The outgoing president of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker said on Tuesday (5 November) that British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn’s plan to renegotiate Brexit again with Brussels was not “realistic”.
Juncker, who is set to be replaced by Ursula von der Leyen within weeks, told the BBC it would be up to her new team to decide whether to negotiate new divorce terms if Labour leader Corbyn wins Britain’s 12 December general election.
But he appeared to cast doubt on the European Union’s willingness to negotiate a third withdrawal agreement with Britain, after having already struck a deal with London on two occasions.
“It will be up to the next (EU) Commission to decide if, yes or no, there is a room of manoeuvre for a new deal or a new treaty,” Juncker told the British broadcaster in an interview.
“Honestly spoken I don’t think that this is a realistic approach.”
The main opposition Labour Party’s policy is to strike a fresh divorce deal that keeps Britain closer to the EU and then put that to voters against the option to remain in the bloc in a referendum.
Corbyn has said that will be possible within six months of the party taking power, and that he has been encouraged by past discussions with European leaders.
Juncker’s comments are likely to be seized upon by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who is seeking to capitalise on Brexit — the defining issue in contemporary British politics — during the election campaign.
Johnson has sought to characterise Labour’s policy as bringing more “dither and delay” and has chastised Corbyn for failing to say whether he would campaign for his own newly-negotiated deal in the event of another referendum.
However, Juncker also cast doubt on one of Johnson’s key election pledges that he will be able to strike a comprehensive free trade agreement with the EU by the end of next year.
The British premier is eager to rule out any further delays to the country’s full departure from the bloc, under pressure from eurosceptic populist Nigel Farage and his Brexit Party.
But Juncker said completing the next phase in negotiations during an agreed transition period to the end of 2020 would “take time”.
“Sometimes I have the impression that in Britain, people… parliamentary representatives, governmental representatives, think that’s an easy thing to be done,” he said.
“It’s not easy because we are negotiating for years. It will take time.”