European Commission deputy chief Frans Timmermans said Thursday (15 June) that he would welcome Britain back into the EU “with open arms” if it reconsidered its decision to quit the bloc.
“If at any time they would say, hang on, we’ve reconsidered, we’d like to stay, I would receive them with open arms,” Timmermans told a conference in Prague.
“It’s entirely up to them,” he added less than a week before the Brexit talks are due to start.
Negotiations on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union will begin between British and EU officials on Monday, the British government said in a statement today.
“The first round of talks that will see the United Kingdom leave the European Union will start on Monday June 19,” the Department for Exiting the European Union ministry said.
The announcement was agreed today between Brexit minister David Davis and the European Commission’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, the ministry said.
Britain voted by 52% in favour of leaving the European Union in a referendum last year.
Prime Minister Theresa May in March formally notified the EU of its intention to leave, starting a two-year timetable for negotiating the exit. Britain will be the first member state ever to leave the bloc.
Brexit negotiations had been expected to begin next week but May’s loss of her parliamentary majority in a general election last week raised doubts about the date.
She has since said the timetable will remain unchanged but there is growing pressure on her to moderate the government’s approach and favour maintaining close ties with the European single market.
French President Emmanuel Macron said Tuesday that the door was always open for Britain to return while the negotiations on Brexit are under way.
European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said Wednesday the door would remain open but on worse terms than Britain has now.
But Timmermans added that he expected Britain to leave the EU.
“We’re anxious to know how they want to leave, that’s the process we’re in right now and I frankly believe they will continue with that and they will leave,” he said.