The European Union’s two most senior officials have said "our door remains open" to Britain holding a second referendum which could cancel Brexit amid growing speculation a fresh vote may take place, writes Fiachra Ó Cionnaith.
European Commission president Jean Claude Juncker and European Council president Donald Tusk made the comments after quoting British Brexit secretary David Davis by saying "if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy".
Speaking in Strasbourg, France, before Taoiseach Leo Varadkar on Wednesday comes face-to-face with Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage during a European Parliament debate on the future of the EU, Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk said Britain could still opt to stay.
In a tense discussion which also heard claims Brexit is a "scam" and about little more than "blue passports", the senior officials said they would support a second referendum being held if this is what Britain chooses to do.
"Our door still remains open and I hope that will be heard clearly in London," Mr Juncker told MEPs including Mr Farage, before his views were repeated by Mr Tusk, who added:
"If the UK government sticks to its decision to leave, Brexit will become a reality, with all its negative consequences, in March next year unless there is a change of heart among our British friends.
"Wasn’t it David Davis himself who said ’if a democracy cannot change its mind, it ceases to be a democracy’?"
The clear indication from Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk that the EU would support a second referendum being held comes just days after high-profile Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage said he wanted a fresh vote to increase support to leave the EU.
While British prime minister Theresa May has dismissed the prospect, there is growing speculation in Britain a new vote which could potential cancel Brexit may take place, with British Brexit secretary David Davis and others not ruling out the possible plan.
Meanwhile, during the same debate, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt ridiculed Mr Farage’s sudden interest in a second referendum, mockingly asking his adversary if Mr Juncker had "put something in his coffee or tea" to instigate the change of mind.
Despite further claims from German MEP Manfred Weber, who is the leader of the European Parliament’s largest group the EPP, that Brexit is a "scam" and has only achieved "blue passports", Mr Farage and other pro-Brexit MEPs are likely to hit back at the criticism today.
The response is expected to come during a debate on Wednesday morning on the future of the EU which will be addressed by Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, and which will see Mr Varadkar questioned directly by Mr Farage on Ireland’s Brexit strategy and own future in the EU.
It is expected that Mr Varadkar will use his speech to the European Parliament to stress Ireland’s ongoing commitment to the EU and to underline the need to ensure guarantees there will be no hard border agreed in the first stage of the Brexit negotiations are acted on.
Mr Varadkar is also likely to indicate his backing for Mr Juncker and Mr Tusk’s comments by saying if Britain ultimately decides to seek a second Brexit referendum before its March 2019 divorce from the EU no country should stand in its way.