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50 days to Brexit and… all hell breaks loose

Taken to Tusk: The European
Council president in Brussels and
(below) Nigel Farage’s retort PICTURE: GETTY

DONALD TUSK sparked outrage by claiming yesterday there is a ‘special place in hell’ for Brexiteers.

The European Council president warned he was preparing for a ‘fiasco’ as he insisted Britain’s withdrawal deal could not be renegotiated.

He added: ‘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.’

Irish prime minister Leo Varadkar, who was appearing alongside him at a press conference, could be heard whispering: ‘They’ll give you terrible trouble, the British press, for this.’

Mr Tusk — who later repeated the comment in a tweet — laughed before replying: ‘I know, I know.’

He also criticised the efforts of the UK’s pro-EU campaigners, claiming there was ‘no political force and no effective leadership for Remain’ with only 50 days to go until Brexit.

He said there was no chance of reversing the decision to leave as long as both Theresa May and the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn continued to take a ‘pro-Brexit stance’. The leader of the Commons, Andrea Leadsom, called on Mr Tusk to apologise over the ‘spiteful’ hell comment.

And Sammy Wilson, of Northern Ireland’s DUP, branded him a ‘devilish trident-wielding euro maniac’. The MP added: ‘Mr Tusk once again shows his contempt for the 17.4million people who voted to escape the corruption of the EU and seek the paradise of a free and prosperous kingdom.’

Former Ukip 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.’

Talks: Theresa May arrives at Northern Ireland’s parliament in Belfast PICTURE: PA

But Labour’s Ben Bradshaw said Mr Tusk was ‘simply speaking a painful truth’, adding: ‘He was absolutely right and it is painful for them to have the truth pointed out to them.’

Mr Tusk’s comments in Brussels came as Theresa May prepared to fly there for crucial talks today.

She hopes to reopen negotiations over the withdrawal agreement after MPs voted that the unpopular Irish backstop needs to be replaced.

Critics say the contingency plan could trap the UK in a customs union with the EU indefinitely and would divide Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. But Mr Tusk said it was needed to guarantee that there would be no return to a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic — one of the conditions of the Good Friday peace agreement.

‘We will not gamble with peace or put a sell-by date on reconciliation and this is why we insist on the backstop,’ he said.

He did offer a glimmer of hope for Mrs May by saying: ‘Give us a believable guarantee for peace in Northern Ireland, and the UK will leave the EU as a trusted friend.’

The prime minister is expected to put forward plans for using technology to avoid the need for physical customs checks at the border.

She will tell Mr Tusk Britain ‘cannot and will not be trapped in the backstop’, her spokesman said, adding: ‘Jeremy Corbyn has said he also has concerns about the backstop. So this is an issue that needs to be resolved, not just for our Conservative MPs and the DUP but for MPs across the House.’

Yesterday, Mrs May met party leaders in Northern Ireland, where Sinn Fein warned her it would demand an Irish reunification referendum if there was a hard Brexit. ‘The British strategy of running down the clock and playing a game of chicken with Ireland and Irish interests is profoundly unacceptable,’ said leader Mary Lou McDonald.

Meanwhile, ex-Brexit secretary David Davis said he ‘wouldn’t worry’ if withdrawal was delayed by three weeks.

The president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (pictured with Mr Varadkar) insisted the backstop had to stay but distanced himself from Mr Tusk’s remarks.

‘I believe in heaven and I have never seen hell,’ he added. ‘Apart from doing my job here.’ The EU parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt joked that not even ‘Lucifer’ would welcome the Leavers in case they divided hell.

COMPANIES planning to ship goods to countries such as Japan need to know about future trading arrangements in days, rather than waiting until March 29, business secretary Greg Clark warned. He said engineering firms had told him the real deadline is February 15 because it takes six weeks for goods to arrive. He told MPs: ‘People often say these things are done at the last minute — the last minute for important exporters is fast approaching.’