The EU’s most senior official has expressed hopes that Britain could one day rejoin the trading bloc, just days before Prime Minister Theresa May is expected to trigger Article 50.
Speaking at a meeting of European leaders in Brussels, Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker told reporters he wanted to be in the “same boat” as the British and that he hoped they would “re-enter” the vessel.
The comments come amid growing speculation that Mrs My is preparing to give formal notification of Britain’s decision to leave the union next week – potentially as early as Tuesday.
MPs are due to vote on amendments to the Brexit Bill on Monday, and if the Lords accept their changes, legislation paving the way for Article 50 could be signed into law the same night.
The intervention by Mr Juncker came during the second day of an EU summit, which saw the other 27 European leaders meet to discuss the future of the union after the UK leaves.
Appearing alongside European Council president Donald Tusk, he spoke of the resolve of the remaining member states to continue with the European project.
However, he went on to tell journalists that he “[does not] like Brexit because I would like to be in the same boat as the British”.
He added: “The day will come when the British will re-enter the boat, I hope.”
Mrs May was not present for the second day of the council session on Friday, where one of the main topics on the agenda were celebrations to mark the 60th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome.
EU leaders have reportedly warned the UK against overshadowing events scheduled for March 25 by announcing plans to trigger Article 50.
But as the Government’s Brexit Bill returns to the Commons this week, the prospect of any clash with the treaty commemorations looks increasingly unlikely.
MPs will vote on House of Lords amendments to the Bill on Monday, before the legislation is sent back to the Lords for approval in a process known as “ping pong”.
It is widely expected that the Commons will undo the changes, which aim to secure the rights of EU citizens and guarantee Parliament a “meaningful” vote on the final deal. Labour peers initially indicated they would seek to reinstate the changes – potentially delaying the process by another day or two as the Bill is pinged back to the Commons – but it is understood they may now back down.
If there is no further opposition in the Lords, then the Bill will be ready to receive Royal assent by Monday evening or Tuesday morning. And with Mrs May due to deliver a statement to the Commons about her European Council meetings on Tuesday afternoon, some have suggested she will use this opportunity to fire the starting gun for formal Brexit talks.
Speaking at a press conference in Brussels on Thursday night, the Prime Minister restated her commitment to triggering Article 50 by the end of the month.
“It is time to get on with leaving the European Union and building the independent, self-governing, global Britain the British people have called for”,” she said.
She also struck a defiant tone over the issue of so-called divorce payments to the EU.
Following reports that EU figures are putting pressure on the UK to settle the multi-billion pound Bill before talks begin, Mrs May said the British people did not vote to leave the EU in order to keep paying large sums of money into the Brussels budget.
Commenting on claims the Prime Minister will being the formal Brexit process on Tuesday, a Downing Street spokesman said: “We will trigger Article 50 by the end of March.”