Brussels bosses appear to have finally accepted Brexit talks will not be derailed by the coronavirus crisis but took a swipe at Britain for leaving the EU and described it as a “gross, historic mistake”.
German MEP David McAllister, Brexit representative for the European Parliament, said the pandemic made the negotiations even more difficult but said Britain was determined to stick to the timeline which would see all ties cut by December 31.
He said: “Whether we will conclude the negotiations this year will be decided in June.
“We still have two more negotiations rounds in May and the beginning of June where we can hopefully make concrete progress.
“And then as part of a so-called high level conference we will look at where we are at and if we can do it in the second half, or if the deadline needs to be extended or will one side then decide to start the new phase without a deal.”
Mr McAllister, chairman of the European Parliament Foreign Affairs Committee, said the EU had signalled its willingness to agree to an extension in the face of the coronavirus crisis but said the UK had categorically ruled this out.
He said: “It’s not just the government that is strictly against it, but they have also decided the deadline for the exit to be December 31 by law, which means that even if the British side should want to get an extension, the British government and Parliament would have to agree to it.
“The British side has made it clear once again that they are not willing to apply for an extension.
“I think one explanation is that during the Brexit negotiations they also had a fixed date of when the UK was to leave the EU, which was then postponed several times.”
Mr McAllister said repeated Brexit delays had led to Theresa May’s eventual downfall at the hands of hardline Brexiteers within her own party and Boris Johnson’s administration was determined not to make the same mistakes.
He said: “They stick to the viewpoint ‘once we have set the date, we want to leave, whatever the cost’.
But he warned an already ambitious schedule would become even more difficult because of the time lost to the coronavirus lockdown.
The MEP from Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU) party said: “In view of the pandemic I think there would be good reasons for the British government to rethink their stance.
“But there is no point in us as the EU to keep prompting the UK to take this step.
“In the end it takes two partners to implement this. It takes two to tango, as the English like to say. And the British government is simply not ready to do this so far.
“Personally I still believe that the UK should not have left the EU, it was a gross, historic mistake.
“But we have to accept reality and the UK unfortunately did leave the EU on February 1.”
“Of all the options, this would be the worst possible, in my opinion, to move into this new era without a regulated transition. And I believe that this isn’t what either side wants.
“Both sides should have an interest that we sensibly organise the exit of the UK from the EU and also the customs union.”