German MEP Manfred Weber, chairman of the EPP, said Theresa May’s proposal to seal an implementation period on current membership terms “will not fly” and should be roundly rejected.
He told a press conference in Strasbourg the “copy and paste” model, which has met with approval from other EU leaders, is unacceptable because it would give the UK the same advantages as a member state.
Under Mrs May’s plan, put forward in her Florence speech, Britain will exactly replicate the terms of the Single Market and Customs Union for a two-year period beyond March 2019.
However, the UK will lose its MEPs and Commissioner as well as its seat on the Council once it formally exits the club meaning it will effectively become an EU rule taker for the duration of such an agreement.
This window – which she calls an implementation period and eurocrats label a transition – would allow the two sides to make more extensive progress on the terms of the future partnership.
It is seen by both sides as an acceptable way of ensuring that the UK technically leaves the bloc in 2019, thus delivering Brexit, whilst avoiding a cliff-edge for business and citizens.
But asked about the plan today, Mr Weber said Britain and the EU already have two years to negotiate the divorce which should be long enough to put the framework for a relationship in place.
And he warned that if there is not “substantial” progress on the terms of a trade deal before the Article 50 period runs out there is a risk the UK will crash out without a deal.
The German MEP, whose grouping includes Angela Merkel, Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, is one of the biggest Brexit hardliners in Brussels and has said it is a “good thing” the bloc is preparing for a no-deal scenario.
Today he hold reporters: “I can only say when in March 2019 Britain will leave we will not accept as EPP a treaty which will guarantee to simply copy and paste about all the advantages of the EU membership situation.
“If a country leaves the EU you’re losing the advantages of this union. We can talk about a future arrangement, but we will not accept that you have the same conditions like a member state inside the union.”
Mr Weber said that in the parliament’s view significant progress should be made towards what the final Brexit deal will look like before March 2019, despite the fact experts warn this is impossible.
He said any transitional period should then be about avoiding a cliff edge scenario on “left over” issues yet to be concluded, ensure a smooth exit for Britain out of the bloc.
If EU leaders “sufficient progress” has been made in phase one of the talks at their next summit in December that will leave just a year within which to discuss the future partnership before any deal has to be put before MEPs.
But Mr Weber insisted: “We cannot manage to solve everything in two years’ time, but the transitional period was always seen as the left overs should be copied and pasted.
“Now it seems that nothing will be solved in the next two years and we will simply copy and paste about all the issues and I can only say from our parliament’s point of view that will not fly.
“If there’s no achievement then we’re risking a hard Brexit. We need an outcome in the next two years substantially about the future relationship otherwise we will have big difficulties.”