BRUSSELS The European Parliament could block a Brexit deal for Britain if EU leaders exclude lawmakers from the negotiating process, its outgoing speaker warned on Thursday as the legislature pushes for a bigger role in the talks.
In a tweet as he addressed the European Council summit of the national leaders behind closed doors, Martin Schulz said: "Council’s attempt to sideline EP on Brexit would risk seriously imperilling EP's ability to give consent to final agreement."
He earlier told reporters he was "really surprised" by a draft plan for negotiations with London, which Britain's 27 EU partners are due to agree over a post-summit dinner. Parliament must ratify any divorce deal needed to ensure an orderly Brexit.
Taking a dig at European Council President Donald Tusk, Schulz said: "Tusk until today has not yet understood the European Parliament is not an obstacle, but it is a partner on the same equal footing like the other institutions."
The jostling for influence among the EU institutions is a familiar part of the politics of Brussels and the 751-seat, directly elected Parliament has frequently been an irritant to national governments as it seeks to expand its powers.
However, the squabbling highlights the difficulties the EU may have in maintaining a common front in talks with London.
Under the draft EU plan, seen by Reuters, the executive European Commission would run negotiations with Britain, under guidelines set by the Council, representing the other member states. Council representatives would also "be present and participate, in a supporting role, in all negotiation sessions".
The Parliament would merely be kept "closely and regularly informed throughout the negotiation", the draft says.
The Commission's negotiator is Frenchman Michel Barnier.
A senior EU official involved in planning for a process which British Prime Minister Theresa May says she will launch by late March said lawmakers would give their input regularly.
"But in the negotiations proper, this is not for the legislature," he said. "We have a union negotiator, we need to show we trust him, otherwise he will be a weak negotiator."
On Wednesday, former Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt, who is Parliament's point man on Brexit, said he could launch separate talks with London if the Council freezes him out.
Verhofstadt, who proposes giving Britons "associate EU citizenship", said he had a "useful meeting" on Thursday with May: "European Parliament and UK will work closely towards a fair agreement in the interest of all EU citizens," he tweeted.
(Writing by Alastair Macdonald)