Guy Verhofstadt: UK cross-party effort could stop Brexit

A majority of British people ‘want a deeper relationship with Europe,’ the Belgian liberal MEP said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s “Mr. Brexit,” is holding out hope that a cross-party group of British lawmakers will stop Britain crashing out of the EU without a deal and potentially help trigger a second referendum.

“I see an evolution. There is a desire in some quarters, such as the backbenchers, to take an approach that goes beyond those taken by the British parties,” Verhofstadt told Belgian newspapers L’Echo et De Tijd in an interview published Saturday. “Will they succeed in getting a majority? We have to wait until next week. But I hope so.”

The “massive rejection” of Theresa May’s Brexit agreement in the U.K. parliament is proof that “a majority of Brits want a deeper relationship with Europe,” according to Verhofstadt.

The Belgian liberal MEP conceded it was still unclear whether Labour and Conservative MPs could overcome their differences to side-step a no-deal Brexit, not to mention stop Brexit altogether, adding that “it seems that the parties’ interests are more important than the country’s.”

He also reiterated that both sides could only move forward if the British shifts its red lines.

“The European Union is ready to continue working on the political declaration about future relations with the U.K.,” he said. “We are ready to agree to a closer relationship. A customs union, a single market — all that to avoid damage and find a solution in which the Irish backstop will never have to be used, even if the most pessimistic scenario.”

Verhofstadt also said the EU institutions will adopt about 20 urgent measures in the coming weeks “to protect the interests of [EU] citizens” as well as transport companies, airlines and the fishing industry. “It’s not up to European citizens to pay for the costs of Brexit,” he said.

Two arrested over Gatwick drone disruption

Draft drone bill delayed as civil servants focus on Brexit, the Times reports.

British police Saturday said they have detained two suspects following drone interference at Gatwick airport that let to partial shutdowns of the U.K.’s second-largest airport.

Sussex police said the arrests, made just after 10 p.m. Friday, form part of an “ongoing investigations into the criminal use of drones which has severely disrupted flights in and out of Gatwick Airport.”

Authorities did not release further details on the two persons arrested.

Drone sightings Wednesday night saw severe disruption to the airport’s activities as flights were suspended for security reasons. Flights resumed Friday morning but were suspended again that afternoon, restarting around 7 p.m. Friday, police said.

The Times Saturday reported that U.K. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling this year ditched plans for a draft bill to regulate drone use and develop technology to prevent them from being used near airports.

The outlet reported the legislation “had been due for publication in the spring, [but] was dropped amid pressures on the department, with civil servants diverted to work on Brexit.”

The British Airline Pilots’ Association said Friday it “remains extremely concerned at the risk of a drone collision,” and had issued advice to pilots on how to respond to a drone sighting.

Gatwick airport said Saturday: “Our runway is open. Passengers are advised to check with their airline before travelling to the airport.”


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Chris Grayling: Here at Transport, we’re getting ready for Brexit – whatever happens. But here’s why I’m backing May’s deal.

If I had been offered this before the referendum in 2016, I would have seen it as a much better alternative to the status quo inside the EU,

Chris Grayling is Secretary of State for Transport, and MP for Epsom and Ewell.

Last week, the UK and the US signed a new aviation agreement which will cement the air links between us once the UK leaves the EU. The agreement secures the existing air links, and sets out the ways in which new operators can enter the market in future. We have worked closely with airlines on both sides of the Atlantic to make sure we get this deal right.

Then at the weekend, we also concluded our agreement with Canada, sorting out the last significant one of our non-EU aviation links after Brexit. Within Europe, both the European Commission and other member states have been clear that there will be an aviation agreement regardless of the broader agreement – so people can feel free to book their holidays next year without any concern to countries both inside and outside the European Union.

We’re also carrying on with detailed preparation for all eventualities after Brexit. We are making provision to ease the pressure on Dover and Calais if there are customs hold ups after we leave. We are making sure British motorists have easy access to international driving licences if they are needed.

But none of us want that to happen – and certainly not the thousands of small businesses who operate in the transport field. They want a deal, and a smooth transition to the world outside the EU.

So now the focus is on delivering that broader EU exit agreement. I campaigned for Brexit in 2016, and I have not changed my view that Britain is better outside the EU, but remaining good friends and neighbours with our current EU partners. My reason for campaigning to leave was that I believe further EU integration to be necessary and inevitable if the Eurozone is to survive in the long term, and I do not believe that it is right for the UK to give up more and more of our national sovereignty.

But I am absolutely clear that the country did not vote to sever ties with our neighbours or to leave on bad terms. I believe that virtually everyone would wish to continue good relations with those countries.

For centuries, Britain has been an outward-facing, global, trading nation. In the post-Brexit world that is particularly important for all of us. Our goal is to remain good friends and neighbours with our EU partners, but also to ensure that we build and deepen ties around the world.

Good aviation links are vital if we are to achieve that. It’s why we are moving ahead with the expansion of Heathrow. It’s why we have given regional airports greater freedom to develop expanded links. And it’s why we have made sorting out updated aviation agreements to cover life outside the EU a priority.

A lot of the focus right now is on the Prime Minister, and her work to secure backing for the deal. But the British public, and Conservative MPs, should not forget the disgraceful behaviour of the Labour Party over all of this.

When I campaigned round the country for Leave, I was as warmly welcomed in Labour heartlands as in traditional Conservative areas.

Jeremy Corbyn is letting those people down, trapped as he is in a bubble of fellow travellers within the champagne socialism of a certain clique in Islington. They will not forgive him if he votes to keep free movement of people and unlimited immigration. They will not forgive him if he leaves the UK obliged to sign up to new EU laws in future. They will not forgive him if he leaves our fisheries open to all comers.

The Labour leader was always a Leaver. He claims to be a man of principle. But he’s abandoning Brexit for Party political reasons. And it will also be the final sign for millions of traditional Labour voters that their party has once and for all abandoned them.

I believe that we now need to get on with leaving the EU in March, but also to make sure we do so on good terms.

The main challenge from opponents of the current deal is focused on the backstop in it. This is a temporary arrangement that could be used if there was a delay to the final trade deal after 2020. But it is not intended to be a permanent arrangement, and both we and the EU have been clear about that. It would also be unworkable for the EU for any length of time – it would mean every time they wanted to change their laws, they would do so in the knowledge that we had no obligation to do the same, and that our business might be more competitive as a result. That is not a position that they could accept for any length of time.

The agreement which we are being asked to consider as MPs ends the free movement of people, ends the role of the European Court in the UK, leaves the Common Agricultural Policy and the Common Fisheries Policy, and means that we are no longer required to adopt EU laws. We have agreed to maintain, for example, high environmental and social standards – but that’s something we would want to do anyway. If I had been offered this before the referendum in 2016, I would have seen it as a much better alternative to the status quo inside the EU, where we have little control over many of these things and where more and more integration is inevitable. So we need to get behind the Prime Minister.