European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker complains of 'Brexit fatigue'

21 February 2019, 17:18 | Updated: 21 February 2019, 21:13

Perhaps sharing the same thoughts as the British public, European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has admitted he has "Brexit fatigue".

Some 695 days since the UK notified the EU of its intention to leave the bloc - and just 36 days until Britain's scheduled departure - the top Brussels official confessed he was tired of the issue.

Mr Juncker, who met Prime Minister Theresa May on Wednesday night, also described the UK's exit as a "disaster" and revealed he is "not very optimistic" a no-deal Brexit can be avoided.

Speaking at a meeting of the European Economic and Social Committee in Brussels on Thursday, Mr Juncker said: "I didn't intend to address the Brexit issue any more because I have something like a Brexit fatigue, you know?

"Because this is a disaster."

Addressing the turbulence the EU has faced during his four years as president of the European Commission, the Luxembourgish politician added: "I came to Brussels after having served 19 years as prime minister of my country to construct something new.

"Or, at least to maintain the life of what was working, operating.

"And now, when I came here, first we have Greece and we had to make sure that Greece could stay as a member of the EU area."

He added: "Then we had the migration crisis, then we have this Brexit thing.

"This Brexit is deconstruction, it is not construction.

"Brexit is the past, it's not the future. And so we are trying to deliver our best effort in order to have this Brexit being organised in a proper, civilised, well-thought way."

However, despite "constructive" talks with Mrs May on Wednesday, Mr Juncker said he could not rule out the UK leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement.

"We are not there. Because in the British parliament every time they are voting a majority against something," he said.

"There is never a majority in favour of something.

"If no deal would happen, and I can't exclude this, this will have terrible economic and social consequences both in Britain and on the continent.

"And so my efforts are oriented in a way that the worst can be avoided.

"But I am not very optimistic when it comes to this issue."

Mr Juncker and Mrs May held talks over the prime minister's bid to win "legally-binding changes" to the backstop arrangement within her Brexit deal, which was overwhelmingly rejected by MPs last month.

The backstop is aimed at preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland, in the event such a scenario is not averted by a future EU-UK trade relationship.

But many MPs fear it could leave the UK permanently trapped in a customs union with the EU.

The pair are likely to meet again at an EU summit with Arab leaders in Sharm-el-Sheikh, Egypt.

Mr Juncker's comments came on the same day as talks between the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and Attorney General Geoffrey Cox.

A spokesperson for the Department for Exiting the EU said: "They discussed the positions of both sides and agreed to focus on what we can do to conclude a successful deal as soon as possible.

"It was agreed that talks should now continue urgently at a technical level.

"The secretary of state and the Attorney General will discuss again with Michel Barnier early next week.

"The attorney general will also explore legal options with the Commission's team."

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn was also in Brussels on Thursday, where he held separate discussions with Mr Barnier's team.

"The threat of no deal is something that has deeply exercised people throughout the European Union. They are very worried about the consequences of it," Mr Corbyn told reporters after the talks.

"That was conveyed to us in no uncertain terms during the meetings. That is why we are determined to get no deal off the table."