Guy Verhofstadt MEP, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, speaks with UpFront on Al Jazeera:
• Declares it “technically impossible” for the UK to have a new trade deal in place with the EU in two years’ time
• Suggests it’s “always possible” that the UK might rejoin the EU in the future and it could be a "little bit faster a process"
• Describes Brexit and other political challenges to the EU - from Trump to Putin - as an “existential threat”
In an interview with Al Jazeera English’s current affairs show, UpFront, Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, was asked whether it would be possible for the UK government to negotiate both Brexit and a new trade deal with the EU by 2019. “That’s technically impossible,” he said.
He emphasized that while they are not looking for a punitive exercise, the EU parliament will want a fair and generous agreement, where “you can never have outside the European Union a better status than as member of the European Union.”
Verhofstadt also gave his thoughts on whether the UK could potentially re-enter the EU in the future under a different government. “That is always possible,” he said. “They can always reintroduce a request for membership of the European Union… Certainly, we have enough experience to make it a little bit a faster process than what is normal.”
Asked about which issue drove 52% of Britons to vote for Brexit in June 2016, Verhofstadt replied: “Mainly the migration. It’s very clear.”
When asked by UpFront host Mehdi Hasan if xenophobia and specifically a Little Englander mentality explained the Brexit vote, the MEP and former Belgian prime minister responded, “That’s maybe a good explanation.”
The senior MEP and former Belgian prime minister also agreed that the numerous challenges facing the EU - the election of Donald Trump, the rise of Putin’s Russia, Brexit, and the fiscal and refugee crises - constitute an “existential threat” to the future of the union.