10 Mar 2017

EU’s Verhofstadt wants velvet divorce with the UK

British citizens should be able to keep various benefits of EU membership like such as the freedom of movement, the European Parliament’s chief negotiator has said. Guy Verhofstadt told BBC journalists, that he is going to try to convince the European leaders to allow the British to keep certain rights, if they apply for them on individual basis.

Verhofstadt, once the Prime Minister of Belgium, said that he would accept British citizens to vote in the European Parliament elections. However, the leader of the Liberal group in the EP described the Brexit ordeal as “a tragedy and disaster for people in the United Kingdom and the EU.” Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he expressed his belief that the EU must be generous to individual citizens that want to maintain their ties to the continent.

Verhofstadt warned, that the EU Parliament has the power to block any deal between the UK and the EU. He said that “it has happened in a number of cases that a big international multilateral agreement was voted down by the EP after it was concluded. The fact that in the treaty it is stated that we have to say yes or no doesn’t mean that automatically we vote yes.” The chief negotiator talked about the letters that he receives from disappointed and worried British people that feel lost, after the Yes vote during the EU referendum.

The Belgian politician stated, that a deal between the UK and the EU cannot include the single market, the customs union, the European Court of Justice or the EEA because, as he explained, it is the UK’s government decision to not accept those freedoms. On Thursday, Theresa May told the reporters that “it’s time to get on with leaving the European Union and building the independent and self-governing Britain that people have called for. What people will see is that a deal between the UK and the EU matters not only to our country but to the EU as well.”

The Irish Taoiseach, Enda Kenny, said that “Britain will have to pay up when it leaves the EU because when you sign a contract, you commit yourself to participation.” Kenny commented that the final cost for Britain leaving the EU will be determined in the upcoming negotiations. Boris Johnson was quick to respond, in an interview to BBC, saying that “it is not reasonable, having left the EU, to continue to make vast budget payments. I think everybody understands that and this is the reality”. Johnson also said that he is confident that the Prime Minister Theresa May is ready to push back any EU attempt to extract vast money as a part of negotiation over the future relationship of the two powers.

Triggering Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty will mean the start of the negotiations which can be concluded in two years. EU leaders have pressed the UK for the negotiations to start as soon as possible. May is expected to trigger the Article 50 this March.