The European Parliament has decided who will be responsible for leading Brexit talks with Britain — and the choice won’t come as good news for Theresa May’s government and pro-Leavers.
Guy Verhofstadt, former Belgian prime minister and leader of the liberal MEPs, will be the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator.
Verhofstadt is a “staunch federalist” who could prove to be a “tough nut to crack”, according to Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta.
He has made it very clear on numerous occasions that he would not agree to any Brexit deal which would allow Britain to retain full single market access while opting out of the free movement of people — an ambition shared by most pro-Leave MPs, including prime minister Theresa May and foreign secretary Boris Johnson.
Take a look at what Verhofstadt about Britain’s hopes of securing this kind of deal back in July — after the EU referendum (emphasis ours).
“The European Parliament will never agree to a deal that de facto ends the free movement of people for a decade while giving away an extra rebate in exchange for all the advantages of the internal market. What would stop other countries from asking the same exceptional status?
“The only new relationship between Britain and the European Union can be one in which the UK has an associated status with less obligations but equally less rights. And if this is not feasible, the fall-back position will be an ordinary trade agreement between Britain and the EU.”
His negotiating position during Brexit talks is clear and firm. The deal British government currently seems to want is not one they are going to get easily, or even at all. “I would expect Verhofstadt to be particularly intransigent when it comes to splitting the EU’s so-called ‘four freedoms’ — that is, the free movement of goods, services, capital and people,” Scarpetta added.
The former Belgian prime minister was opposed to Brexit in the strongest terms long before the June referendum. He was talking it down as a stupid proposition back in 2013.
Politico has compiled a list of Verhofstadt’s most provocative quotes relating to Britain leaving the EU. They include:
- “[David Cameron’s] speech [laying out his vision for a new U.K.-EU relationship] was full of inconsistencies, displaying a degree of ignorance about how the EU works… [He] will not succeed if he attempts to hold his European partners to ransom. He seems to be jeopardizing the interests of his country for internal party stability. Britain has suffered over the years from the chronic failure of politicians to make a positive case for Europe and counter the untruths in much of the populist press” — (January 2013)
- “[British citizens] are not so stupid to give up [EU membership]… which is economically important for them… and secondly … geopolitically, British citizens know very well that Britain without the EU is in fact a dwarf on the world level” — (February 2016).
- “[Brexit] is stupidity for a country with 53 per cent of its exports going to the Continent and to the rest of Europe. It’s even so stupid that Britain’s best friends, the U.S., don’t understand it all” — (January 2013)
- “The only winners from a Brexit would be Nigel Farage and Vladimir Putin; who would relish a divided Europe” — (February 2016)
Business Insider has noted on multiple occasions just how long, complex, and tough negotiating a Brexit is going to be. It might have just got even tougher.