EU Parliament Brexit negotiator: Britain's demands are 'not serious, fair or even possible'

  • EU parliament’s chief negotiator attacks Britain’s “not serious fair, or even possible” Brexit proposals.
  • Former Belgian PM accuses UK of seeking all the benefits of EU membership, while still leaving.
  • Verhofstadt derides UK claims of EU inflexibility.
  • Latest outburst comes as UK minister accuses EU of blackmail in talks.

LONDON — Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, has slammed the UK government’s Brexit proposals as ‘not serious, fair or even possible’ in an article for the Telegraph newspaper.

Verhofstadt, the former Belgian prime minister and a staunch federalist, accused Prime Minister Theresa May and her team of wanting Britain to enjoy all the benefits of EU membership without being a member state.

The UK government has published a number of Brexit position papers this month, which included proposals to leave the customs union and set up a “new” UK-EU customs arrangement, and end the “direct” jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice over UK law.

Writing for the Telegraph, Verhofstadt poured ice-cold water on the proposals, saying:

“After the referendum, we return full circle, only this time UK ministers seem to want to devise a new customs union and seek to recreate all of the EU’s structures, in order to continue to benefit from the best elements of the EU, without it being called the EU. This is not serious, fair or even possible given the negotiating time remaining — now significantly limited by the UK’s own decision to call a general election after the triggering of Article 50.

“The UK has informed us it is leaving, which we regret — but all we have ever asked for is that this disruptive decision is implemented in an orderly fashion and that we first agree to the divorce before planning a new future together.

The EU Parliament is the bloc’s only directly-elected body and is charged with ratifying any Brexit deal before it can be signed off by the EU as a whole. Verhofstadt is not only the Parliament’s chief voice on Brexit but also the leader of its biggest grouping, the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe Group. He is a passionate Europhile and has been vocal in his criticism of both the Brexit vote and the conduct of Theresa May’s government since the referendum.

In his article for Telegraph, Verhofstadt rejects the claim made this week by former Conservative MP Lord Hague that the EU is being inflexible in Brexit negotiations with Britain, arguing that the Britain’s membership of the EU has contained a number of opt-outs and exemptions only made possible by the EU’s flexibility.

“Since the UK joined the EU, it has enjoyed a bespoke form of membership that is unique. An opt-out from the euro, but banker to the Eurozone. An opt-out from Schengen, but access to the security databases linked to it. A blanket opt-out from Justice and Home Affairs, with the possibility to opt back into the most effective crime-fighting measures. The list goes on.”

Brexit talks between Britain and the EU resumed this week but failed to produce agreements on the issues of citizens’ rights, the northern Irish border and so-called “Brexit bill.”

Yesterday the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said there had been no “decisive progress on any of the principle subjects.” The two sides must make “sufficient progress” on citizens’ rights, the divorce bill and the Irish border before talks regarding the UK’s future relationship with Brussels can begin, the EU has insisted.

Today International Trade Secretary Liam Fox today accused the EU of trying to blackmail Britain over the issue of its financial obligations. Former Treasury head Nick Macpherson lambasted Fox for accusing the EU of blackmail, telling the government minister to “get a grip” in a tweet posted this morning.

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