Video: Europe on a 'Brexit break' dealing with more important matters, says EC President
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said Europe is now on a 'Brexit break' after last week's Article 50 extension and can focus on more important matters like international trade and the everyday business of the European Union.
Addressing the European Parliament in Strasbourg this morning he said: "We are focusing on the very many other issues for our union. We are focusing on our positive agenda."
Mr. Juncker, who stands down as European Commission chief on October 31, 2019, which, coincidentally, is the new ultimate Article 50 deadline, added: "We have made sure that we do not need to discuss Brexit every other week and have given the United Kingdom the time and space to find a way out of the impasse.
"We have learned to pay a lot of attention to the House of Commons over the last months but let me be very clear on Brexit. Nothing can be decided against the views of this house of European democracy.
"Nothing can be decided on Brexit without taking full account of the position of the European Parliament."
Mr. Juncker said the fresh Article 50 extension meant Europe's leaders could get on with planned talks in Romania on the EU's strategic future in May, the election of a new parliament, also in May, the agreement of a new multi-annual financial framework by October, the appointment of new Council and Commission presidents and ongoing international trade talks with China, the United States and others.
"All of that, to be honest, is far more important than what is happening around Brexit. Europe will go on," he said.
The European Council President Donald Tusk, meanwhile, defended his support for a long 'flextension' that allows the United Kingdom until October 31, 2019, to either ratify its Withdrawal Agreement with the EU or come up with a viable alternative.
He said the extension had given the UK more 'time and space' to find a way out of its Brexit quandary.
Mr. Tusk said: "It is clear to everyone that there will be no reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement.
"However to facilitate the ratification process the EU is ready to reconsider the political declaration on the future relationship if the UK position were to evolve."
He added: "Everyone is exhausted by Brexit. That's completely understandable. However it is not an excuse to say let's get it over with just because we are tired.
"We must continue to deal with Brexit with an open mind and in a civilised manner."
Mr. Juncker and Mr. Tusk both said it was possible the UK would still leave before October 31.
For instance, in the unlikely event of the UK not holding EU elections and not ratifying a deal with Europe the UK will legally leave the EU on May 31.
Alternatively, if the Withdrawal Agreement is ratified, the UK will automatically leave the EU on the first day of the month thereafter.
Mr. Juncker said Article 50 may be revoked by the UK before October 31 but indicated that this was not his "working hypothesis" of how things would play out.
The outgoing Commission President vowed that in any case there would not be another Article 50 extension beyond then.
Mr. Tusk said he still believed Brexit may still be averted, revealing that one of the EU 27 leaders at last week's Council meeting had "warned us not to be dreamers, that we shouldn't think that Brexit could be reversed".
"I didn't respond at the time but today in front of you I would like to say, at this rather difficult moment in our history, we need dreamers and dreams.
"We cannot give in to fatalism. At least I will not start dreaming about a better and united Europe."
Guy Verhofstadt, Chief Brexit Co-Ordinator in the European Parliament, however, castigated Mr. Tusk and his allies for allowing the UK a long, rather than a short extension to Article 50.
He said he feared that this will result in the "Brexit mess" being imported into the European Union and that it will help "poison the upcoming European election".
Mr. Verhofstadt suggested that in Great Britain the Conservative Party and the Labour Party will be "wiped out" in that election unless they make a "cross-party deal now".
He said that "instead of killing Brexit" the extension may "end up killing Europe".