The European Parliament aims to set limits on what deal Britain can strike with EU governments once it launches the process of leaving the bloc, the legislature’s Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said on Tuesday.
Welcoming Prime Minister Theresa May’s announcement that she will start the two-year negotiating period by the end of March, Verhofstadt said parliament was overwhelmingly opposed to Britain retaining its trade freedoms with the European Union if it goes ahead with plans to limit immigration from the bloc.
Raising the view of the broadly federalist parliament before the member states agree their response to British demands could stiffen resistance to London’s efforts to escape constraints of EU membership while retaining trade and other benefits.
Parliament must approve any final divorce deal. The former Belgian prime minister, denounced by eurosceptics as a champion of a federal Europe, told reporters parliament would set “negotiating lines” in response to May’s notification of departure under Article 50 of the EU treaty before the Council of EU leaders sets the EU’s own negotiating mandate.
The European Council is expected to agree an outline of what it can offer Britain in response to May’s request and then give a mandate to conduct talks to the executive European Commission and its negotiator, former French minister Michel Barnier. EU officials say they will consult Verhofstadt and members of the European Parliament during the process.
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Senior EU officials believe the Commission and member states can use the hostility of the European Parliament to British “cherry picking” as a tool to pressure London in talks. May has said she hopes that before she sets out her demands some “preparatory work” will be possible with the other EU states. EU leaders, in comments echoed by Verhofstadt, have insisted there can be no negotiation before May’s notification.
In practice, senior officials have said, May is likely to be offered some guidance on what the EU would find acceptable in order to avoid London making demands that are flatly rejected, a scenario that could lead to a damaging stalemate. EU leaders are anxious that Britain does not secure a deal that would encourage other states to break away but also want to avoid major disruption to the economy and institutions.