EU should prepare for 'worst case scenario' on Brexit, warn senior MEPs

EPP leader Manfred Weber has described the UK’s rejection of the withdrawal agreement as a “disaster”, saying the “only logical step” now is to hold a second referendum.
Photo Credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

14 Mar 2019

Weber's comments came as UK MPs prepare to vote today (Thursday) on whether the UK government should ask the EU for an extension to Article 50.

Speaking in the European parliament on Wednesday, Weber, a potential successor to Jean-Claude Juncker as European Commission president, said a “whole generation” of young people stood to “suffer” as a result of the failure to back the deal agreed by Theresa May and the EU.

Weber, taking part in a debate on Brexit, said the EU would now have to “prepare for a worst case scenario,” adding, “We cannot rescue the UK so the logical next step is to ask the British people to vote again.”


On the prospect of the EU supporting a UK request to extend the article 50 process, he said, “I see no need for this option of an extension if we get no clarification from the UK side on what they want.”

He said the “uncertainty” in the UK was now adversely affecting the EU decision-making process,” adding, “At present, we are not discussing any other issues and it cannot go on like this. We are running out of time and that is why the British need to decide what they want.”

However, fellow German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel, a member of the ECR grouping in the parliament called on the EU to “stop bashing London” saying Brussels should “bear some responsibility for Brexit.”

He said, “Brexit is not only a disaster for the UK but for the EU. The UK is the largest single market in the EU and its leaving is equivalent to 19 small and medium sized member states all leaving at the same time. Without the UK the EU will remain uncompetitive. The EU should now offer an extension without any conditions.”

Fellow German MEP Udo Bullmann, who leads the Socialist group in the parliament, said, “We are now at a critical juncture and I call on the House of Commons to take a sensible decision in order to counter a hard Brexit which would be against the interests of the UK.”

Alde leader Guy Verhofstadt, who chairs the Brexit steering group in parliament, told the debate, “What we now need is certainty from the Commons but I am against an extension, even one of 24 hours, if this is not one which is based on a clear opinion from the Commons on exactly what they want. Is it something less ambitious than the agreed deal? Is it a Customs Union or is it a Norway-style arrangement?

"We are running out of time and that is why the British need to decide what they want” Manfred Weber MEP

“The UK has to make up its mind but one thing is clear: this uncertainty cannot continue.”

Nigel Farage, meanwhile, used the debate to call on European leaders to veto the expected British request for an extension to Article 50. In the presence of Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator who claimed the next phase of negotiations could take four years, Farage said that it is both in the UK and the EU’s best interest for a British exit on 29 March.

He said, “Now I’m sure the next instalment of this will be the British Prime Minister next Thursday going to the European summit in Brussels, another humiliating display where she begs for an extension to Article 50. There is a simple solution and that is the British request to extend is vetoed at that European summit.”

“We leave on March the 29th, most of the preparations have been done, even if there are a few short term bumps in the road, we leave and both you and we can get on with the rest of our lives. That is the only neat solution ahead of us.”

He added, “I hope that, after 20 years in this parliament, this will be my penultimate speech here and that I won’t be back in July. I am sure a lot here feel the same.”

“The gap between the political class and public opinion in the UK is now a gaping chasm but feelings are hardening. There is a greater sense of unity than there has been for years. We simply want to leave. We have had enough.

“It is folly to proceed with Brexit when it may no longer be the will of the people" Richard Corbett MEP

Irish deputy Sean Kelly said there was “a lot of trepidation” in Ireland about the UK crashing out which he said would “send many businesses in Ireland to the wall.”

Kelly said, “I appeal to the EU to act in good faith, give us the time to get our house in order to avoid a hard Brexit.”

UK Socialist MEP Richard Corbett told the debate: “A majority in the Commons does not want to leave. There are only two alternatives: an alternative deal or to reconsider Brexit which would need a referendum. In the UK there is a majority for another referendum and the polls show the result would be different.”

“It is folly to proceed with Brexit when it may no longer be the will of the people. At least this is worth checking.”

Northern Irish MEP James Nicholson said, “I have listened to this debate with a heavy heart. I have heard nothing new or constructive. It is simply not good enough to say we will need a reason for an extension to article 50.”

“The treaty which has been agreed is flawed, damaged and will not work so we need an extension to find another way.”

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