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EU’s Guy Verhofstadt hints at loss of rebate if UK backtracks on Brexit

The former Belgian prime minister demanded a swift start to Brexit negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaties.

Britain could lose its budget rebate and opt-outs if it changes its mind about Brexit and decides to remain a member of the EU, an influential MEP has suggested.

France’s President Emmanuel Macron said on Tuesday that “the door remains open” for the UK to ditch plans for Brexit and stay in the EU. But the European Parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said the UK could not expect the conditions of its membership to remain the same if it took this path.

Speaking to the Parliament in Strasbourg, he made clear he believes the rebate negotiated by Margaret Thatcher in 1984 and worth up to £5 billion a year to the UK, along with opt-outs in areas like open borders, monetary union and justice, could be up for grabs if Britain decides to stay.

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The rebate was negotiated by Margaret Thatcher (PA)

Demanding a swift start to Brexit negotiations under Article 50 of the EU treaties, the former Belgian prime minister compared Britain’s position to the heroine of Lewis Carroll’s Alice In Wonderland, who found herself in a room with many doors and no idea what lay behind them.

“Yesterday Emmanuel Macron … said if Britain is changing its mind, it will find an open door,” said Mr Verhofstadt. “I don’t disagree with him. But like Alice In Wonderland, not all doors are the same.

“It will be a brand new door with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real power and with unity. That is the door towards Europe.”

Asked about Mr Verhofstadt’s comments, European Commission spokesman Alexander Winterstein played down suggestions of a change in the UK’s status, telling reporters: “The UK is a member of the European Union and will remain so until it leaves, so that is where we are. I’m not going to comment on statements by others.

“The only thing I know is that there is an Article 50 request and we have been preparing ourselves for a long time to start negotiations on that basis.”

Mr Verhofstadt said that a year on from the EU referendum in the UK, it was time to start Brexit negotiations, due to kick off on June 19, amid speculation they could be delayed by fallout from last week’s General Election.

Brexit Secretary David Davis said he still expects the talks to begin next week and Theresa May insisted on Tuesday the timetable remains on track.

Mr Verhofstadt demanded to know whether the inconclusive result of the General Election would mean any change in the UK Government’s plans to take Britain out of the single market, customs union and jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice.

Would the British negotiating position represent “the position of the Tories or the position of the whole nation?” he asked. “Party interest or national interest? Because this is not about the Tories leaving the EU. This question is about the UK leaving the EU.”

Uncertainty over Brexit has already had a “negative impact on everybody in Europe, especially on Britain”, said Mr Verhofstadt. And he asked: “Is the populist illusion to limit free movement of people more important than the prosperity and fortune of the British workers, the British industry, the British companies and the British economy?”

Mr Verhofstadt urged the EU to bring forward legislative proposals for closer integration of the remaining 27 member states, to take advantage of the opportunity provided by Brexit and the election of the pro-European Mr Macron.

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