By Alastair Macdonald
Britain’s Brexiteers with no plan of how to deliver deserve a “special place in hell”, the EU’s Donald Tusk said, prompting fury among British anti-EU campaigners, one of whom called him an “arrogant bully”.
Speaking to reporters in Brussels on Wednesday, the European Council president said: “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, who will host British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday, was speaking after talks with Ireland’s prime minister on how to salvage a Brexit deal before Britain drops out of the bloc in 50 days, risking the peace in Northern Ireland.
Saying Britain would leave as a “trusted friend” if it drops objections to giving Ireland a “backstop” guarantee on the border, Tusk’s blunt language hinted at the hostility London may face if fails to find a compromise with its European neighbours.
May’s spokesman suggested his remarks were not “helpful”.
Irish premier Leo Varadkar was picked up by microphones laughingly telling Tusk “I know you’re right” but he would get “terrible trouble in the British press” for his jibe at Brexit.
As British headline writers lit up screens with Tusk’s words, Nigel Farage, who long campaigned to leave the European Union, hit back within minutes on Twitter: “After Brexit we will be free of unelected, arrogant bullies like you and run our own country,” he said. “Sounds more like heaven to me.”
The EU rejects complaints that leaders like Tusk are unelected. He was prime minister of Poland when he was chosen in 2014 by fellow elected leaders of EU member states, including Britain’s then prime minister David Cameron, to chair their summits. His power is limited to trying to steer them toward a consensus.
May’s office suggested Tusk’s remark was unhelpful as she struggles to find any kind of consensus solution in London: “It’s a question for Donald Tusk as to whether he considers the use of that kind of language helpful,” her spokesman said.
Brexit campaigner Peter Bone from May’s Conservative party called it an “outrageous insult”. Sammy Wilson from her Northern Irish Unionist allies described Tusk as a “devilish euro maniac” trying to bind Britain to “the chains of EU bureaucracy”.
Brexit opponents, however, rallied behind him. The Europe spokesman for Scotland’s ruling nationalist party said Tusk “hit the nail on the head” in deriding the “charlatans and chancers” who campaigned to leave the EU without setting out their plans.