European Parliament Brexit boss Guy Verhofstadt today (14 December) threatened to open up separate negotiations with the British, unless EU leaders meet his demand to be included in the UK-EU divorce talks.
The threat is the first crack in the carefully crafted show of unity the EU has displayed since the 23 June referendum.
EU leaders, excluding the UK, will discuss how to handle the negotiations with the British tomorrow evening (15 December) in Brussels.
Draft documents point to them confirming the European Commission will lead the negotiations once Article 50, the legal process taking the UK out of the EU, is triggered.
Michel Barnier, the Commission’s Brexit boss, will be joined in the negotiation room by staff from the Council and the nation holding the six-month rotating Presidency of the EU.
While the Council and Commission will be represented, the Parliament, which must approve the final Brexit deal, will not.
If govt leaders don't take the parliament's role seriously we'll negotiate directly with the British-Watch my speechhttps://t.co/6vjtPeMAec
— Guy Verhofstadt (@GuyVerhofstadt) December 14, 2016
That drew a blistering response from Verhofstadt, who is not willing to accept the occasional invitation to attend as a ‘sherpa’.
Speaking in the European Parliament in Strasbourg, he raged, “It’s time that you also involve the Parliament from day one.
“Do you want that we open separate negotiations with the British parliament? Is that what you want? You can get it.
“If that is what the heads of state want, we are going to do it, parallel negotiations. I don’t want it but apparently the Council wants it.”
Cracks beginning to show?
The 27 member states, Commission and Parliament have been consistent in their stance of not entering into negotiations before the UK triggers Article 50 and that single market access is indivisible from freedom of movement.
But today’s speech has highlighted divisions between the EU institutions on how to handle the crucial talks.
“What they are proposing is that we go forward with the Brexit negotiations but without the Parliament,” Verhofstadt, the leader of the ALDE Liberal group of MEPs, complained. “Are they not aware that we have to approve these arrangements?”
Addressing a Council representative, Verhofstadt, appointed as the Parliament’s Brexit chief in September, quoted US President Lyndon B Johnson.
“He said once it was better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in,” said Verhofstadt. “Maybe that’s a good reality you can recall to the European Council.”
After Verhofstadt’s speech, European Parliament President Martin Schulz wrote to European Council President Donald Tusk.
He warned of “grave consequences” if the Parliament was excluded from the Brexit negotiations.
If the Parliament’s “secondary role” were to be confirmed, it cannot exclude deciding to “draw up its own detailed arrangements governing its interaction” with Barnier, and the UK government, he said.
Schulz said the Parliament could veto the final deal. This would mean the EU Treaties would simply stop applying to the UK after the two year negotiation period which begins with the triggering of Article 50.
“This would be the very hardest of Brexits and to the detriment of everybody” he added.
EU leaders of all 28 member states are meeting in Brussels for the Council summit tomorrow. After addressing issues including Syria and migration, the Council will discuss Brexit over a dinner which the UK will not attend.