Guy Verhofstadt, Chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, gave the following statement after yesterday’s dramatic vote in the House of Commons.
“What everybody expected, happened yesterday. A huge majority in the House of Commons rejected the deal. And honestly I have to tell you, I am not surprised. Since the outcome of the referendum, Westminster has produced a lot of majorities against something. Against membership of the Union. Against the Single Market. Against the Customs Union. Against the free movement of people. Against the Irish backstop. And I could continue.
The question is now how to break this deadlock, how to avoid a devastating no-deal. Therefore, we need urgently a majority in favor of something. A majority in the interest of Britain. And at the same time, a majority in the interest of the Union too. This can be achieved, if finally the political parties in Britain, and I mean all political parties start to put the interest of the country, the interest of Britain, above their own narrow party political interests. That Jeremy Corbin wants to become the next Prime Minister is legitimate. That Mrs. May wants to remain Prime Minister is legitimate as well. That the SNP wants to make Scotland independent is also legitimate. That the DUP wants the opposite and wants to stay in the UK is equally legitimate. So my message today is that whatever legitimate ambition everybody has, all have to come out of the trenches. All have to transcend the binary, system in which they are locked. A system that has produces antagonism. Brexit started as a catfight inside the conservative party, and this on the back of the European Union. But since the triggering of article 50, it has become far more than that. It became an existential question about Britain’s future, about Britain’s soul, so far bigger than ordinary conservative party politics.
I know, it’s not up to me, as a humble Belgian to lecture the Brits on what to do, but I think it’s time to tell our British friends that for the sake of Britain itself, it’s time for cross party cooperation. To define what the new relationship between the UK and the EU must be. To redefine also the ‘red lines’ that in fact have been unilaterally imposed by the hardliners of the conservative party.
We from the European Union are ready for a deep future relationship, even deeper than the one foreseen in the Political Declaration today. If there is a cross party majority in the House of Commons to go in such a direction, know that we are ready to fully engage.
Finally, two warnings. What we will not let happen, deal or no deal, is that the mess in British politics is imported into European politics. While we understand the UK could need more time, for us it is unthinkable that article 50 is prolonged beyond the European election date.
And my second warning concerns the interests of our citizens. EU citizens and UK citizens alike. Deal or no deal, we will do everything in our power to safeguard their rights, rights as foreseen in the Withdrawal Agreement. If necessary together with our LIBE committee, we will directly engage with the House of Commons and their Home Office Select Committee, to secure that. Our citizens can never, never be the victim of the party political games around Brexit.”