Guy Verhofstadt issues scathing response to Theresa May's Brexit speech: 'We need more than vague aspirations'

PM's Mansion House speech has received a frosty reception in Brussels

Jon Stone
Friday 02 March 2018 16:28
Theresa May sets out her five tests any EU deal must pass

Theresa May’s speech on Brexit talks failed to move beyond “vague aspirations” and did not lay out “credible legislative proposals” to break the deadlock in talks, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator has said.

Reacting after the Prime Minister’s third major speech on leaving the EU, Guy Verhofstadt said he hoped that “serious proposals have been put in the post” by the Prime Minister, as Ms May’s plans received a frosty reception in Brussels.

In her Mansion House speech the Prime Minister issued a warning to the EU that refusing to include financial services in a trade deal after Brexit would “hurt” its own economies, but admitted for the first time that the UK would lose some trade access to its biggest market.

But on key issues the Prime Minister appeared to dig in her heels, reiterating her suggestion of a technological solution to the Irish border issue and defending “cherry picking” parts of the single market for the UK to remain in.

The European Commission, which is in charge of day-to-day negotiations with Britain, offered little comment on the speech but said its content would inform the European Council guidelines on the trade negotiations, which are expected to be unveiled later this month.

Mr Verhofstadt said following the speech: “Theresa May needed to move beyond vague aspirations, we can only hope that serious proposals have been put in the post.

“While I welcome the call for a deep and special partnership, this cannot be achieved by putting a few extra cherries on the Brexit cake.

Commission negotiator said he welcomed the speech and that it would inform the EU's guidelines on trade

“Our relationship must be close and comprehensive, but this is only possible if the UK Government understands that the EU is a rules based organisation, as there is little appetite to renegotiate the rules of the single market to satisfy a compromise crafted to placate a divided Conservative party. “

“Prime Minister May’s re-confirmation of our December agreement on the Irish border is reassuring. We now need credible legislative proposals detailing how the UK seeks to achieve this in practice.”

The European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier took a less critical approach, tweeting: “I welcome Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech. Clarity about UK leaving single market and customs union, and recognition of trade-offs will inform European Council guidelines re: future free trade agreement.”

A Commission spokesperson confirmed that Mr Barnier’s tweet will be the extent of the Commission response to the speech.

Mr Barnier has repeatedly said that leaving the customs union and single market would see the inevitable erection of trade barriers between the UK and EU.

Manfred Weber, the leader of the centre-right European People’s Party, the largest group in the European Parliament, joined Mr Verhofstadt in criticising the speech.

“After what I have heard today I am even more concerned,” he said. “I don’t see how we could reach an agreement on Brexit if the UK government continues to bury its head in the sand like this.”

Mr Weber’s EPP includes Angela Merkel’s CDU party and is also the home of Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, and Donald Tusk, the European Council president.

The British and EU teams are set to return to the negotiating table for the entirety of next week, to hammer out the details of the Brexit transition period before this month's European Council meeting.

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