For his first Strasbourg address of the new year, European Council President Donald Tusk left a window open for the UK to have a change of heart over Brexit and said the other 27 members of the EU remain open for the UK to reverse its landmark 2016 decision to leave the bloc.
The European Council chief briefed the MEPs on the highlights from the December 14-15 meeting in Brussels where European heads of state unanimously decided that sufficient progress had been achieved regarding the first phase of post-Brexit negotiations guaranteeing citizens’ rights, border questions concerning the Republic of Ireland, and financial settlements.
“The EU-27 adopted the first set of guidelines for the next phase of the talks,” added Tusk.
However, even though the EU-27 leaders have given the green light to enter the second phase of negotiations, Tusk did not close the door to the UK regarding the bloc’s relations with the member state in the post-Brexit era.
“What we need today is more clarity on the UK’s vision,” said Tusk when discussing the focus of the next round of negotiations that are expected to begin in March. “Once we have that, the leaders will meet and decide on the way the EU sees its future relationship with the UK as a third country. It also means a new set of guidelines.”
Before the EU and the UK resume negotiations, the EU-27 will have to decide and approve the negotiating guidelines for the next phase. Once the guidelines are set the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier will begin talks with London on a transition period and future trade ties with Britain.
Tusk also went to great lengths to reiterate that the future unity of the EU-27 should be maintained at all costs and should never close the door to the possibility that the UK could hold a new referendum on EU membership.
“Here on the continent, we haven’t had a change of heart. Our hearts are and will remain open to you (the UK),” said Tusk in a speech that appeared to be an olive branch extended to London as support for a second referendum on the UK’s EU membership continues to pick up steam.
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker echoed Tusk’s comments about the new open-door policy that Brussels appears to be moving towards. The two EU leaders have struck an entirely different tone than the tough rhetoric at the Strasbourg debate, where several MEPs called on the UK government to clearly lay out its vision for the country’s desired future relationship with the bloc.
“Tusk says our door still remains open and I hope that will be heard clearly in London,” said Juncker.
The EU parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt underlined the need for guarantees regarding residence application procedures for EU citizens who wish to continue living in the UK, stressing that the new residence status proposed by London should not come into force until the end of the transition period. “There cannot be any cherry-picking inside the system,” said Verhofstadt.