Chief centre-left MEP says UK could still remain
By Peter Teffer
The United Kingdom could still remain a member of the European Union, but only if all other member states agree, said the leader of the second-largest political group in the European Parliament.
“Our door remains open, if the UK wants to change its mind,” said centre-left MEP, Gianni Pittella, on Tuesday evening (4 April).
“But this choice has to be symmetric, [it] has to be bilateral. [It] has to involve all the member states, the 27 member states have to agree on this procedure.”
Pittella spoke to journalists in Strasbourg at a dinner organised by his group, the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D).
He said it was “difficult” to see how the UK could revert its decision to leave the EU, taken last year through an in/out referendum, with prime minister Theresa May at the helm.
“It's a theoretical possibility, it's an option. All can happen in life,” said the Italian MEP, who noted that the UK's change of heart should come “through a democratic process”.
Pittella said that if “hypothetically” the UK government makes a U-turn for the country to remain an EU member, “I would be happy.”
“You don't forget. Our position was not for Brexit,” he said.
“For us it's not a victory that we now we have to start the negotiation. ... It's a reason of sadness, profound, deep sadness. I think this is a loss for Europe and a terrible mistake for the UK," commented Pittella.
“So, our hope is always that they change their mind. But we have to respect the democratic will,” he added.
However, Pittella argued that, in his opinion, there should be unanimity among the remaining 27 member states to take the UK back.
“It's not up only to the UK to decide if this reversibility can work. It's up also to the European counterpart,” he said.
Pittella's stance on EU-27 unanimity is a political message, there is no legal clarity on how this would work. The legal text that allows the UK to leave the EU, article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, does not explain how a country could decide to remain part of the EU after negotiations for its departure have started.
Pittella's comments came after one of his political allies in Germany, Sigmar Gabriel, said “the burden [of Brexit] for the Brits is higher than for the Europeans”.
Former leader of Germany's social-democratic party (SPD) and current German foreign minister, Gabriel rejected May's stance that “no deal is better than a bad deal”.
Deal or no deal
“Having no deal is not the best idea for Britain and the European Union,” Gabriel said on Tuesday, after speaking with his UK counterpart Boris Johnson.
“It would bring a burden on both sides, for the Brits as well as the Europeans,” the top German diplomat added.
“Of course we want to see negotiations about Brexit being fair. … Fair for Britain, but also from our point of view, fair for the remaining 27 members of the European Union,” he said.
Both Gabriel and Pittella stressed that a country outside the EU cannot have the same or more advantages than an EU member.
Pittella spoke to journalists to outline his group's position ahead of a debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday (5 April).
MEPs will discuss Brexit and adopt a non-binding resolution.
The draft text says that the EU-UK deal on the latter's departure should include reassurances of the legal status of EU citizens in the UK, and British citizens living in the EU.
It also states that there should be clarity on the settlement of the UK's outstanding financial liabilities and the EU's external border.