Britain is welcome to change its mind and remain in the European Union, but can only stay on poorer terms, a senior EU official has said.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, said that Brexit can be halted, but if Britain reversed course it should not expect to keep getting its EU budget rebates or opt-outs from key EU rules.
He told the parliament: “Yesterday, Emmanuel Macron, the new French president, spoke about an open door. That if Britain changes its mind it would find an open door.
“I agree. But like Alice in Wonderland, not all the doors are the same.
“It will be a brand new door, with a new Europe, a Europe without rebates, without complexity, with real powers and with unity.”
The liberal former prime minister of Belgium is a supporter of much closer integration in the EU, with national governments handing over more powers to Brussels.
Like many in the bloc, Mr Verhofstadt has long been critical of the rebate that then-prime minister Margaret Thatcher secured in the 1980s, which means Britain gets about half of its EU budget contributions back.
Britain also enjoys opt-outs from elements of the EU, including from ever joining the euro currency.
Mr Verhofstadt’s comments echo remarks made by Mr Macron on Tuesday at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May.
He said: “Of course the door remains open, always open until the Brexit negotiations come to an end.”
He added: “That being said, a sovereign decision was taken by the British people and that is to come out of the European Union and I very much respect the decisions taken by the people, be it by the French people or the British people.
“As a matter of fact in this case it’s not for me to say whether or not this decision should be questioned – the decision to leave the European Union – but until the negotiations come to an end, of course there is always the possibility to reopen the door.
“But let us be clear and organised and once the negotiations have started we should be well aware that it’ll be more difficult to move backwards.”
Mrs May has come under pressure in the wake of the shock election result to moderate her approach to Brexit, with the loss of her majority seen as a rejection of her intention to take Britain out of the single market, exit the customs union and end freedom of movement from the continent.
Speaking alongside Mr Macron, the PM said: “We have been very clear we want to maintain a close relationship and a close partnership with the EU and individual member states into the future, including in the areas we’ve discussed this evening.
“And I confirmed to President Macron that the timetable for the Brexit negotiation remains on course and will begin next week.”
Mrs May said the election revealed “a unity of purpose” among British voters for the Government to get on with Brexit.
Brexit minister Steve Baker said he does not “foresee any change” in the Government’s approach to leaving.
The prominent Eurosceptic said: “The reality is, where we stand follows logically from leaving.
“So if we are leaving, what we need to do is do it smoothly and successfully and gain economic benefit.
“If we are having economic benefit that means we need to be able to control our trade policy. So that’s where I think we should be.”
Pressed on the issue of the customs union he said: “These are decisions which the Government will have to take, but I’m quite clear and I’ve made my position public in the past.”