21st Oct 2016

Brexit may not happen, EU top judge says

  • "We don't know yet if and when and under what conditions" Brexit may happen, said Lenaerts (Photo: Reuters)

The EU court’s most senior judge has cast doubt on whether the UK will really leave the EU, while adding that it was never a fully-fledged member in the first place.

Koen Lenaerts, a Belgian judge who is the president of the European Court of Justice, spoke out in a radio interview broadcast on Thursday (1 September).

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“I am a very great fan of the UK,” he told Dutch radio programme De Kennis van Nu. “I would find it very regrettable for the EU that it would lose [the UK's] input … if it ever comes to a Brexit.”

“Because of course, we don't know yet if and when and under what conditions [it might happen]. We have had the referendum, which was a clear political signal, but a lot still has to happen,” he said.

“Let me be clear, everything is still somewhat speculative. And until now nothing has changed - the United Kingdom is still a full member”, he added.

The Belgian law professor also said that the UK authorities and the British public never really felt part of the EU.

He gave as an example billboards that he saw at Britain’s leading airport which depicted the EU as a foreign land.

“At Heathrow [airport in London] you will find signs saying: 'Flights to the European Union’,” Lenaerts told the Dutch radio station.

Comparing the UK with Norway, which, unlike Britain, is a member of the EU’s open-borders Schengen zone, he said: “In a certain way, Norway is more of a member state without actually being one, than the UK which formally is.”

His comments come 10 weeks after British citizens voted to leave the EU.

British PM Theresa May has indicated that she will trigger the formal process of leaving the union early next year, but the talks could drag out until 2019 or longer, and, in the meantime, the UK will remain an EU member.

Some British politicians have said that the UK parliament or the devolved governments of Scotland and Northern Ireland could block the exit.

Others have called for a new general election or a second referendum.

Others still have said that the UK could remain an EU member if the EU made far-reaching reforms to its current form in the next few years.

But earlier this week, May said: "There’s no second referendum; no attempts to sort of stay in the EU by the back door ... we’re actually going to deliver on this”.

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