Donald Tusk echoes John Lennon to suggest UK could stay in EU | Politics

Donald Tusk used the first EU summit since the general election and the start of the Brexit negotiations to suggest that there is a chance the UK could still remain a member of the union, as leaders called on Theresa May to provide clarity on her minority government’s intentions.

Tusk, the president of the European council quoted the lyrics of John Lennon’s Imagine in expressing his hope that Britain could change its mind given recent events. “We can hear different predictions, coming from different people, about the possible outcome of these negotiations: hard Brexit, soft Brexit or no deal,” Tusk said, of what he described as a difficult process.

“Some of my British friends have even asked me whether Brexit could be reversed, and whether I could imagine an outcome where the UK stays part of the EU.

“I told them that in fact the European Union was built on dreams that seemed impossible to achieve. So, who knows? You may say I’m a dreamer, but I am not the only one.”

Tusk, a former prime minister of Poland – who as a student was active in the fight against the communist regime in his country, said: “Politics without dreams: it would be a nightmare. If you had my experience from my part of Europe you would know miracles do happen. Some of my political dreams have come true. And this is maybe the best part of politics that everything is possible but I am at the same time a realist.

“That is why first of all we should start the negotiations as effectively as possible. The final decision is also a decision for Britain, UK citizens. But, yes, dreams are still very nice.”

The Dutch prime minister, Mark Rutte, said he was hopeful that the UK would seek a soft Brexit. “It is crucially important we know what Britain wants from Brexit,” he said. “I hope we’ll come to some form of continued membership or relationship with internal markets.

“I absolutely believe the UK will be hit in the economy and the pound very hard. It will have a huge economic impact. I hope they can stay connected to the customs union which means accepting the four freedoms and the court in Luxembourg. I’m hopeful, but it all depends on what Theresa May and her team decide.”

Ireland’s new taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, said: “The door remains open for the UK to stay in the European Union.”

A No 10 spokesman said in response: “Britain voted to leave the EU on 23 June last year and, as we have been clear all along, we will be delivering the democratic will of the British people.”

Macron, Merkel and May



Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May at the European Union leaders’ summit. Photograph: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

Leaders struck a different note when asked if European cooperation would be easier if the UK remained in the EU.

“I am not a dreamer and I am not the only one,” Belgium’s prime minister, Charles Michel said, in a deliberate echo of Tusk’s words. “I consider that we have to respect the choice of the UK and we will see how it is possible to keep smart cooperation on the different issues, on development, on trade but also on security.”

There were signs of irritation at Britain’s apparent intention to use meetings of EU leaders to progress their Brexit goals, however. In response to Downing Street’s decision to provide an overview of its offer on EU citizens over dinner at the summit, the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, said: “I’m not negotiating here.”

Tusk added: “It must be clear that the European council is not a forum for the Brexit negotiations, We have our negotiations for this. And so leaders will only take note of this intention.”

Beyond the discussion on Brexit during the first day of a two-day summit, the leaders also agreed on measures regarding counter-terrorism and defence. Tusk said the leaders were now calling on social media companies to do “whatever is necessary to prevent the spread of terrorist material on the internet”.

Brexit atom

He said: “In practice, this means developing new tools to detect and remove such materials automatically. And, if need be, we are also ready to adopt relevant legislation.”

The leaders also agreed on the need to set up permanent European cooperation on defence, a concept first raised in 1954 but opposed by a number of member states, including the UK.

Initially the member states would cooperate, with the help of EU cash, on defence research and procurement. Tusk said: “It is a historic step, because such cooperation will allow the EU to move towards deeper integration in defence. Our aim is for it to be ambitious and inclusive, so every EU country is invited to join. Within three months, member states will agree a common list of criteria and commitments, together with concrete capability projects, in order to take this cooperation off the ground.”

The EU also agreed to extend its economic sanctions against Russia over its failure to live up to the Minsk peace agreement after reports to leaders from Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron.

Russian-backed fighters are accused of attacking Ukrainian forces and expanding the territory under their control.

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