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Juncker says would like Britain to rejoin EU after Brexit

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Strasbourg (France) (AFP)

European Commission chief Jean-Claude Juncker said on Wednesday he would welcome any British attempt to rejoin the EU after Brexit, as Brussels jumped on speculation about a second referendum.

Juncker's comment about possible re-accession comes a day after European Council President Donald Tusk said that the bloc's "hearts were still open" if Britain decided to change its mind about leaving the EU.

Top EU officials have made a series of remarks about Britain reversing its decision since leading Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage floated the idea of a new vote following the June 2016 Brexit referendum.

Juncker, who heads the EU's powerful executive arm, said Brexit was a "catastrophe" and a "lose-lose situation both for the British and members of the European Union."

"Mr Tusk says our hands remain outstretched. If the British wish to find another way than Brexit, we are then ready to talk about it," Juncker told the European Parliament in Strasbourg.

"I did note that in London there was a rather irritated response to this proposal, but even if the British leave according to article 50 (of the EU's treaties), there is as well an article 49, which allows rejoining. I would like that," he added.

"And I would like that we treat each other now in a reasonable way and do not try to outmanoeuvre each other."

British Prime Minister Theresa May's spokesman on Tuesday ruled out a second vote.

Britain voted for Brexit by 52 percent to 48 percent in a referendum in June 2016, stunning the world and deeply worrying the EU as it confronted a series of other crises.

Britain and the EU reached a deal in principle on separation issues in December, and are due to start talks next month on a short transition period after Britain's departure in March 2019.

Talks on future relations -- including the all-important issue of a possible trade deal, and how closely Britain will stay allied to the EU's single market and customs union -- are not due to start until April.

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