A bitter row has erupted between eurocrats as they battle for influence over the Brexit negotiations with Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, threatening to start separate breakaway talks.
Speaking in the parliament chamber on Tuesday, Mr Verhofstadt hit out at representatives from the European Council, who he accused of trying to side-line MEPs and give them only a minimal representation in Brexit talks.
“What they are proposing is simply to say we go forward with the Brexit negotiations without the parliament,” Mr Verhofstadt said, adding: “Are you not aware that we have to approve these arrangements?”
He warned that if MEPs are frozen out, he may be tempted to start his own simultaneous negotiations.
“Do you want that we open separate negotiations with the British authorities? You can get it – if that’s what you want we’ll do it. It’s time that you also involved the parliament from day one.”
He then quoted former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, saying it is “probably better to have him inside the tent p***ing out, than outside the tent p***ing in.”
The European Parliament will have to vote on any Brexit deal reached between the European Union and the British government, but Mr Verhofstadt’s outburst is a sign that MEPs want even more influence over proceedings.
The European Council, which comprises the heads of government of EU member states, is trying to take the lead in negotiating on behalf of the European Union, but the anger of MEPs may lead to power struggle, causing uncertainty over who the UK should actually speak to.
The parliament’s outgoing president, Martin Schulz, also backed Mr Verhofstadt, saying: “The draft conclusions of the European Council makes it clear that the Council sees the Parliament as an unpleasant burden in negotiations.
“Well, I can only say that the European Parliament from the first minute, at both the level of the sherpas [EU background negotiators] and the European Council, I say we’re moving towards quite a confrontational period of time.”