The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator begged his rival Nigel Farage to come the bloc’s rescue by continuing his fight for Britain’s divorce. Addressing MEPs, Mr Verhofstadt, leader of the liberal bloc, claimed allowing Britain to delay Brexit until October 31 eliminates the pressure on Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to reach a cross-party deal. Mr Verhofstadt also said the extension shows that EU unity is finally broken while negotiating Britain’s Brexit deal.
He said: “Mr Tusk, I know this Parliament has no say in the decision you made on Wednesday. But I want to warn you of the consequences of last week’s decision.
“Until now, we kept the unity in the European Union. The unity of the EU27 and the unity of the three institutions – the Parliament, Council and Commission.”
On the six-month delay, Mr Verhofstadt added: “It is too near for a substantial rethink of Brexit and too far away to prompt any action.
“I fear it will prolong uncertainty and it will import the Brexit mess into the EU and poison the upcoming European election.”
Mr Verhofstadt insisted: “The only thing that can save us is Nigel Farage!”
But the former Belgian prime minister’s sternest warning comes that Britain’s further participation could kill the EU altogether.
He concluded: “In the aftermath of the decision, and you repeated, we may avoid Britain leaving the EU. It’s not our decision, it’s the decision of the British people.
“My fear is the decision could risk killing Europe, at least bog it down for years to come.
“We need to put all our energy into the reform, the renewal of our European Union. And that spirit was absent from you last week.”
In his own speech to the Parliament, Donald Tusk, the European Council president, insisted the long Brexit delay leaves the door open to the divorce being reversed.
He told MEPs: “This extension gives our British friends more time and political space to find their way out of the current situation. I hope that they will use this time in the best possible way. The European Council will be awaiting a clear message from the UK on the way froward.”
He added: “Last week the European Council changed the logic of granting a much shorter extension than requested by the UK to giving an extension that is much longer. I proposed such a change as in my view it has a few advantages. First and foremost only a long extension ensures that all options remain on the table such as ratification of the current withdrawal agreement or extra time to rethink Brexit if that were the wish of the British people.
“Second this extension allows the EU to focus on other priorities that are at least as important like trade with the US or the new EU leadership. I know some have expressed fear that the UK might want to disrupt the EU’s functioning during this time, but the EU27 didn’t give in to such fear and scaremongering. In fact since the very beginning of the Brexit process the UK has been a constructive and responsible EU Member State so we have no reason to believe this should change.
“Third this flexible extension delays the possibility of a no-deal Brexit by another six months. Thanks to this, millions of people and businesses have gained at least some uncertainty in this unstable time. One of the consequences of our decision is that the UK will hold EU elections next month.”