European council president Donald Tusk gives a statement after a meeting at the council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on February 6 2019. Picture: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN
European council president Donald Tusk gives a statement after a meeting at the council headquarters in Brussels, Belgium, on February 6 2019. Picture: REUTERS/YVES HERMAN

Brussels — The EU will make no new offer on Brexit and those who promoted Britain's exit without any understanding of how to deliver it deserve a special place in hell, council president Donald Tusk said on Wednesday.

The UK is on course to leave the EU on March 29 without a deal unless Prime Minister Theresa May can convince the bloc to re-open the divorce deal she agreed in November and then sell it to sceptical British lawmakers.

As companies and governments across Europe step up preparations for the turmoil of a no-deal exit, diplomats and officials said the UK now faces three main options: a no-deal exit, a last-minute deal, or a delay to Brexit.

Rebuffing May’s bid to renegotiate just a day before she is due in Brussels, Tusk said he wishes the UK would reverse Brexit but that the bloc is preparing for a disorderly British exit as it will not gamble on peace in Ireland.

He said he no longer believes there is  a way to stop Britain leaving due to the “pro-Brexit stance” of both the prime minister and the leader of the opposition. “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,” Tusk said at a joint news conference with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

The remark, which will anger Brexit supporters in Britain, was tweeted from his account as he spoke the words, indicating it was not an off-the-cuff remark.

Brexiteer Nigel Farage responded: “After Brexit we will be free of unelected, arrogant bullies like you — sounds like heaven to me.”

Varadkar said the Brexit deal, which was rejected by the UK parliament, was “the best possible”. He said Britain’s political instability was further proof of why the backstop was needed.

Irish border

At meetings in Belfast, May tried to tackle the biggest obstacle to getting a deal ratified by the British parliament — an insurance policy covering the possible future arrangements for the border between EU-member Ireland and the British province of Northern Ireland.

May said she would seek an alternative arrangement that avoids the need for a hard border or legally binding changes to the border backstop to introduce a time limit or create an exit mechanism.

Brexit has snagged on the 500km border because there is disagreement on how to monitor trade without physical checks on it, which was marked by military checkpoints before a 1998 peace deal ended three decades of sectarian conflict.

As a way to prevent a hard border, Brussels and London agreed a so-called backstop — basically a promise that unless the sides come up with a better idea, the UK will remain bound by EU market and customs rules so that goods would not have to be checked. But the Northern Irish party, which props up May’s government, says it could endanger the province’s place in the UK, while Brexit supporters in May’s Conservative Party worry it would lock the country into EU rules for the long term.

British ministers, The Sun newspaper said, have been examining a plan drawn up by Japan’s Fujitsu to track trade across the border, while the Telegraph said ministers had discussed delaying Brexit by eight weeks.