Brexit is a “catfight in the Conservative Party that got out of hand,” according to the European Parliament’s lead negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, who called Britain leaving the EU a “waste of energy, stupidity.”
The Belgian politician, who will lead Brexit talks, was speaking in the EU parliamentary chamber ahead of a vote to formalize its negotiating position on Wednesday.
MEPs backed a motion setting out its position for Brexit negotiations by 516 to 133.
Verhofstadt said in the future, younger generations will attempt to bring the UK back into Europe.
“One day or another, there will be a young man or woman who will try again, who will lead Britain into the European family once again.
“A young generation that will see Brexit for what it really is – a catfight in the Conservative Party that got out of hand, a loss of time, a waste of energy, stupidity.”
Europe should “never be blamed for having tried” to have a good relationship with Britain, he added.
“Let’s not forget, Britain entered the union as the ‘sick man of Europe’ and thanks to the single market came out the other side.
“Europe made Britain also punch above its weight in terms of geopolitics, as in the heydays of the British Empire.
“And we from our side must pay tribute to Britain’s immense contributions – a staunch, unmatched defender of free markets and civil liberties. Thank you for that.
“As a liberal, I tell you, I will miss that.”
His speech came alongside interventions from Commission President Jean Claude Juncker and chief negotiator Michel Barnier, who warned of the consequences of failing to reach a deal with the UK.
Meanwhile, former UKIP leader Nigel Farage accused “mafia” MEPs of trying to impose conditions “impossible for Britain to comply with” in Europe’s Brexit negotiating plan.
He said demands that the UK pay a “divorce bill” is like holding the country to “ransom.”
“Already you’ve made a series of demands which are not just unreasonable, but in some cases clearly impossible for Britain to comply with.
“What you could have mentioned is we’re actually shareholders in this building and other assets and actually you should be making an offer to us that we can’t refuse, to go.”
When he accused MEPs of behaving like the mafia, the parliament’s Italian President Antonio Tajani intervened to object. Farage responded: “I do understand national sensitivities. I’ll change it to gangsters.”
MEPs agree to Brexit negotiation plan
On Wednesday, the European Parliament backed a motion setting out its position for Brexit negotiations. It was supported by the two largest groups of MEPs, and sets out general principles at the start of the two-year negotiations for the UK to leave the EU under the Article 50 process.
Verhofstadt said the vote meant “the UK on the one hand and the [European] Commission on the other hand now know the position of the Parliament, what the red lines are.”
He said “the interests of our citizens is our first priority” and called for an early resolution of the status of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens elsewhere in Europe.
The motion includes the need for a “phased approach” to negotiations, which would require progress on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal, including settling financial commitments, before talks on a future trading relationship can start.
It also backs the call for transparency in the talks, and for the UK to be considered liable for financial commitments that apply after it leaves the EU.
It also says the UK should pay towards costs for the EU that “arise directly from withdrawal.”
The transitional arrangement should be time-limited to three years and be enforced by the EU’s Court of Justice, the motion says, and UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in Britain should receive “reciprocal” treatment.