Theresa May insisted her Chequers plan was the only possible route to a Brexit deal after European Union chiefs told her key elements of the proposals had to be “reworked”.
The Prime Minister was using a gathering of EU leaders in Salzburg to personally set out the Government’s blueprint for Brexit but was warned that time is running out to reach a deal.
European Council president Donald Tusk said the Prime Minister’s Chequers blueprint was a “welcome evolution” in the UK’s approach but major issues remained to be resolved including avoiding a hard border in Ireland and the future trading relationship between Britain and the EU.
Warning that there was “less and less time” to reach a deal before the UK’s March 29 2019 exit date, Mr Tusk confirmed he would propose an emergency EU Brexit summit in November.
Arriving at the meeting in Salzburg, Mrs May said Chequers was “the only credible and negotiable plan on the table that delivers no hard border in Northern Ireland and also delivers on the vote of the British people”.
She added: “If we are going to achieve a successful conclusion then, just as the UK has evolved its position, the EU will need to evolve its position too.”
Her comments came just hours after Mr Tusk said that on key issues “the UK’s proposals will need to be reworked and further negotiated”.
Meanwhile, the domestic difficulties facing Mrs May – which EU leaders are all too aware of – were further illustrated as it emerged her former Brexit secretary David Davis has described Chequers as a “non-starter”.
In extracts of a speech he plans to deliver in Munich on Thursday, Mr Davis said the PM’s plan crossed all of her own negotiating red lines.
He said: “Chequers is devoid of democracy altogether. This is why many of us will shortly be presenting an alternative plan which will outline a more ambitious vision.”
Ahead of the summit in Austria, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he was ready to come forward with a new offer on the Irish border.
However, Mrs May’s DUP allies poured cold water on the suggestion and the Prime Minister stressed she would not be prepared to accept anything that resulted in Northern Ireland effectively being “carved away” from the rest of the UK.
In order to “de-dramatise” the main obstacle to a withdrawal deal, Mr Barnier suggested arrangements could be made to conduct the majority of checks on imports and exports away from the border itself.
The Democratic Unionist Party, which props up Mrs May’s minority administration in Parliament, dismissed Mr Barnier’s proposals as unpalatable, because they would involve a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.
“It still means a border down the Irish Sea although with different kinds of checks,” said the party’s deputy leader Nigel Dodds.
Mrs May said: “I welcome the fact that Michel Barnier is recognising the need to find a new solution because the original proposal put forward by the European Commission was unacceptable to us.
“We have always recognised that there are unique circumstances that apply in Northern Ireland – for example in relation to checks for some agricultural products.
“But what we cannot accept is seeing Northern Ireland carved away from the UK customs territory because regardless of where the checks would be, what that would mean would be that it would be a challenge to our constitutional and economic integrity.”
The Salzburg meeting came as campaigners in the UK published a roadmap setting out how MPs could force the Prime Minister to accept what they call a People’s Vote on her deal, with the option of remaining in the EU.
Despite Mrs May insisting the choice was between her deal or no deal, Treasury minister Mel Stride appeared to suggest that a second poll was still a possibility.
Mr Stride told Sky News: “When we have a firm deal on the table, I suspect that those to the right of the party – the pro-Brexit wing – will be very concerned that if that deal does not prevail, they will end up in the situation where we could have a second referendum or we could end up not leaving the EU altogether, so there is a danger of that happening if Chequers does not prevail.”
But Mrs May slapped down any suggestion that her government could hold a so-called People’s Vote.
“I want to be absolutely clear, this government will never accept a second referendum,” she said.
“The British people voted to leave the European Union and we will be leaving on March 29, 2019.”
She challenged the Labour leadership to rule out the prospect of support for a second referendum – something that is likely to be a hot topic as Jeremy Corbyn’s party gathers for its conference in Liverpool starting on Sunday.