Jean-Claude Juncker trolled Boris Johnson over the bitter row over suspending the Commons today – saying the European Parliament is ‘open and in action’.
The EU commission chief delivered the jibe as he gave a speech to MEPs in Strasbourg updating them on the Brexit process.
Mr Juncker said his lunch with Boris Johnson in Luxembourg this week had been ‘friendly’, but he warned he could not ‘look you in the eye and tell you progress has been achieved’.
Amid heckling from Brexit Party politicians, he insisted he was ready to work ‘day and night’ to get an agreement with the UK, but warned that the risk of No Deal was ‘palpable’.
A series of federalist MEPs rose to put the boot in over the decision to prorogue the UK Parliament until next month – the subject of a titanic legal showdown in the Supreme Court this week.
Guy Verhofstadt insisted Brexiteers could never again say that the European Parliament was undemocratic in light of the row.
And German MEP Manfred Weber taunted that Britain’s crisis was helping to show European voters that leaving the bloc is a ‘stupid idea’.
‘It’s not Britain that is leaving the EU… jobs and business have been leaving the UK,’ he said.
The grim assessment comes with negotiations over Brexit on a knife edge, as Mr Johnson tries to overhaul the package thrashed out by Theresa May.
Addressing MEPs in Strasbourg today, Jean-Claude Juncker said his lunch with Boris Johnson in Luxembourg this week had been ‘friendly’, but he warned he could not ‘look you in the eye and tell you progress has been achieved’
Brexit Party MEPS were out in force for the debate in the European Parliament today
Nigel Farage (left) greeted Mr Juncker warmly before the lively debate kicked off today
The PM has insisted the Irish border backstop must be deleted – with UK official proposing a much looser arrangement with measures to minimise friction at the line between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Mr Juncker told MEPs: ‘I said to Prime Minister Johnson that I have no emotional attachment to the safety net, to the backstop, but I stated that I stand by the objectives that it is designed to achieve.
What happens next in the Brexit crisis?
Here is how the coming weeks could pan out:
Today: Supreme Court continues to hear case on whether prorogation of Parliament was illegal.
September 21-25: Labour conference in Brighton, PM at UN summit in New York.
September 29-October 2: Tory conference takes place in Manchester, with Mr Johnson giving his first keynote speech as leader on the final day. This will be a crucial waypointer on how Brexit talks are going.
October 14: Unless it has already been recalled following the court battle, Parliament is due to return with the Queen’s Speech – the day before Mr Johnson had hoped to hold a snap election.
October 17-18: A crunch EU summit in Brussels, where Mr Johnson has vowed he will try to get a Brexit deal despite Remainers ‘wrecking’ his negotiating position.
October 19: If there is no Brexit deal by this date Remainer legislation obliges the PM to beg the EU for an extension to avoid No Deal.
October 21: Decisive votes on the Queen’s Speech, which could pave the way for a confidence vote.
October 31: The current deadline for the UK to leave the EU.
November/December: An election looks inevitable, but Labour is hinting it might push the date back towards Christmas to humiliate the PM.
‘That is why I called on the Prime Minister to come forward with operational proposals, in writing, for practical steps which would allow us to achieve those objectives.
‘Until such time as those proposals have been presented I will not be able to tell you, looking you straight in the eye, that any real progress has been achieved.’
He added: ‘Over the past years, the EU has shown great unity of purpose in the Brexit negotiations. Great solidarity with those Member States most affected.
‘Unity is our most precious resource and our greatest asset. It will continue to guide me over the next weeks.’
Mr Juncker said there was ‘very little time remaining’ to find a way through the impasse.
‘The commission is prepared to work day in day out, morning until night – with a few breaks – to try to find the technical and political solutions we need but I am not sure that we will get there,’ he said.
‘There is very little time remaining but what I do know is that we have to keep trying.’
The EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier warned against playing down the impact of No Deal.
‘I would recommend nobody underestimates the consequences of no-deal for UK first and foremost, but for us as well,’ he said. ‘The consequences of No Deal are not theoretical. They are considerable.’
Mr Barnier said the EU needed to hear more from the UK side about its proposals for replacing the Northern Ireland backstop.
‘The position of the European Union has never been an ideological one. It has always been a pragmatic one,’ he said.
‘The new UK Government this week in Luxembourg outlined the aspects of the backstop they don’t like.
‘That is not enough, however, to move towards achieving a solution, We need a legally operative solution in the Withdrawal Agreement which addresses each one of the risks created by Brexit.’
Mr Juncker trolled that the European Parliament was ‘open’ – although there were swathes of empty seats for the session in Strasbourg this morning