Guy Verhofstadt Exclusive Interview: ‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit’

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We spoke to Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, to discuss Brexit, citizens’ rights and Phase Two of negotiations.

What’s the EP’s agenda regarding citizens’ rights in the second phase of the negotiations?

‘There are many outstanding issues that the European Parliament will continue to clarify, from the administrative procedures that will apply for EU citizens in the UK, to the free movement rights of UK citizens in the EU. We need the initial agreement on citizens’ rights to now be put into a legally cast iron treaty and presented for review by MEPs. We will insist that the implementation date of the withdrawal treaty starts at the end of any transition period requested by the British Government. Both EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU need clarity as soon as possible and we are committed to ensuring the minimum disruption to people’s lives.

Is the coming negotiation on citizens’ rights going to be limited to the EU residents in the UK settled before Brexit or will it be extended to those applying for residency after Brexit? Same question about the British residents in the EU.

‘A number of outstanding issues remain for both groups of citizens, from free movement for UK citizens in the EU, to the governance of the rights of EU nationals in the UK.

Do you still support a version of the proposal for Associate Citizenship for UK citizens? What would this entail?

‘I will continue to push for recognition that millions of UK citizens are having their European rights taken away from them against their will. Europe should recognise this, in my opinion.’

Recent YouGov polls suggest a growing number of Brits have ‘buyers remorse’ about Brexit. What do you make of this? Do you think Brexit will actually happen?

‘The British Government, on behalf of the British people, has submitted its intentions to leave the European Union and of course we have to implement this, but we do not do so with glee. The British people must take responsibility for their own destiny.’

If Britain changed its mind, how likely would it be that the EU27 would rescind article 50 and welcome them back?     

‘President Juncker, Tusk and Macron have all said the door remains open, but this would require the agreement of all EU member states and the European Parliament.’

Some say the EU cannot officially negotiate with the UK on a trade deal as long as they are a member state. Britain would need to first revert to third country status under Article 218. Do you foresee any problems there?

‘The ongoing Brexit talks will aim to secure a political declaration outlining a possible future framework for trade negotiations, once Britain becomes a third country after “Brexit day”.’

Does anyone in Brussels regret Jean-Claude Juncker not giving concessions to David Cameron before he called the referendum?

‘The European Union offered David Cameron unprecedented concessions, including an opt-out of “ever closer union”. In the end, the renegotiation hardly featured in the referendum debate.’

What has the EU done to remedy the underlying issues that partly led to Brexit?

‘The European Union is not responsible for Brexit. Support for the European project has increased profoundly since the referendum. However, I agree the European Union needs to reform if it is to survive; fixing the eurozone, doing less but better, building a real defence union so people feel safe, securing Europe’s external borders and delivering fairer globalisation are our priorities. Too many communities have been “left behind”, but the reasons for this are complex, multi-faceted and in most cases the result of a lack of investment by national governments.’