Monday 21 October 2019

EU boss joins UK Brexit fight

'It's not foreign interference - I'm a Lib Dem,' insists Verhofstadt

‘Fighting nationalism’: European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt (centre) with Vince Cable (left) in London. Photo: PA
‘Fighting nationalism’: European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt (centre) with Vince Cable (left) in London. Photo: PA

Shaun Connolly

European Parliament Brexit co-ordinator Guy Verhofstadt has joined the Liberal Democrats on the campaign trail, saying they offer an "alternative to nationalism".

Mr Verhofstadt joined Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable canvassing in London yesterday as he predicted a Remain surge in upcoming European Parliament elections.

Mr Verhofstadt insisted his presence was not foreign interference in the UK's elections as he was "a Lib Dem" and backing the party because it opposed Brexit.

Mr Cable said he was campaigning to combat "ugly populism".

Mr Verhofstadt said: "I think it's important to show that the European liberals and democrats support Vince Cable.

"Support the Lib Dems in this difficult fight in Britain, in these European elections.

"Secondly, we want to show by coming here a message to the continent to say never repeat Brexit again.

"I'm a Lib Dem. It's natural that people are looking to the Lib Dems when it comes to European elections.

"We want to be the alternative for nationalism and popularism.

"What I think is [that] there will be a huge support for Remain."

Meanwhile, France has warned that it will not accept "repeated" extensions of the Brexit deadline beyond October 31, amid deadlock in the UK over the deal negotiated by Prime Minister Theresa May.

"We must not get sucked into repeated extensions, that's for sure," a French presidential adviser said yesterday.

The adviser told the Reuters news agency: "Our message is clear: a solution must have been found by October 31."

The senior official did not categorically rule out a further extension, and expressed hope that talks between the UK government and the opposition Labour Party would provide a workable majority for Mrs May to get her deal through parliament.

"Maybe European elections will serve as a shock to reach a trans-partisan deal," they added.

As an EU member state France has a veto over any extension to Article 50, though in practice the leaders on the European Council have tended to find a mid-point compromise when faced with dissenting voices.

Earlier this year, French President Emmanuel Macron was thought to be responsible for the length of the current extension to October 31: following the summit officials in the room reported that most other member states wanted an even longer delay until March 2020, or would have had no objection to one.

Mr Macron was said to be pushing for an even shorter extension of a matter of weeks, but ultimately met the other member states in the middle to approve the Halloween deadline.

EU leaders are mostly taking a holiday from Brexit at the moment, avoiding discussion of Britain's departure at a meeting in the city of Sibiu, Romania, which took place this week.

They are, however, expected to return to the issue at a long-scheduled June meeting of the European Council, where a limited appraisal of the situation is expected to be held.

It is understood that other member states also have concerns about a further extension past October, because of the uncertainty it would put upon the EU.

EU officials have said the UK would have to have a good reason for another delay.

However, behind the scenes in Brussels, preparations are already being made for a further delay - including the redrafting of technical parts of the withdrawal agreement to include flexible dates rather than set deadlines.

Irish Independent

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