Leaders of the European Union institutions weighed into a new British debate on whether to hold a second referendum on Brexit by saying on Tuesday that Britons would be welcome to stay in the EU.
British prime minister Theresa May and her main opponent Jeremy Corbyn have ruled out giving voters a chance to approve whatever withdrawal treaty is agreed with Brussels before Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019. However campaigners on both sides of the debate have raised the issue again this month.
Updating the European Parliament on a summit he chaired last month at which EU leaders agreed to open talks with London on their post-Brexit future, European Council President Donald Tusk took the opportunity to support those calling for a rethink.
“Brexit will become a reality, with all its negative consequences, in March next year, unless there is a change of heart among our British friends,” the former Polish premier said. “We here on the Continent haven’t had a change of heart.
“Our hearts are still open to you.”
Picking up on Tusk’s comment, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker added his endorsement: “He said that our door is still open. I hope this is heard in London.”
Constitutional lawyers are divided on whether Britain can withdraw its two-year notice to quit, but the exchanges underline a view in Brussels that an EU political consensus could be found to avert Brexit – even if most are now resigned to Britain leaving and believe the Union will weather the disruption.
Senior lawmakers in the Strasbourg chamber were generally scathing about PM May’s plans for Brexit. The leader of the center-right group, an ally of German Chancellor Angela Merkel, mocked her announcement that British passports would go back to being blue after Brexit as opposed to the red used by most EU states.
Guy Verhofstadt, the chamber’s Brexit coordinator, called the passport saga “hilarious” and also derided May and her ministers for claiming credit for new laws curbing plastic-bag use and credit-card fees, when these were in fact EU legislation.
For the UK Independence Party, which campaigned for Brexit, David Coburn accused Barnier of trying to “destroy Britain” as a center for financial services by rejecting London’s efforts to retain existing access to EU financial markets.