The UK’s decision to leave the European Union was “stupid” and only the will of the British people can stop it, Martin Selmayr, the chief of staff to European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, said.
“Brexit is bad, and it’s a stupid decision,”Mr Selmayr said at a conference in Brussels. “The only people who can reverse it would be the British people and I am not a dreamer, I am a realist. Brexit will happen on March 29, 2019.”
German official Mr Selmayr, one of the most powerful people in the EU hierarchy, was speaking two days after the bloc’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, was quoted by UK media as saying that British people need to be “educated” about the price they’ll pay for their decision. On Monday he clarified that he wanted to explain the EU to all nationalities.
The UK and EU are embroiled in increasingly bad-tempered negotiations over the terms of Britain’s withdrawal. The British government is refusing to accept that it has financial obligations beyond its regular annual membership fees; in return, the EU is refusing to open talks on a future trade arrangement.
The UK’s financial settlement would run to ‘much more’ than €10 billion euros, European Budget Commissioner Guenther Oettinger said at the Brussels conference.
Selmayr said that while it was “legally” possible for the U.K. to reverse its decision, “it would be arrogant of us” to say the EU could force it to happen.
“The door of the European Union after March 2019 will always be open, and to all of our British friends, of course that is something that we humanly wish,” Mr Selmayr said. “But politically at the moment this option is not on the table.”
Although he has no direct role in the negotiations, Mr Selmayr has commented sporadically about Brexit since the referendum in 2016. He has said the divorce won’t be a success for Britain, took to Twitter to complain about a London decision to delay a routine review of the EU’s budget in the run-up to June’s general election and was widely blamed in the UK and Germany for leaking details of a confidential dinner in April attended by him, Juncker and Prime Minister Theresa May.
Time is running out for the UK to get a deal on arrangements for its departure from the EU, with complex separation issues, the money argument and a plan for a transition period far from being resolved. It’ll leave the bloc in 19 months whether it has managed to get a deal or not.
Mr Barnier was quoted on the BBC on Sunday as saying the EU intended “to teach people” in the UK about what leaving the bloc’s single market means.
“There are extremely serious consequences of leaving the single market and it hasn’t been explained to the British people,” Mr Barnier was quoted by the BBC as saying on Saturday at the Ambrosetti forum in Cernobbio, Italy. The European Commission declined to confirm the comments were made.
Mr Barnier tweeted on Monday: “I said Brexit = occasion to explain single market benefits in all countries, incl my own. We do not want to ‘educate’ or ‘teach lessons’.”
With Brexit negotiations scheduled to resume on Sept. 18, Barnier, who met Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney in Brussels on Monday, said there’s still work to be done before talk of a breakthrough on how the U.K.-Irish border will work after Brexit.
“While our discussions were fruitful” during negotiations with the UK last week, “it’s clear that a lot more substantial work needs to be done,” Barnier told reporters.