European Union leaders will push for a Brexit deal next month but warned British Prime Minister Theresa May on Thursday that if she won't give ground on trade and the Irish border by November they are ready to cope with talks collapsing.
"Don't worry, be happy," joked EU chief executive Jean-Claude Juncker after telling reporters at a summit in Austria that the Europeans had full plans in place in the event there was no deal before Britain leaves next March.
May promised new proposals to reassure Dublin that it would not end up with a "hard border" with the British province of Northern Ireland but warned that she too could live with a no-deal outcome -- though many around the summit in Salzburg do not believe that that is a credible threat.
She said her "Chequers" proposals for trade with the EU, intended also to resolve arguments on the border of Northern Ireland, were the only way forward. EU leaders repeated their view the plans would undermine their cherished single market.
But leaders also tried to put a positive spin on their 24 hours of talks; summit chair Donald Tusk said he was more optimistic about getting agreements both to ease Britain out gently and to sketch out a future free trade pact. Tusk said a Brussels summit on Oct. 18 would be a "moment of truth" to overcome remaining big problems and leaders penciled in the weekend of Nov.17-18 to formalize a final agreement.
But May and German Chancellor Angela Merkel were among those who stressed there was still "a lot of work" to do.
May faces a fight with angry Conservatives at her party's conference in 10 days. They deride her willingness to bind Britain into much EU regulation in return for free trade and some would prefer a no-deal "hard Brexit" in March, despite warnings that would ravage the British economy.
EU leaders understand that she can give little away before the conference ends on Oct. 3. However, they hope their negotiator, Michel Barnier, can secure her agreement next month to what will be new EU proposals that will be fundamentally unchanged but may be politically more palatable, especially on Northern Ireland.