By Alastair Macdonald
VALLETTA (Reuters) - The prime minister of Malta, who will oversee the launch of Britain's negotiations to leave the EU, warned on Wednesday that the European Parliament could "scuttle" any Brexit deal and must be involved in talks.
Joseph Muscat, whose government has the presidency of European Union ministerial councils until June, told a news conference he had rarely seen EU member states as united as they were in preparing to negotiate a deal he said must not leave Britain in a better position than it is in now as a member.
Muscat, whose tiny country is a former British colony and traditional ally of London in Brussels, said he could not see that unity among the other 27 breaking down once British Prime Minister Theresa May launches negotiations by March.
But he warned that the parliament, whose members will be campaigning for re-election in mid-2019 by the time they are asked to ratify whatever agreement is struck among the member states, posed a risk to completion of the deal.
"I do see it as a real concern that a parliament on the eve of a European Parliament election might be in a mood to scuttle the whole deal as good as that deal might be. So I would look forward to the European Parliament to be onboard and kept privy to some of the negotiations."
That is an argument which parliamentary leaders have used themselves in pressing for a full role in negotiating with Britain - something the states and the executive European Commission has resisted. They agreed last month to keep the lawmakers informed but that has disappointed the legislature.
Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, speaking alongside Muscat, said the EU needed to show that the departure of Britain did not mean the end of European integration.
"If are considering the Brexit case as the beginning of the end, we would make a major mistake," he said.
(Reporting By Alastair Macdonald; additional reporting by Philip Blenkinsop and Jan Strupczewski)