EU says 'hearts still open' to Brexit reversal

EUROPEAN UNION PRESIDENT DONALD TUSK
EUROPEAN UNION PRESIDENT DONALD TUSK

STRASBOURG (France) • European Union President Donald Tusk said yesterday that the bloc's "hearts are still open" to Britain if it changes its mind about leaving.

Mr Tusk's comments weighed into a debate in Britain about whether to hold a second referendum on Brexit, following the June 2016 vote to leave.

"If the UK government sticks to its decision to leave, Brexit will become a reality with all its negative consequences in March next year, unless there is a change of heart among our British friends," Mr Tusk told the European Parliament, to light applause.

"Wasn't it (British Brexit minister) David Davis himself who said if a democracy cannot change its mind it ceases to be a democracy?" he told the assembly in a speech about last month's EU summit.

"We on the continent haven't had a change of heart. Our hearts are still open to you."

He won the backing of European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker, who urged London to heed the suggestion that it could stay in the bloc.

"Tusk said our door still remains open and I hope that that will be heard clearly in London," said Mr Juncker.

OPEN TO CHANGE

If the UK government sticks to its decision to leave, Brexit will become a reality with all its negative consequences in March next year, unless there is a change of heart among our British friends... We on the continent haven't had a change of heart. Our hearts are still open to you.

EUROPEAN UNION PRESIDENT DONALD TUSK, on Britain's vote to leave the European Union.

Mr Tusk has previously suggested Britain could change its mind, but the public statement from Mr Juncker breaks new ground, reported British newspaper The Independent. The commission's line has long been one of getting on with the Brexit process.

The comments reveal a consensus across the EU that Brexit is a colossal mistake for Britain, a major headache for the continent and a choice that Britons could reverse if only they can muster the political courage.

Leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage surprisingly pushed the issue back onto the agenda last week when he said he was increasingly open to the idea of a second referendum.

Former UKIP leader Farage said it would silence those in Britain who do not want to leave the bloc, but it was quickly seized upon by pro-EU politicians.

British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman later ruled out a second vote. British voters in 2016 chose to leave the EU by 52 per cent to 48 per cent.

Britain and the EU reached a deal in principle on separation issues last month, and are due to start talks next month on a short transition period after Britain's departure in March next year.

According to revised draft negotiation directives obtained by Bloomberg, the EU has stepped up the demands for concessions that Britain must make during the transition period that follows Brexit, pushing back the cut-off date for the acquisition of rights for EU citizens.

Britain would not be able to apply new immigration rules to EU citizens arriving during the transition period, according to the document dated Jan 15. That means any EU citizen arriving in Britain before the end of 2020 would be able to remain indefinitely.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, BLOOMBERG

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 17, 2018, with the headline 'EU says 'hearts still open' to Brexit reversal'. Print Edition | Subscribe