R.E.S.P.E.C.T, find out what it means to me, Tusk tells UK

Written by Martin Banks & Lorna Hutchinson on 5 October 2018 in News
News

European Council President Donald Tusk has hit back at the UK, demanding some “respect” after UK foreign secretary Jeremy Hunt made a snide jibe likening the EU to the Soviet Union.

Donald Tusk | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual


“The Soviet Union was about prisons and gulags, borders and walls, violence against citizens and neighbours. Comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union is as unwise as it is insulting,” Tusk said on Thursday.

He added that as someone who had spent half of his life under Soviet rule, "I know what I am talking about."

Addressing the UK Conservative party at a conference in Birmingham last Sunday (Sept 30), Hunt accused the EU of trying to punish the UK in an effort to "keep the club together."


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“The EU was set up to protect freedom; it was the Soviet Union that stopped people leaving. And the lesson from history is clear: if you turn the EU into a prison, the desire to get out of it won’t diminish, it will grow,” Hunt said.

“And we won’t be the only prisoner that will want to leave,” he added.

At last month's EU summit in Salzburg, Tusk torpedoed UK Prime Minister Theresa May's Brexit proposals and irked some conservatives with an Instagram post apparently pouring scorn on the prime minister and suggesting she was "cherry picking."

The day after the summit May demanded "respect" from the EU towards the UK.

“The Soviet Union was about prisons and gulags, borders and walls, violence against citizens and neighbours. Comparing the European Union to the Soviet Union is as unwise as it is insulting" Donald Tusk

But at a press briefing in Brussels on Thursday after a meeting with Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, Tusk - the former prime minister of Poland - said: "In respecting our partners, we expect the same in return.”

“I always try to present the EU's position honestly, and without beating about the bush. Telling the truth, even if difficult and unpleasant, is the best way of showing respect for partners,” Tusk told reporters.

 

THEY CAN’T TAKE AWAY MY DIGNITY

 

He and Varadkar, he said, had “focused on practical and realistic ways of minimising the damage caused by Brexit, on both sides of the channel.”

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

He also pointed out that it was the task of the EU's negotiators to defend the interests of the EU as a whole.

“We very much regret that the UK has decided to leave, and we hope for the best relationship in future, but no one can expect that, because of Brexit, the EU will give up its fundamental values and key interests.”

The UK is due to finalise its divorce from the EU next March, but the two sides have not yet reached agreement on how this will work.

Tusk said that now that the Conservative Party conference had ended, "we should get down to business."

“Let me make this clear: the EU wants a relationship with the UK that is as close and special as possible,” Tusk said, adding that the EU had offered the UK what he dubbed a “Canada+++ deal.”

He explained that the so-called “Canada+++ deal” was a far-reaching agreement on trade, internal security and foreign policy cooperation, which was “a true measure of respect.”

“This offer remains in place. The EU is serious about getting the best possible deal. Even though we haven’t changed our minds that the consequences of Brexit will be negative, for both sides,” Tusk said.

 
BACK IN THE USSR

 

Tusk pointed out that the attack in Salisbury in March, in which an attempt was made on the life of a former Russian spy, demonstrated that the Soviet spirit was still alive.

“I am sure you will also remember who was the first to declare full solidarity with the UK at that critical moment,” Tusk baulked, adding, “Unfortunately, that was not a unique incident.”

“The European Union is about freedom and human rights, prosperity and peace, life without fear. It is about democracy and pluralism; a continent without internal borders or walls.”

“The European Union is about freedom and human rights, prosperity and peace, life without fear. It is about democracy and pluralism; a continent without internal borders or walls” Donald Tusk

Referring to British and Dutch news reports about a cyber attack against the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in the Hague, Tusk pointed the finger of blame at Kremlin intelligence services.

“On behalf of the EU, I want to fully condemn this attack and express our complete solidarity with those affected. I will put the issue of cyber security on the agenda of the next European Council.”

 
WHEN IRISH EYES ARE SMILING

 

Following his meeting with the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, Tusk said that the EU was “united behind Ireland and the need to preserve the Northern Ireland peace process.”

“Despite the UK government's rejection of the original EU backstop proposal, we will not give up seeking a workable solution that fully respects the Good Friday Agreement as well as the integrity of the Single Market and the Customs Union.”

Varadkar, for his part, said he believed a deal could be struck as soon as two weeks from now, at the upcoming summit on October 18.

But for that to happen there would need to be a resolution to the major sticking point, the so-called “backstop” plan for Northern Ireland.

He also warned that it could take longer than the length of the post-Brexit transition period, due to run to 31 December 2020, to agree on a final EU-UK trade deal.

"What I do know is that we need a backstop, a protocol on Ireland and Northern Ireland as part of a withdrawal agreement,“ he said, adding “I think we are entering a critical and decisive stage of these negotiations and there is a good opportunity to clinch a deal over the next couple of weeks.”

Meanwhile on Friday, four of Northern Ireland's pro-remain parties will be briefed on Brexit talks in Brussels by the EU's chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

The parties, who will also meet EU Brexit coordinator and ALDE group leader Guy Verhofstadt, have voiced concerns about the impact of Brexit on the province.

The UK and the EU are still divided on how to solve the issue of the Irish border, less than two weeks before a crunch EU summit on 17 October.

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

Lorna Hutchinson is a reporter and sub-editor at the Parliament Magazine

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