May humiliated by Salzburg ambush as she fights to save Chequers plan

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PM on the defensive after EU leaders take turns to rubbish her plan – just a week before the Conservative conference

Theresa May was left fighting to save her Chequers Brexit plan and with it her authority as prime minister after she was ambushed at the end of the Salzburg summit when EU leaders unexpectedly declared that her proposals would not work.

The prime minister was thrown on to the defensive – just over a week before the Conservative party conference – when EU leaders led by Donald Tusk and Emmanuel Macron rejected her Chequers plan as it stood, prompting hard Brexit Conservatives to demand it be abandoned.

May was also set an October deadline for a solution on the Irish border issue just hours after informing Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, in a private breakfast meeting that she felt it would be impossible to come to a compromise within such a timescale.

A clearly nervous and angry May told reporters that EU leaders were engaged in “negotiating tactics” designed to throw her off course. “I have always said these negotiations were going to be tough,” she said. “And at various stages of these negotiations, tactics would be used as part of those negotiations”.

The assault on May’s plan came shortly after a lunchtime meeting of EU leaders in the Austrian city, where they discussed the Brexit talks in May’s absence. EU council president Tusk declared that Chequers “would not work” while French president Macron said it was “not acceptable”.

Related: May: EU criticism of Chequers plan is ‘negotiating tactic’

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