Guy Verhofstadt, the leader of the European parliament’s Brexit Steering Group (BSG), was speaking after Johnson took over as Prime Minister on Wednesday.
Speaking on the steps of Downing Street, Johnson said that his mission was to “restore trust in our democracy” and to “fulfil the repeated promises of parliament to the people and come out of the EU on October 31, no ifs or buts.”
On the subject of a No Deal Brexit, Johnson said it was “vital that we prepare for the remote possibility that Brussels refuses any further to negotiate,” and added that it was important to prepare “to come out of the EU customs union and out of regulatory control.” He announced that his Government would prepare an “economic package” in the autumn in time for Brexit.
His comments were criticised, though, by Verhofstadt who was speaking directly after an emergency meeting of parliament’s Brexit steering group in Brussels on Wednesday.
Verhofstadt blasted the new UK prime minister’s “irresponsible” claims during the Tory leadership contest which the Belgian deputy says had increased the risk of no deal.
He vowed to block Johnson’s plan to ditch the Irish backstop from the Withdrawal Agreement – warning that it is not up for negotiation.
MEPs must sign off any deal brokered by the UK and EU. The UK is set to leave the 28-strong bloc on 31 October and Johnson, who has replaced Theresa May as leader, has said it will do so “with or without” an agreement.
“In the event that the UK decides not to revoke Article 50 and stay in the European Union, an orderly exit of the UK from the European Union is in the overwhelming interests of both parties”
After a meeting of the steering group, its MEP members said in a statement that an orderly exit was “only possible if citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and the backstop, that in all circumstances ensures no hardening of the border on the island of Ireland, safeguards the Good Friday Agreement and protects the integrity of the single market, are guaranteed”.
The statement added, “The BSG remains very strongly of the view that, in the event that the UK decides not to revoke Article 50 and stay in the European Union, an orderly exit of the UK from the European Union is in the overwhelming interests of both parties.”
“The parliament has restated its commitment to an orderly Brexit but makes it clear that they are sticking to the agreement with the UK that the Withdrawal Agreement will not be opened during the extension period, which ends on 31 October”.
The BSG said that recent statements, not least those made during the Conservative Party leadership campaign, have “greatly increased the risk” of a disorderly exit of the UK, adding that a no-deal exit would be economically very damaging, even if such damage would not be inflicted equally on both parties.
“The Withdrawal Agreement will not be opened during the extension period, which ends on 31 October”
The group said it commends the preparedness and contingency measures taken by the EU institutions and EU member states in preparation for a no-deal exit, but stresses that such an exit will not be mitigated by any form of arrangements or mini-deals between the EU and the UK.
The BSG statement added that there is no transition period without a withdrawal agreement and stresses parliament’s determination to ensure that, in a no-deal scenario, there would be no disruption for EU citizens in the UK or for UK citizens in the EU “whose rights should be fully safeguarded.”
The BSG also said it will continue to monitor the situation and, working in close liaison with the Parliament’s Conference of Presidents and the EU’s Chief Negotiator Michel Barnier, is ready to meet at short notice if necessary.
The group has made two changes to its team. German MEP Elmar Brok is replaced by former European parliament President Antonio Tajani while the GUE/NGL group has replaced Gabi Zimmer with Martin Schirdewan.
The current members are Verhofstadt, Danuta Hübner, Roberto Gualtieri, Philippe Lamberts, Schirdewan and Tajani.