The European parliament’s Brexit coordinator has predicted that Theresa May will make an “important intervention” later this month and that the next round of divorce negotiations could be delayed as a result.
Guy Verhofstadt’s comments come as expectation grows that the prime minister will make a speech on Brexit before the Tory party conference in October, which is expected to build on the position papers published over the summer.
The Belgian MEP said: “Apparently there will be an important intervention by the British prime minister in the coming days, it is foreseen on the 21 September,” and said that the fourth instalment of Brexit talks could be pushed back a week.
The next round of Brexit had been scheduled to start on 18 September, but Verhofstadt said it would be “a bit stupid” to run the talks during May’s announcement, so they could be delayed until the following week.
It has been suggested that May will make the intervention while parliament is in recess and in between the Liberal Democrat and Labour conferences.
But one senior government source suggested that the speech plan had not been finalised and played down the likelihood that it would include an announcement that would cause any hold-up in negotiations.
“You can expect the prime minister to want to set out what we think this means about the relationship with the EU we are seeking. But no firm date or venue has yet been set for a speech, and we are keen to press on with negotiations. We think this is in everyone’s interests,” they added.
Formally Downing Street would not comment on reports that May would make a speech or that it would happen on 21 September. Instead, Number 10 said it wanted to avoid further delays and to press ahead with negotiations as quickly as possible.
“We are ready to intensify negotiations. Nothing has been formally agreed but that is something that we can discuss. Typically, with negotiations, as time goes on you see the pace pick up. Certainly we wouldn’t rule that out, but nothing has been agreed yet.”
Elsewhere in Brussels the influential chief of staff to the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, called the vote for Brexit “stupid”.
Martin Selmayr used a conference in Brussels to say: “Brexit is bad, and it’s a stupid decision. 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 29 March 2019.”
However, he added that the door to the EU would remain open “to all of our British friends” after the Brexit deadline and that his wish would be for the decision to be reversed. “But politically at the moment this option is not on the table.”
Verhofstadt, a former prime minister of Belgium, also told reporters that there had been “no progress at all on the financial settlement” and “more worrying” the UK was challenging the EU’s legal arguments to the money.
But he drew on Belgian surrealism to explain the problems the EU has with the UK’s Irish border proposals. “I come from a country where surrealism is something, is a reality,” he said citing René Magritte’s painting, The Treachery of Images, better known as This is Not a Pipe.
The discussion on the invisible border made him think of Magritte, he said. “A border is visible otherwise it isn’t a border.”
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