Guy Verhofstadt appointed as European Parliament's Brexit negotiator

Veteran EU federalist says he wants European Parliament to play a 'central role' in Brexit negotiations.

Guy Verhofstadt is a staunch EU federalist |Photo credit: Natalie Hill

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

09 Sep 2016

A furious row has flared after former Belgian Prime Minister Guy Verhofstadt was appointed as the European Parliament's “representative” for the Brexit negotiations.

The appointment was announced by European Parliament President Martin Schulz after a meeting of political group leaders in Brussels on Thursday.

A parliament statement said the European Parliament's Liberal ALDE group leader will be a “counterpart” of former French government minister Michel Barnier, who has already been appointed as the negotiator for the European Commission.

However, Parliament's European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group reacted with fury to the appointment of Verhofstadt, the leader of the fourth largest group in the parliament, as the institution's only Brexit negotiator.


ECR group leader, British Conservative MEP Syed Kamall said “If the parliament wishes to appoint a Brexit negotiator then it must be a decision made by a majority of all 751 MEPs, and the person and persons to fulfil the role must be voted on by the full parliament.”

"It is not right that the Parliament's President [Martin Schulz] and a couple of men sitting in a back room can decide everything and foist it on the democratically elected representatives.

"If the parliament thinks that Guy Verhofstadt is the right person to represent it in the negotiations then that's fair enough, but these backroom stitch-ups are disrespectful of the 747 other MEPs and their voters."

Further comment came from UKip leader Nigel Farage, who said, "Guy Verhofstadt hates everything we stand for which should mean a much shorter renegotiation."

"Verhofstadt is a fanatical supporter of EU federalism even by the standards of the European Parliament.

"This appointment will no doubt speed up the UK's exit from the European Union."

Verhofstadt, said a parliament source, “will keep the Conference of Presidents (comprising its president Martin Schulz and group leaders including Kamall) fully informed of developments and will help prepare parliament's position in the negotiations."

The source added, “The European Parliament will need to approve a possible agreement on the conditions for the UK’s departure from the EU.”

Veteran Conservative MEP, Julie Girling also took Schulz to task over the announcement saying she expected Conservative MEPs to, "challenge this and demand a full, democratic and transparent selection procedure."

"I don't believe that the majority of MEPs will want Mr Verhofstadt to be the lead negotiator on Brexit, it is a question for all of us to decide in a full vote of the parliament, not a backroom deal cooked up by Mr Schulz and some friends."

Once Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty has been triggered by the UK authorities and the European Council has adopted the negotiation guidelines, Verhofstadt will also work closely with the Chair of the Constitutional Affairs committee, Polish EPP deputy Danuta Hübner and other committees wherever necessary to shape the assembly's negotiating position.

A staunch EU federalist, Verhofstadt's 2004 bid for the presidency of the European Commission was torpedoed by then UK Prime Minister Tony Blair, as he was considered too federalist.

In a tweet, Verhofstadt said it was an honour to be appointed as lead Brexit negotiator for the European Parliament adding that the assembly would play a "central role" in the Brexit negotiations "and any future EU-UK agreements".

Speaking of the appointment, a UK government spokesperson said, "The UK needs to engage as widely as possible including with member states, the European Commission and the European Parliament.

"As the Prime Minister has previously said it is in everyone’s interests to make the UK’s exit from the EU as smooth as possible. It is important that both sides prepare for the negotiations."

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