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.’

The PanEuropean

There are 8 comments

  1. George Brooke

    As he says “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.’”. It was UK government policy for many years to hire ready-trained specialists from abroad and so avoid the costs of training our own people. No one seems to have considered the social impact of such a policy, It was also convenient for our governments to conceal this policy by blaming immigration-overload on the EU rules…when in fact the UK could have tightened up, as did other EU countries. It was also hardly mentioned that half of the immigration came from outside of the EU…so again a government failure concealed by blaming the EU. So after 40 years of bad-mouthing the EU and not managing to control the extreme Tory right-wing, we are in this situation. But, just possibly, before we are finally out of the EU, we can educate our people about what has been done to them and that they are safer within the EU than depending on our low-standards, low-regulations and low-quality “leaders”. This disaster can still be stopped.

  2. Graham Brett

    Millions of British Citizens including myself, voted to remain part of the EU, especially younger voters. Many younger voters have now deserted en mass support for the current UK governing party because of their attitude, and behaviour towards the negotiations with our EU partners. This is likely to see the ruling Conservatives wiped out at the next and possibly subsequent elections, and the UK applying to rejoin the EU within a generation. UK public opinion is generally trending towards a wish to remain in the EU. The rhetoric that the UK voted to leave is being used as a political football. Why then have elections and referendums at all to reflect public opinion? For something so important it is extraordinary that they wish to deny the electorate a deciding vote on the final terms for withdrawal from the EU. After all, we voted to join the EU, so why the referendum to leave? The precedent has been set!

  3. Martin King

    When I got married to a Belgian national in 2001, Guy Verhofstad was the prime minister (Eerste Minister) of Belgium. I even mentioned him in my wedding speech as someone I could believe in. And also someone my Belgian wife could believe in. I mentioned him because in that year he was spending time with the then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair. I even made a joke about Anglo-Belgian relations.

    At that time, I felt that Europe was safe, secure, integrated, fully part of the future. In those days, we never dreamed that a far-right conservative cabal would take over the political steer in the UK, supported by the despicable UK media that are wholly politically motivated and funded by unsavoury characters (who have their business interests mostly and conveniently in offshore tax-free havens).

    When the dreadful news of the result came from the Brexit referendum in the early hours, my wife and I shared many tears, but resolved to stay calm and face the future. We have now achieved that by returning to Belgium. I am, as an Englishman, understandably ashamed of my country – or should I say, of the behaviour of the people who in their total ignorance voted that night. But, forgive them. They were victims of the lies and the misconceptions and deceits purported by the British media. Sad that such a (once) great nation resorts to such Orwellian (1984) tactics.

    We are glad to be back in mainland Europe and away from this so-called Sceptered Isle. I left that country once before when Margaret Thatcher first started to kill the country off. After the referendum and then when Theresa May took over, I knew it was to leave forever. I will never come back, and you can quote me on that.

  4. david hattersley

    Interesting to hear that David Cameron was offered concessions including an opt out with regards to a closer union, the so called super state which is so feared in Britain.Very little or even nothing is mentioned about this in the british media.

  5. John Gourlay

    The EU position seems to be consistent. It is remarkable since they are 27 countries and the UK is but one state and does not have a consistent stance. I cannot understand what the EU will want from England once the City of London’s financial dealings with the EU have returned to the EU as is natural. What assets does it have?

  6. Paul Bentall

    If we leave the European Union, and I hope with all my heart we don’t, I would really welcome the chance to be European rather than British. This whole horrendous Brexit catastrophe would then at least have a sliver of a silver lining .

  7. Jeff Lewis

    “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.”

    Thank you for reminding everyone of this. When you list out the concessions given to Cameron, it’s amazing that people can say he got nothing… and that’s on top of the UK already having one of the biggest sets of concessions and exemptions of any country in the EU.

    “The European Union is not responsible for Brexit.”

    Indeed, most of the ‘problems’ the EU purportedly caused were really the UK government refusing to implement the policies they were actually permitted to implement.. or were things they’d have to implement whether in or out of the EU. The Brexit camp regularly misrepresents leaving the EU as a form of ‘we get to do whatever we want’ when in fact, they’ll still have to comply with WTO, NATO and UN rules – and with regs in any country with which they want to establish any kind of serious trade agreement.

    ‘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.’

    As a British Citizen who was not permitted to vote in the referendum and thus is having my rights taken away undemocratically, all I can say is thank you and Mr. Goerens again for pushing for this.

  8. Robert Belcher

    David Cameron and the EU are equally responsible for Brexit IMHO.If more time had been spent on the EU telling us what Brexit really met it would never have happened.After the negotiations for a stay deal there should have then been six months to negotiate a framework of a leave deal then we would have had all the information.
    The immigration issues could have been largely solved by a Spanish style benefits system where you only get paid out once you paid in for a time. Would have done some UK citizens some good too.
    I desperately want personal EU citizen rights to stay for UK citizens as I want to semi retire to Spain in a few years and don’t want those both sides of the Irish border to start a nightmare period.