"Special place in hell" for Brexit promoters

/ AP

Ireland's Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (L) and European Council President Donald Tusk shake hands after making a statement following a meeting on February 6, 2019, at the European Council headquarters in Brussels. Getty

Brussels — European Council President Donald Tusk took a swipe Wednesday at some Brexit-backers in Britain, wondering aloud what "special place in hell" might be reserved for those who had no idea how to deliver the country's exit from the European Union.

With just 50 days to go until Britain is due to leave the EU and concern mounting about a potentially chaotic Brexit, Tusk, who chairs meetings of EU leaders, also appeared to dash any British hopes that the bloc would reopen discussions over the Brexit deal that was overwhelmingly rejected by U.K. lawmakers last month.

"I have been wondering what a special place in hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of plan how to carry it out safely," Tusk told reporters after talks with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar.

Tusk's comments drew predictable outrage from British Brexiteers. House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom, a pro-Brexit Conservative, said Tusk's remark was "pretty unacceptable and pretty disgraceful. … it totally demeans him."

And former U.K. Independence Party leader Nigel Farage tweeted: "After Brexit we will be free of unelected, arrogant bullies like you and run our own country. Sounds more like heaven to me."

Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29 – the first time a country has ever done so. British Prime Minister Theresa May is due in Brussels on Thursday with what she says is a parliamentary mandate to re-open the withdrawal agreement, sealed after 18 months of intense and highly technical negotiations.

"The EU 27 is not making any new offer," Tusk said, adding that the legally binding withdrawal agreement, which May negotiated and backed vociferously, cannot be renegotiated.

Tusk and Varadkar said EU nations were intensifying preparations for a 'no-deal' British exit – a possibly disastrous development that could inflict heavy economic and political damage in the U.K. and the EU alike.

"A sense of responsibility also tells us to prepare for a possible fiasco," Tusk said.

The Irish border question

Britain's Parliament voted down the Brexit deal last month, largely because of concerns about a provision for the border between the U.K.'s Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland. The mechanism, known as the backstop, is a safeguard that would keep the U.K. in a customs union with the EU to remove the need for checks along the border until a permanent new trading relationship is in place.

The border area was a flashpoint during decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, and the free flow of people and goods across the frontier underpins the peace agreement of 1998.

From the archives: Northern Ireland's "Troubles"

But many pro-Brexit British lawmakers fear the backstop will trap Britain in regulatory lockstep with the EU, while May's political allies in Northern Ireland's Democratic Unionist Party say it imposes barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the U.K.

In search of elusive unity, May was meeting Wednesday with the DUP, which insists the backstop must be scrapped, and with other Northern Ireland parties who insist it must stay.

There was little sign that compromise was in sight.

"The prime minister has come here empty-handed, with the same old rhetoric, with no plan, no credibility, frankly no honor," said Mary Lou McDonald, president of the Irish nationalist party Sinn Fein.

McDonald said the backstop "is the bottom line" for keeping the border open.

The EU, which has long regarded the border as the thorniest issue in Brexit talks, is also adamant that the backstop can't be removed. Tusk's appearance alongside Varadkar was the latest signal that the bloc will not abandon member state Ireland, which fears both the economic and political impact of a hard border.

"We will not gamble with peace or put a sell-by date on reconciliation, and this is why we insist on the backstop," Tusk said. "Give us a believable guarantee for peace in Northern Ireland, and the U.K. will leave the EU as a trusted friend."

Varadkar said Britain's political instability "demonstrates exactly why we need a legal guarantee" about the border.

During a speech Tuesday in Belfast, May restated her "unshakeable" commitment to avoiding a hard border and said she didn't plan to remove the "insurance policy" entirely.

"What Parliament has said is that they believe there should be changes made to the backstop," she said.

May's government has been searching for a way to overcome lawmakers' opposition to the backstop, by adding a time limit or an exit clause – both of which have been rejected by the EU – or a finding a way to replace border infrastructure with unspecified and untested technology.

Tusk said he hoped May would bring to Brussels "a realistic suggestion on how to end the impasse."

Varadkar, for his part, warned Tusk he was likely to face some heat over his "special place in hell" comments.

"They will give you terrible trouble in the British press," Varadkar appeared to say to Tusk as they shook hands after their comments to the press.

First published on February 6, 2019

© 2019 The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Donald Tusk shakes hands with Irish Prime Minister, Leo Varadkar

Choir director passes "passion and purpose" onto students

Meet Jeffery Redding, the winner of this year's Grammy Music Educator Award

updated 14M ago

Joshua Trump falls asleep during SOTU

It's OK, Joshua – Ruth Bader Ginsburg did the same thing once

updated 14M ago

Dem leader to Trump on shutdown negotiations: "Stay out of it"

"The committees are making progress. The president's got to stay out of it. We can get it done"

updated 56M ago

Fact checking Trump's State of the Union

Here's a look at the president's claims on foreign and domestic policy

1H ago

Trump lays out agenda to divided Congress in second State of the Union

The president implored lawmakers to "break decades of political stalemate" and "heal old wounds" just weeks after the shutdown

1H ago

Dem leader to Trump on shutdown negotiations: "Stay out of it"

