European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker cited the EU treaty’s Article 49, which invites any European state that respects the bloc’s values to apply for accession and precedes Article 50 governing the process for leaving. Photo: Reuters
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker cited the EU treaty’s Article 49, which invites any European state that respects the bloc’s values to apply for accession and precedes Article 50 governing the process for leaving. Photo: Reuters

European Union opens door for UK return to the block

A day after urging British govt to reverse Brexit before it happens in March 2019, EC president Jean-Claude Juncker said the UK can always re-apply for membership after departing

Strasbourg, France: European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker offered a new twist in his campaign to keep Britain part of the EU.

A day after urging British Prime Minister Theresa May to reverse Brexit before it happens in March 2019, the head of the European Union’s executive arm said the UK can always re-apply for membership after departing. Juncker cited the EU treaty’s Article 49, which invites any European state that respects the bloc’s values to apply for accession and precedes Article 50 governing the process for leaving.

“We are not throwing the British out, we would like the British to stay, and if they so wish, they should be allowed to do so," Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on Wednesday. “Even if the British leave under Article 50, then Article 49 would allow them to accede again, and I would be happy to facilitate that."

His comments echoed calls by European Council president Donald Tusk for the British to reconsider their decision. They reveal a consensus across the EU that Brexit is a colossal mistake for the UK, a major headache for the continent and a choice that Britons could reverse if only they can muster the political courage.

Brexit is “lose-lose situation" and a “catastrophe that we all have to live with the consequences of," Juncker said. If the British government wants to chart another course, “we are very much willing to deal with them," he said.

EU officials have been emboldened by a signal last week from Nigel Farage, one of the protagonists of the Brexit campaign that helped persuade 52% of UK voters in 2016 to opt for leaving the bloc, that he would support a second referendum.

Saying he wanted to settle the question for a generation and silence the growing voices calling for Brexit to be abandoned, Farage tweeted on 11 January to his 1.1 million followers: “Maybe, just maybe, we should have a second referendum."

On Wednesday in Strasbourg, Farage was firmer. He said “I don’t want a second referendum on Brexit, absolutely not" while predicting that any such British ballot would uphold the result of the first.

On Tuesday, May insisted she wouldn’t be reversing Brexit. In a call with Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz, May “confirmed that the government will respect the decision taken by the British public to leave the EU," a statement from her office said. Bloomberg

Close