Martin Schulz has warned Europe will not be held “hostage” to the UK in the upcoming Brexit negotiations.
Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, the European parliament’s president also said the outcome of the EU Referendum which will see the UK exit the EU demonstrated “the dangers of playing with fire.”
The German MEP conceded that, currently, the EU was in a “bad situation” which had been made worse by both Brussels and the UK “underestimating” the impact of the 23 June vote on Britain leaving the EU.
While he wants both Britain and the EU to avoid what he called “mutual humiliation” he said the UK “should not be allowed to hold a whole continent hostage” in the negotiations that will start once British prime minister Theresa May triggers the Article 50 withdrawal mechanism.
Schulz was speaking at an event to mark the 20th anniversary of leading think tank the European Policy Centre and ahead of next year’s 60th anniversary of the EU itself.
His hard-line stance was echoed by another keynote speaker, European council president Donald Tusk, who told the audience of policymakers that it was “useless” to speculate about a soft Brexit, in which the UK remained a member of the single market.
Tusk, a former Polish prime minister, won loud applause when he said, “The only real alternative to a hard Brexit is no Brexit, even if today hardly anyone believes in such a possibility.”
Earlier on Thursday, UK foreign minister Boris Johnson had told the UK cross-party foreign affairs select committee: “We are going to get a deal which is of huge value and possibly of greater value… We are going to get the best possible deal for trade in goods and services.”
In an apparent reference to UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson's policy of being "pro cake and pro eating it", Tusk warned that Brexit would leave both Britain, and the rest of the EU, worse off. “There will be no cakes on the table, for anyone. There will be only salt and vinegar.”
In a “hard talk” session, Schulz said, “I think both the EU and UK have underestimated the impact of Brexit. We have to remember that the UK is a permanent member of the UN Security Council, the second biggest economy in Europe and a G7 member. Exiting the EU is going to be very dramatic.”
He accused former UK prime minster David Cameron of a serious miscalculation in calling the referendum, saying, “He and his government thought the 'Remain' side would win and what we now see is that that the British government had no Plan A, let alone a Plan B.”
Schulz said, “The result shows the dangers of playing with fire.”
He added that it was now important for the 27 members that will remain in the EU after the UK leaves to “stick together” to combat the challenge posed by “populists” who “seek to exploit fear and mistrust.”
A European Policy Centre policy paper, “Countering a regressive and illiberal Europe,” warns there are “certain principles” which the EU “should stick to strongly” in the Brexit talks.
The paper, authored by the policy centre's Fabian Zuleeg, and Janis Emmanouilidis, said one of the “red lines” are that access to the single market “cannot in any way undermine the principle of the free movement of labour.”
The paper, circulated at Thursday’s conference, which also featured commission president Jean-Claude Junker among the speakers, said the Brexit vote “demonstrates that people can act against their own best interests.”
It adds, “It is not up to the EU to correct their decision but, rather, show what the consequences it will have.”