The Belgian MEP, speaking in the European Parliament on Wednesday, told deputies, “If the UK comes up with alternative arrangements we will scrutinise them. But, based on what we know today, nothing has been put on the table by the UK.”
He added, “What the UK has so far proposed is not acceptable.”
Verhofstadt was addressing the assembly’s constitutional affairs committee on the latest Brexit developments. The UK is currently due to leave the EU on October 31.
He also supported the outcome of Britain’s Supreme Court ruling this week which found UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had illegally suspended the UK Parliament in order to stifle further parliamentary debate on Brexit.
Verhofstadt, who also attended a Brexit steering group meeting on Thursday, said, “Every day seems to bring something new on Brexit but there is no denying the importance of the Court’s decision. It is important because no parliament should be silenced.”
Referring to the Irish backstop issue, Verhofstadt said, “The backstop is not an ideal solution but it is a kind of insurance policy. It is all about preserving the Good Friday Agreement, avoiding violence and also safeguarding the EU’s single market.”
“Hopefully, the UK will come up with other solutions and we can always revert to the all-Ireland backstop which was the EU’s original proposal.”
He stressed, “Let me be clear: there is no possibility of an agreement without a backstop.”
"Let me be clear: there is no possibility of an agreement without a backstop" Guy Verhofstadt
He also said there was a current “particular problem” with citizens’ rights, claiming that the authorities in the UK were effectively making it difficult for EU citizens living in Britain to apply for settled status.
He said, “People who have lived in the UK for up to 20 years feel they are being unfairly treated.”
Verhofstadt also heavily criticised the UK for “going in the opposite direction” to the EU on a possible future political declaration.
“For years, we have been told the UK still wants a ‘deep relationship’ with the EU post Brexit but recent pronouncements show it is going in the opposite direction to the EU. Its proposals, for example, for ‘mini deals’, will not create a level playing field and lead to more divergence."
“We oppose this ‘pick and choose’ strategy. The UK must realise that this is not a restaurant menu card where you can pick and choose what you want – take the advantages but not the obligations that the rest of the EU has to comply with.”
He said, “Whatever happens on 31 October, I can tell you that the EU will be ready.”
Further comment came from new Constitutional committee chair Antonio Tajani, who said, “Things have changed since the Supreme Court hearing this week. The ruling was a real blow to those parties which want to block discussion on Brexit in the UK parliament.”
The Italian deputy also said he was keen for a European parliamentary ‘mission’ to visit the Irish border in a bid to resolve the problem over the backstop, the single biggest obstacle to a deal between the UK and EU.
“Given the extreme circumstances we now find ourselves in this is of utmost importance.”