The outgoing European Council president used a football analogy to warn the UK was in “extra time” over Brexit. Mr Tusk added he still hoped it would be reversed as Britain will only be able to play a global role by being part of a “united Europe”. Much to the delight of a cheering audience at the College of Europe in Bruges last night, he said: “I have heard repeatedly from Brexiters that they wanted to leave the European Union to make the United Kingdom great again, believing that only alone, it can truly be great.
“You could hear in these voices a longing for the Empire. But the reality is exactly the opposite.
“Only as part of a united Europe can the UK play a global role.
“The UK election takes place in one month. Can things still be turned around? Hannah Arendt taught that things become irreversible only when people start to think so.
“So the only words that come to my mind today are simply: Don’t give up. In this match, we are already in extra time, perhaps it will even go to penalties.”
Mr Tusk added the UK will become “an outsider” after it leaves the EU.
He added: “After its departure, the U.K. will become an outsider, a second-rate player, while the main battlefield will be occupied by China, the US and the EU.
“One of my English friends is probably right when he says with melancholy that Brexit is the real end of the British Empire.”
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7.35am update: Leadsom suggests UK will have future relationship ‘buttoned down’ by 2020
Speaking to Robert Peston on ITV last night, Business Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the government is hoping to have the future relationship with the EU “buttoned down” by the end of 2020.
Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan added this can be achieved.
He said: “We’re not starting from zero so therefore I believe we can do … an agreement more quickly than we would do with any other negotiations around the world which would take three or four years.”
But he added that the UK will have to decide quickly which EU rules it is prepared to sign up to.
And people would “demand and expect that their government will sign on to EU standards because we have the highest standards in the world.”
He added with “political good will” a “frictionless tariff-free, quota-free agreement” was possible, but said London would have to sign up to level-playing field commitments to ease the EU’s concerns that they could be undercut by the UK.