The EU parliament’s Brexit rapporteur told MEPs a bridging pact would represent “the prolongation of the existing situation, of the status quo”, blaming the UK for wasting the crucial negotiating window leading to a failure to make more progress.
He said Theresa May’s previous claims that “no deal is better than a bad one” were now dead in the water, with both EU leaders and the British Government conceding a transitional deal is necessary to avoid a damaging no-deal scenario.
Mr Verhofstadt’s comments appear to kill off the idea that Britain will be able to end free movement of people and the jurisdiction of the European Court of Justice in March 2019, leaving the country effectively still part of the EU for up to a further three years.
The former Belgian PM said one of the main sticking points in the Brexit negotiations was the UK’s refusal to engage over a financial settlement, calling on Mrs May to provide “further clarity” on what sum she is prepared to pay.
And he revealed that the Brexit steering group is due to draft a new resolution on citizens’ rights, to be put before MEPs in October, which will detail where they feel the Parliament feels the UK’s proposals transgress its red lines.
Mr Verhofstadt highlighted the ongoing power of the ECJ to police EU citizens’ rights after Brexit – something that “hast to be done” by euro judges – and Britain’s plan to give Europeans a new “settled status” beyond 2019 as sticking points.
The UK prime minister Mrs May has made ending freedom of movement and ending the jurisdiction of the ECJ as two key red lines in the negotiations, and has said both must end on the day that Britain leaves the EU.
However she wants the UK to maintain single market access for up to three years beyond March 2019 – something eurocrats have insisted is impossible as it would effectively give Britain a privileged status above their own members.
And addressing the EU’s social affairs committee, Mr Verhofstadt said: “There is now, I think, more and more recognition of the need of a transitional deal. What will be the substance of this transition deal has to be discussed.
“I think that the more and more time we lose in the coming months, the more and more it’s clear that the transition period can only be the prolongation of the existing situation, of the status quo, because you can not imagine in a few weeks’ or months’ time a new system.”
The Brexit point man expressed frustration at the “very slow” progress in the talks so far, adding that he was pessimistic on the possibility of trade talks between the two parties opening in October as previously planned.
Under the EU’s rigid negotiating structure “sufficient progress” – as determined by the EU27 leaders – needs to be made on divorce issues such as citizens’ rights, the financial settlement and Ireland before a new relationship can be discussed.
Mr Verhofstadt told MEPs in Brussels: “Our point of view is that first of all we need sufficient progress on the withdrawal agreement before we can enter in the discussion about the future relationship and we don’t think at this moment we have sufficient progress on the issues of the withdrawal.”
He called for “further clarity” on the Brexit bill and gloomily added: “Mainly what we expect from the UK side is they react to the paper the EU Commission has published on the financial settlement and the legal basis for it.
“How do UK react on what is in my opinion obvious that is that if there are a number of legal obligations these legal obligations create a number of financial duties that has to be taken into account.
“I think if it goes very slow as is the case for the moment it will be very difficult to say that there is sufficient progress when we are in October.”
UK officials today gave their European counterparts a presentation containing their legal response to the bloc’s position paper on the financial settlement, but Britain has thus far flatly refused to lay out its own opinion on how such a bill should be calculated.