STRASBOURG The Europe Union should treat negotiations with Britain on leaving the European Union as an occasion to make progress rather than take revenge, the European Parliament's Brexit negotiator said on Wednesday.
"Brexit is not a liability, I see it more as an opportunity," liberal leader Guy Verhofstadt told lawmakers in a keynote annual debate on the State of the Union, the first since Britain voted to leave the bloc in June.
"Our duty, our responsibility is to make Brexit a success for Europe, for all citizens of Europe. And it is a possibility to end the dramatic complexity of our institutions.
"Brexit is not a matter of punishment, it's not a matter of revenge," he said, addressing British eurosceptic members who described him as anti-British "fanatic" in his pursuit of a more closely integrated EU.
Nigel Farage, of the UK Independence Party, said Verhofstadt's insistence this week that Britain could not retain access to the EU single market if it did not accept fully free immigration from the EU meant a agreed deal would be unlikely.
Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, said: "Let's stop on both sides of the Channel our collective depression and let's stop the politics of division and cite this opportunity not to kill Europe as some of you want but to reinvent Europe."
Verhofstadt will represent the parliament in negotiations once the British government launches the Brexit process.
Failure to agree a free-trade deal between Britain and the European Union, Farage said, would not damage the British economy as much as those of Germany and other manufacturing countries which export substantial amounts to Britain.
(Reporting by Marilyn Haigh; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and John Stonestreet)