Brexit Brief: EU negotiator Verhofstadt fears clock will be run down again
Guy Verhofstadt, the prominent Belgian MEP, fears the latest Brexit extension granted to the U.K. could be wasted.
Speaking at the European Parliament in Strasbourg on Tuesday, Verhofstadt, one of the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiators, questioned why the U.K. parliament has taken its annual Easter recess [April 11-23] given the continued impasse over terms of leaving the bloc.
His comments come roughly a week after EU leaders agreed to extend Article 50 until October 31 to give squabbling U.K. politicians more time to find a consensus for exiting the Union with a withdrawal agreement in place.
But Verhofstadt said he feared the delay will make no difference. “Both parties Conservatives and Labour will again run down the clock – the proof of this is that the first decision the Commons has taken after the decision was to go on holidays,” he said.
Verhofstadt added that the six-month extension “is too near for a substantial rethink of Brexit and too far away to prompt any action”.
U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May has previously insisted she wants to leave the EU before May 22 to avoid having to contest European Parliament elections. Also speaking on Tuesday, Donald Dusk, European Council President, warned that British MEPs could sit for “months or even longer” in the European Parliament if May fails in her plan.
Elsewhere, in an interview with the Financial Times, Heiko Mass, Germany’s foreign minister, said an additional extension beyond October wouldn’t be offered to the U.K. “They will have to decide what they want by October,” Mass said. “You cannot drag out Brexit for a decade.”
Progress in cross-party talks between the Conservatives and Labour has reportedly stalled, with opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn stating the government “doesn’t appear” to be willing to budge on key issues, including on a possible customs union, according to the Guardian.
Corbyn said an agreement could be reached if May accepts Labour’s central demand for a common external tariff policy with the EU — however, there will be no discussion on this and other issues before Easter.
With negotiations between the two parties faltering and pressure rising internally from the Tories to abandon the talks to seek an alternative, May could try once more to push her thrice-rejected Brexit deal through parliament.
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