Britain has inflicted “unnecessary damage” on itself with Brexit but would be warmly welcomed back into the EU at any time, a senior figure in the bloc has said.
Frans Timmermans wrote in a “love letter” to the nation that its long-held Euroscepticism has “kept all of us in better shape”.
But he warned of his fear that “more” damage will follow when the UK officially leaves the EU on 31 January 2020.
The European Commission’s vice president said his love for the country was fostered while studying in a British international school in Rome but he now feels like a spurned “old lover” over the split.
“You have decided to leave – it breaks my heart, but I respect that decision,” he wrote in an open letter sent to The Guardian.
“You were in two minds about it, like you have always been in two minds about the EU.
“I wish you had stuck to that attitude, it served you well and it kept all of us in better shape.
“Was it necessary to force the issue? Not at all. But you did. And the sad thing is, I see it is hurting you.
“Because the two minds will still be there, even after you have left. In the process so much unnecessary damage has been done to you, and all of us. And I fear more will follow.
“But at the same time I find comfort in the thought that family ties can never really be severed. We’re not going away and you will always be welcome to come back.”
Brexit is much more certain to happen in just over a month’s time, following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s successful election gamble, which returned him the highest number of Tory MPs since the 1980s.
That means his divorce deal bill is almost certain to become law when parliament returns from its Christmas break in January.
Once Brexit happens, the pressure will be on for both sides to broker a trade deal in just 11 months.
Mr Johnson has vowed he will not extend the transition period, which some are concerned means there is still a chance Britain reverts to base-level World Trade Organisation rules with the EU – bringing some significant hikes on tariffs.
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