"The committees are making progress. The president's got to stay out of it. We can get it done"

updated 56M ago

Fact checking Trump's State of the Union

Here's a look at the president's claims on foreign and domestic policy

1H ago

Trump lays out agenda to divided Congress in second State of the Union

The president implored lawmakers to "break decades of political stalemate" and "heal old wounds" just weeks after the shutdown

1H ago

Mississippi to consider abortion ban after fetal heartbeat

The ban could become one of the strictest abortion laws in the country

1H ago

Governor pulls back National Guard troops from southern border

Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham announced the partial withdrawal shortly before Trump's State of the Union address

1H ago

EU leader: "Special place in hell" for Brexit promoters

The EU leader has received backlash in the U.K for his remarks

updated 8M ago

Taliban claims U.S. agreed to major Afghan withdrawal in 2 months

Negotiators for Islamist insurgent group say White House envoy promised half of U.S. forces would come out by end of April

updated 18M ago

Egypt's opposition balks at presidents bid for longer term

The proposed changes to Egypt's constitution would consolidate Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi for years to come

1H ago

Why Vietnam for the next Trump-Kim Jong Un summit

The U.S. and North Korea have agreed on the small communist nation for reasons including security and symbolism

4H ago

Trump says he'll meet with Kim Jong Un in Vietnam at end of February

The two-day summit would be the second one between President Trump and the North Korean leader

11H ago

More than 1M Patriots fans celebrate team's 6th Super Bowl win

New England Patriots​ and more than 1 million fans celebrated the team's victory in a celebratory parade down the streets of Boston

14H ago

Oscars aim for "brisk" 3-hour show without a host

The Academy Awards will officially forgo an emcee after Kevin Hart pulled out amid controversy

15H ago

Liam Neeson says he's "not racist" after disturbing interview

Neeson, 66, joined ABC's "Good Morning America" to further explain his controversial comments

15H ago

Steven Tyler opens "Janie's House" to help abused girls

The house is named after "Janie's Got A Gun," which is about an abused girl getting revenge on her father

19H ago

Angie Thomas' new novel is for kids who see themselves in hip-hop

Angie Thomas’ debut novel, “The Hate U Give,” just celebrated its 100th week on the New York Times best-seller list

19H ago

Snap reports record revenues, but struggles to add users

Struggling social media company gets a badly needed boost in growth, while its losses narrowed

16H ago

Dinosaur that used spiny back to defend itself found in Patagonia

The new species of dicraeosauridae, christened Bajadasaurus pronuspinax, was revealed in scientific journal Nature

18H ago

Facebook messenger rolls out unsend feature

After Facebook came under fire for letting Mark Zuckerberg alter message history, it gave all users an "unsend" option

18H ago

What happened when I asked Alexa and Google Assistant for my data

As smart home devices become increasingly popular, concerns about data collection aren't going away

16H ago

Crypto company out $137M after passwords die with owner

The founder's widow said "repeated and diligent searches" for a password have failed

Feb 4

Study reveals top reason people use medical marijuana

More than 30 states now allow marijuana for dozens of health problems if a doctor approves

17H ago

7 steps for heart health may also help with diabetes

New research shows these lifestyle habits can significantly reduce the risk of both heart disease and diabetes

19H ago

Women's brains appear "years younger" than men's, study finds

New research offers clues as to why women tend to outlive men and stay mentally sharp longer

14H ago

Pot for pets? Cannabis products marketed for animals

Some animal lovers are giving the supplements a try, but experts caution they aren't necessarily a good fit for every pet

Feb 4

3rd poultry firm recalls chicken on fears of tainted goods

Pilgrim's Pride recall follows Tyson and Perdue moves to stop sales of food possibly tainted with extraneous material

Feb 4

GM's 2018 profit jumps, will hire 1,000 at Flint pickup plant

The healthy earnings will mean profit-sharing checks of $10,750 each for 46,500 union workers

1H ago

Fiat Chrysler recalls 573,000 Ram trucks for steering problem

The problem, which can cause drivers to lose steering control, has been linked to one injury and eight crashes

1H ago

Sears plans to unload pensions, close more stores

Billionaire investor Eddie Lampert's commitment to saving jobs is questioned in bankruptcy court

updated 58M ago

How much income you need to be in the 1%

Despite the furor over proposals to hike taxes on the rich, only a small fraction of Americans would be affected

updated 0M ago

It's tax season — prime time for hackers and scammers

Every year, the crooks add new weapons to their arsenals, all aimed at separating you from your money

2H ago

Sandusky to be re-sentenced for child molestation conviction

Jerry Sandusky​ lost a bid for a new trial Tuesday, but a Pennsylvania appeals court ordered him to be re-sentenced for a 45-count child molestation conviction

16H ago

Nurse accused of assaulting patient pleads not guilty

Nathan Sutherland is accused of raping a patient at Hacienda HealthCare

20H ago

Va. state trooper, drug suspect shot to death during home search

Authorities say suspect fired at officers who entered a home to look for drugs, killing trooper, and officers then shot suspect

Feb 5

Lawsuit alleges "inhumane" conditions in cold Brooklyn jail

A lawsuit filed Monday says a weeklong power failure at a federal jail in New York City caused "inhumane conditions" for inmates

Feb 4

Judge lets church shooting victims sue gun retailer

Families of those killed in the 2017 massacre in Sutherland Springs argue Academy Sport & Outdoors is liable

Feb 4