Jeremy Corbyn should be involved in the Brexit talks, says Guy Verhofstadt

Exclusive: General election result was a ‘rejection’ of Theresa May’s hard Brexit plans and other voices should be heard, the European Parliament’s point man says

Monday 17 July 2017 00:26
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Guy Verhofstadt has been critical of Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations thus far
Guy Verhofstadt has been critical of Theresa May’s handling of the Brexit negotiations thus far

Theresa May should make Jeremy Corbyn a member of her Brexit negotiating team, a top EU official has suggested.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said the Prime Minister losing her majority in the general election was a “rejection” of her hard Brexit plan and other voices should be listened to as negotiations with the European Union get into full swing.

The former Prime Minister of Belgium was critical of Ms May and described the election result as an “own goal”. He said it was now the Government’s responsibility to determine whether or not they would take the result into account when determining their negotiating position.

“Brexit is about the whole of the UK. It will affect all UK citizens, and EU citizens in the UK. This is much bigger than one political party’s internal divisions or short term electoral positioning. It’s about people’s lives,” Mr Verhofstadt told The Independent.

“I believe the negotiations should involve more people with more diverse opinions. Some recognition that the election result was, in part, a rejection of Theresa May’s vision for a hard Brexit would be welcome.”

Asked if that meant Ms May should include other party leaders in her negotiating team, a spokesman for Mr Verhofstadt said: “Absolutely.”

Mr Verhofstadt was also highly critical of the manner in which Ms May has handled the negotiations thus far, describing her actions as “somewhat chaotic”, but stopped short of offering any advice.

“I am not going to give Theresa May advice on the Brexit negotiations,” he told The Independent. “That is a matter for her and her government. However, in line with the European Parliament’s resolution, I do think that the negotiations need to be conducted with full transparency. But that is a general point.

“Regarding the handling of Brexit so far, I think it has been somewhat chaotic. It has been over a year since the referendum now and we have only just started the negotiations. This delay has created uncertainty, which has not been good for anybody – not for the UK, not for the EU and not for citizens.”

The European Parliament holds the right to veto any potential Brexit deal, placing Mr Verhofstadt in a unique position. Although he is not directly negotiating with Britain, as the Parliament’s point man, Mr Verhofstadt can offer extensive scrutiny on any proposals that Britain makes.

When asked what it would take for the European Parliament to vote against the Brexit deal, Mr Verhofstadt referred to the “red lines” that had previously been released by the Parliament.

“It is a very detailed resolution which clearly stated that citizens interest must be a priority, there should not be a trade-off between security and the future economic relationship, no hard border in Ireland, the UK must honour all obligations (including budgetary obligations) it has committed to, and importantly there is to be no cherry picking,” he said.

The comments come as Mr Corbyn and Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer met with Michel Barnier for the first time, though the EU official stressed he will negotiate only with the UK Government.

Arriving for the talks, Mr Corbyn said he was representing 13 million people who voted for Labour at the general election.

Mr Barnier, who is the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, also held talks with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, and Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones at his office in the European Commission headquarters, Berlaymont.

“These are crucial negotiations for our country,” Mr Corbyn said.

“We are here to ensure that we protect jobs and living standards and to try to discover exactly what the views of the EU are on the whole process.”

Speaking ahead of the visit, Mr Corbyn said Labour is “a government in waiting” that is “ready to take up the responsibility for Brexit negotiations”.

He added: “In contrast to the Conservatives’ megaphone diplomacy, we will conduct relations with our European neighbours respectfully and in the spirit of friendship.”

The second round of Brexit negotiations is set to commence in mid-July with citizens’ rights likely to dominate the agenda again.

Both sides have made initial proposals on citizens’ rights and there has been controversy across the continent about Britain’s position.

The current plans restrict the right of EU citizens in the UK to bring over family members and also lead to the loss of protection of the European Court of Justice.

Critics branded Ms May’s offer “vague” and “not sufficient” and the topic is likely to feature heavily during the second round of negotiations.

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