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EU Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt: "Time pressure was to our benefit, the new is deal is what we proposed 3 years ago" 

Speaking in the VRT's morning radio show "De ochtend", Guy Verhofstadt looked back on the new Brexit deal, saying "the new accord which is now on the table is actually our original proposal from almost 3 years ago". He also said Boris Johnson was prepared to make concessions because of the time pressure, which was different from Theresa May's timeframe. 

Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian PM and now a member of the European Parliament, is the Brexit coordinator for the European Parliament. When the Flemish liberal was asked whether this is a good deal for the EU, he answered that "this proposal is the one we made some three years ago with regards to Northern Ireland, in order to avoid a resurgence of the violence in the region."

"But what Theresa May did not want to accept at that time, because she didn't want to break her ties with the DUP, had to be accepted by Boris Johnson now, so close to the deadline. All the principles put forward by the EU, were safeguarded." 

The 'Hilary Ben Act' put the pressure on Boris Johnson and made our position as Europeans stronger

May also had several deadlines, but this one is different, explains Mr Verhofstadt. Since then, the 'Hilary Ben Act' has been introduced. Under this "Benn Act", Mr Johnson would be required to request a three-month Brexit delay unless he can pass a deal or get MPs to approve a no-deal exit by 19 October.

"This has changed things completely. To be honest, I thought it would not come to a deal. But this 'Ben Act' obliged Johnson to clinch one, and this strengthened out position as Europeans, to return to the first proposal. Under the new accord, we see that Northern Ireland remains in the European Customs Union, also where part of the taxes are concerned." 

Mr Verhofstadt estimates that "Boris Johnson made the U-turn - especially with regards to Northern Ireland - because he realised a no-deal Brexit would be an absolute catastrophe, and it would be bad for him to have to stage a general election in this atmosphere. I think this prospect played a major role."  

Boris Johnson made a U-turn because he and the British government realised a no-deal Brexit would be an absolute catastrophe

Will the EU allow a new delay if requested by Boris Johnson? Yes, if one condition can be met

Nobody knows whether Boris Johnson will find a majority in Parliament to back his deal, but one thing is for sure. Things wil have to go fast, because after a possible approval by the British MP's on Saturday, the deal has to be ratified officially as well.

Mr Verhofstadt added that if things would falter and Johnson would have to ask for new delay, the EU will only accept a new delay if there is a clear path to break the deadlock. "This could be a general election in Britain, a pathway to a second referendum or the withdrawal of the article 50 (on the basis of which Brexit started)." It's up to the European Council to make a decision.