European Parliament Brexit coordinator accuses Theresa May of ‘opportunistic power grab’ over general election

Ben Kentish
Guy Verhofstadt said it was ‘nonsense’ to suggest the election would Theresa May a stronger hand during Brexit negotiations: Getty

The European Parliament’s Brexit chief has accused Theresa May of a “power grab” motivated by “opportunism” after the Prime Minister decided to call an early general election.

Guy Verhofstadt, the Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, dismissed Ms May’s claim that an election was needed to enable her to secure a better deal with the EU as “nonsensical”.

“What has been billed as a ‘Brexit election’ is an attempted power grab by the Tories, who wish to take advantage of a Labour party in seeming disarray to secure another five years of power before the reality of Brexit bites,” Mr Verhofstadt wrote in The Observer.

“Will the election of more Tory MPs give May a greater chance of securing a better Brexit deal? For those sitting around the table in Brussels, this is an irrelevance.

“It appears this election is being driven by the opportunism of the party in government, rather than by the people they represent.”

The former Belgian prime minister said Ms May’s “tough negotiating red lines and her lack of room for manoeuvre” had alienated figures in Brussels and made a trade deal less likely.

Confirming her decision to call for an early election, Ms May claimed that every vote for the Conservatives would “make me stronger when I negotiate for Britain with the European Union”.

Mr Verhofstadt dismissed the claim as “nonsensical”.

“We can only conclude that many British politicians and the media still don’t fathom how article 50 will work”, he added.

“As with the referendum, which many European leaders saw as a Tory cat fight that got out of control, I have little doubt many on the continent see this election as again motivated by the internal machinations of the Tory party.”

The Belgian MEP also appeared to pour cold water on the likelihood of a transitional period during which Britain would retain access to the single market while it attempted to negotiate a trade deal with the EU.

“European leaders are preparing for customs controls to be introduced from Brexit day in March 2019,” he said.

And he accused UK government ministers of being engulfed by a “fog of surrealism”.

Mr Verhofstadt’s article is likely to ruffle feathers in Downing Street ahead of key talks next week between Ms May and Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission.

The two leaders are expected to discuss the timeline for the two-year negotiation process that will conclude with Britain leaving the EU in 2019.