Britain’s exit from the EU is a “waste of time and energy”, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit co-ordinator has said.
Guy Verhofstadt insisted he respected the outcome of the referendum but quitting the bloc was a “very negative project”.
However, the shock move has fuelled a resurgence in the popularity of the union on the continent, the former prime minister of Belgium claimed.
He said: “I continue to believe that Brexit is a very negative project, that it is, in fact, a waste of time and energy.
“The destruction of a strong political bond that made people on both sides of the Channel richer, freer than ever before.”
Mr Verhofstadt said he hoped the EU and UK could establish a new relationship that “hopefully will be beneficial for everybody”.
He added: “Since Brexit I see that the mood has reversed, in a certain way the European Union regained popularity.
“People are less critical now of the union but they want to reform Europe, not to leave Europe, not to destroy it.”
Mocking Theresa May’s political frailty as speculation about her future continues, Mr Verhofstadt joked the Prime Minister had chosen to make her speech on Brexit in Florence because she felt at home in a city with a history of political plotting and back-stabbing.
Mr Verhofstadt said it was surreal to be giving a speech on the future of the EU in Britain.
“But then Prime Minister May gave her speech on Brexit in a European city, in Florence,” he said. “I know why Theresa May gave her speech in Florence, I presume that I know it.
“She chose Florence because Florentine politics in the 15th century made her feel at home I think – backstabbing, betrayal, noble families fighting for power and so on. So, I think it is an environment that she recognised very well.”
The Prime Minister has said the UK will honour its commitments under the EU budget to 2020, thought to be around £18 billion (20 billion euro) so no other EU country will “pay more or receive less” as a result of Brexit.
But Mr Verhofstadt said Britain’s financial obligations to the EU could run beyond the end of the budget period.
He said: “Everybody knows that if you have made a commitment in 2019, or 2018 or 2020, it can create and produce payments that are going off 2020.
“That’s one of the first lessons I learned when I become minister of budget, the difference between a commitment and a payment.
“A commitment, you do it in one year but the payment, or the consequences of that commitment, will go over that year of the commitment. Not always, but mostly. It’s not solved, it’s not solved at all.”
Mr Verhofstadt said it was his “assumption” that a Brexit deal would be done.