to leave Brussels on Thursday. A ‘Brexit breakfast’ is planned for this morning involving the leaders of the 27 EU member states.
The Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said that Ireland was ready to begin preparations for a no-deal Brexit along its land and sea border with the UK, with time running out to secure a negotiated deal.
“Any relationship that exists in the future between the EU and the UK: we’re 27 member states, the UK is one country, we’re 500 million people, the UK is 60 million,” Mr Varadkar told journalists on arrival in Brussels.
“That basic fact has to be realised.”
The EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told journalists: “I don’t have to lecture Mrs May but I would like our British friends to make clear their positions… we can’t go on with a split cabinet - they have to say what they want”.
The Taoiseach added: “If we have a no-deal Brexit, and that is unlikely but possible, then the UK will essentially crash out of the customs union and the single market, will not be able to trade freely any more with any part of the EU including access to a European market of 500 million people.
“That would require us to make preparations in our ports and airports for that kind of scenario and that is the kind of thing that we will be doing.”
Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said the Irish border had to be the “first, second and third priority” in the Brexit negotiations and the UK needed a permanent border backstop plan.
A backstop option, agreed in principle between the EU and UK, has been interpreted by Europe to mean Northern Ireland will stay in the bloc’s Customs Union if no other deal is reached.
The British government is adamant it will not accept any proposal which draws a distinction between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
A white paper on future trade and customs proposals is expected in the next fortnight, after a cabinet away-day at Chequers next week to break the deadlock.
Liberal Democrat Brexit spokesman Tom Brake said: “At this point in negotiations all parties expected considerable progress. Time is running out.”