Former European Commission president José Manuel Barroso has said there could be ‘some kind of compromise’ to resolve the Brexit impasse, but warned the UK still faced relegation from the economic Premier League.
The ex-prime minister of Portugal told a conference in London today that the European Council – the EU’s heads of government – had ‘a remarkable capacity to find compromises that seem impossible until they are done’.
But he added that post-Brexit Britain ‘will definitely not be in the Premier League of global economic relevance where we find today the United States, China and the European Union’.
Speaking at an event organised by TV channel Euronews, Barroso, who was president of the Commission for 10 years until 2014, said that the current roadblock was ‘above all the result of the fact that, in this country, probably the strongest parliamentary democracy in the world, there was a majority to saying no in the referendum, but there is not a majority to say yes to any specific solution’.
He said: ‘It’s very difficult to combine the binary choice of the referendum, yes or no to something, with the multiple choices that in politics, as well as in life in general, we have to do.
‘It is true that there has been an agreement between the UK government and the 27 other governments of the European Union. So, technically speaking, the problem is not so much the negotiation between the European Union and the UK but in the relationship of the UK with itself.
‘Indeed – and this is quite remarkable – among 28 countries, 27 have so far shown more unity than the other one.’
But he added that the current difficulties of British politics ‘should not be a source of satisfaction or any kind of schadenfreude’.
He said: ‘As it stands today the default option is a hard Brexit. That will be a lose-lose situation.
‘I personally think there is still a role for some negotiation. While I fully understand that the European Union 27 will not reopen the withdrawal agreement, one of the things I’ve learned in Brussels is that, while it’s very difficult for the European Union to reach an agreement, it’s even more difficult, when there is one, to change it.
‘I believe it is possible, with some creativity and imagination… to find some kind of compromise. It’s far from certain, but we should try, at least the European Union should avoid to be the wrong side of the blame game if things go wrong.
‘I know from experience that the European Council has a remarkable capacity to find compromises that seem impossible until they are done.’
Earlier in the conference, Barroso said he was convinced ‘there will be no country more important for the European Union than the UK’.
He said: ‘I also believe there will be no relationship more important for the UK than the one with the European Union.
‘Negative effects there will certainly be. The UK wields a great deal of its influence through the European Union and the European Union, whether you like it or not, is simply one of the three most important economic poles in the world today.
‘While not always seen as special here, a member of the so-called core Europe, the UK has been in the leading position when we had to take decisions in matters from trade to climate change, from the internal market, financial services and economic reform to strategic relations with our main partners or competitors.
‘With the possible exception of the Euro area, there was not a single major policy of the European Union where the UK was not in the driving seat.
‘Certainly, the UK will remain a very important economy. But in terms of dimension, and dimension matters when it comes to real power in an age of globalisation, it will definitely not be in the Premier League of global economic relevance where we find today the United States, China and the European Union.’
He said that, viewing the current state of negotiations, it was a mistake to focus so heavily on the withdrawal agreement rather than a future political settlement.
‘If you look now at the current state of negotiations, it is clear that the sequencing was not the right one,’ he said.
‘Instead of focusing our minds on the end result – what kind of relationship in the future, from political and strategic cooperation to technology – we have been getting stuck in issues that, important as they are, they divert attention from our main objective.
‘And the objective should be to have relations as close as possible between the UK and the European Union.’