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The chairman of the European parliament’s EPP group has hit out at the “lies” of Brexit campaigners and warned that the UK’s departure from the EU will be “very costly for the British”.
Manfred Weber, an influential German MEP and chair of the European People’s Party, said on Tuesday that Brexit was a “historic mistake” for the UK.
“The promises of the Brexit campaigners last year, that this will be very positive for the budget of the UK, are still a lie. They were not correct. It will be very costly for the British partner,” he said.
Mr Weber also criticised the UK’s rhetoric in the run-up to tomorrow’s formal triggering of Article 50. “In the last 9 months, we’ve seen from London only messages about what they don’t like, what they don’t want to have,” he said.
“All the messages we’ve received on a tax haven, a Singapore next to the European Union, or on social dumping, are not creating an atmosphere of fairness. We are asking them to behave in this fair manner”
Mr Weber reiterated comments made on Monday night that his focus will be solely on remaining members of the bloc during exit talks. “I have no need to reflect anymore on [the UK’s] interests. I have to reflect on the needs of the 440 million.”
Asked if he thought it would be possible to wrap up a divorce deal and a future trade deal with the EU in less than two years, as Mrs May has indicated, Mr Weber said: “I don’t think so. I don’t think that is possible”. He added that trade deals with other external countries “took years to negotiate”
“We want to have a fair debate, but also a tough debate,” he concluded. “We’re looking forward, hopefully, to a positive outcome in the Mission Impossible which is ahead of us”
His comments come as other European Parliament party leaders weigh in to warn of the consequences of a hard Brexit. Sergei Stanishev, president of the Party of European Socialists, said that Theresa May’s current approach to negotiations will be “disastrous for citizens of both the UK and the EU.”
“The UK government seems to think it can have as beneficial a relationship with the EU from outside as it already enjoys as a full member, but I cannot see how this can be possible,” he said.
Gianni Pittella, leader of the Socialists and Democrats group in parliament, said the EU will “not allow Theresa May to deliver a hard Brexit”, and insisted that the UK must continue to give the same rights to EU citizens moving to the UK in the next two years as those who have arrived earlier.
“It cannot be right that someone signing a work contract in the UK on Tuesday has more rights than someone signing a contract on Thursday,” said Mr Pittella.
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