Katy Balls

European Parliament appoint Guy Verhofstadt as lead Brexit negotiator

European Parliament appoint Guy Verhofstadt as lead Brexit negotiator
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As the government try to work out what 'Brexit means Brexit' really means ahead of triggering Article 50, an announcement today from the European Parliament is likely to send a shiver down the spine of No.10 officials.

Guy Verhofstadt, the MEP and former Belgian Prime Minister, has been appointed as the European Parliament's lead Brexit negotiator. The outspoken Belgian will work with Michel Barnier, who is leading negotiations for the European Commission. Verhofstadt's duties include helping prepare the EP position in the negotiations and -- once Article 50 is triggered -- helping to shape the EP’s negotiating position.

On the surface, this appointment does not appear to be great news for Theresa May. Verhofstadt -- who leads the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe parliamentary group -- was completely opposed to Brexit and compared David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage to 'rats fleeing a sinking ship' after the result. Verhofstadt's outbursts in European Parliament have prompted Syed Kamall to make a rude gesture while his feud with Farage is long-running. This afternoon, the former Ukip leader has been quick off the bat to condemn Verhofstadt's appointment. Farage says he 'can’t think of a man more insulting towards the British, our standing in the world, or even the concept of nation state democracy'.

What's more, today's news could give Nicola Sturgeon's hopes for a second independence referendum a boost. While several Brussels officials have dismissed the idea of Scotland remaining a member of the EU while England and Wales leave, Verhofstadt claimed in June that there was 'no big obstacle' to an independent Scotland joining the EU before Brexit. However, a majority of EU members would still need to back an independent Scotland's membership.

While it remains unclear just what Theresa May will be after in the negotiations, what is clear is that she will have a fight on her hands.