Theresa May has been accused of saying little more than empty words in Brexit negotiations – as EU chiefs said Britain would live to regret leaving the EU.
The Prime Minister gave a major speech on her vision for post-Brexit relations with the EU at the Mansion House last week in a bid to make progress.
It was initially welcomed by EU leaders – but this morning they challenged May to provide more detailed solutions to outstanding issues, especially regarding the Irish border.
European Parliament chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt said: “After all the speeches we have heard now, it’s time that we go beyond the slogans, the soundbites.”
European Council spokeswoman Monika Panayotova said: “Though there has been a succession of speech we need more concrete proposals.”
And European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said: “As the clock counts down, with one year to go, it is now time to translate speeches into treaties.”
He then added in an exchange with Ukip MEPs, who had cheered the announcement of the Brexit date, that ‘you will regret your decision’.
Manfred Weber, the leader of the European Parliament’s largest group, echoed that sentiment later.
Speaking at a press conference, he said: “It’s not unlikely that the negotiations will end up with a bad result. A bad result for the EU, but worse for the UK.”
Their calls during a debate in the European Parliament come just a week before a crucial European leaders summit where it is hoped both parties will agree on the terms of a transition period before moving on to trade talks.
As well as differences over what access the UK should expect to the single market after Brexit, the ongoing uncertainty over the Irish border question looms large.
The deal done on the issue in December says Northern Ireland would effectively remain in the Single Market and Customs Union if no agreed solution on how to avoid a hard border can be found.
The Government wants to avoid that situation but the ball is now in their court to propose a tailored solution to goods checks that will be made necessary by leaving the Customs Union.
The only suggestion offered so far was by Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who controversially suggested a technological solution could be found with inspiration from the London congestion charge.
Labour leader in the European Parliament, Richard Corbett MEP, mocked the Government’s search for a “magical” solution to problem today, saying: “Sounds like they want to put Harry Potter on the border.”
Juncker said the EU is ready to work with the UK on creative ways to avoid customs checks but urged them to quickly bring forward “concrete proposals.”
On trade, EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier made it clear cannot have the status of a third country while maintaining the economic benefits of membership.
“We are open for business, it is the UK that is closing doors,” he said.
Nigel Farage argued though that the dispute over US steel tariffs introduced by Donald Trump showed how Britain would be better off after Brexit.
He said: “In this USA dispute we now find ourselves trapped, impotent, unable to act.
“We need to be free. We voted Brexit, we voted to make our own trade policy, our own decisions.
“We could do a deal with America in 48 hours. We need to act.”
MEPs will vote tomorrow on the European Parliament’s Brexit resolution, which says the UK should expect reduced market access – even if it maintains regulatory alignment.