Monday 26 September 2016

EU gets personal as Farage and Boris told they're 'not patriots'

Sarah Collins

Published 06/07/2016 | 02:30

The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
The European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker at a debate in the European Parliament in Strasbourg yesterday. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images

It was briefcases at dawn in the European Parliament yesterday as the post-Brexit recriminations wore on. EU politicians turned nasty as they aired their frustrations at the UK's decision to quit the bloc and revelled in the political implosion in the Leave camp.

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"The Brexiteers, they remind me of rats fleeing a sinking ship," said former Belgian premier Guy Verhofstadt, who leads the parliament's liberal group.

Former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images
Former leader of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP) Nigel Farage. Photo: FREDERICK FLORIN/AFP/Getty Images

"Cameron resigned, Johnson abandoned and Farage wants more time for himself and his family to spend his European salary," he told a European Parliament meeting in Strasbourg the day after Ukip leader Nigel Farage stepped down as party chief.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said that the UK had "collapsed politically, economically, monetarily and constitutionally" and would take years to recover.

The Conservative Party has been riven by the referendum result, with five candidates emerging as challengers to Prime Minister David Cameron now that former London Mayor Boris Johnson has relinquished his leadership bid.

The two frontrunners are thought to be Home Secretary Theresa May and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom.

"The last man standing in Britain will be a woman," Mr Verhofstadt quipped. "It shall be like in the time of Margaret Thatcher - only a woman is capable [of managing] a divided Tory party."

Things got more personal as Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker attacked Mr Johnson and Mr Farage for being anti-patriotic. "The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sacked Brexit heroes of today," Mr Juncker said. "They are retro-nationalists, not patriots. Patriots don't resign when things get difficult. They stay."

Noticeably absent from the debate was Mr Farage, who last week gloated over the UK referendum result and hurled insults at his MEP colleagues.

But he promises to be back in Strasbourg today, where he will meet the press to set out his case on how to "get things started" on Brexit. He handed the mantle on Tuesday to Ukip colleague Paul Nuttall, who begged MEPs to "put aside the language of conflict" as the debate turned nastier.

Emotions are running high in Brussels almost two weeks after the UK decision to quit the EU, with member states at odds over how to run a post-Brexit bloc. Some countries, led by France and Belgium, want to use the UK's exit to push for more integration, but they are being challenged by eastern European states who want to wrest power back from Brussels and away from the EU's six founding countries.

Slovakian premier Robert Fico is to hold a summit in Bratislava in September to reflect on Europe's future, away from Brussels, a city he said had "negative connotations".

Fine Gael MEP Seán Kelly said that, while Ireland was "fully committed to an EU of equals", there should be no more "special meetings of the original six".

Marine Le Pen, the leader of France's far-right National Front, has been buoyed by the Brexit result and urged the EU to "change or die". Meanwhile, UK Conservative MEP Syed Kamall accused EU leaders of trying to take Europe "back to the 1950s".

The UK's decision not to trigger divorce proceedings immediately has created a political vacuum and led to rising hostilities among Europe's politicos. "I could understand that the Remain camp needs weeks to reflect, but I don't understand that the Brexit camp needs months before knowing what to do," Mr Juncker said. "I would have thought they would have a plan - instead of developing a plan as they are leaving the boat."

Mr Juncker's stewardship has been heavily criticised in the wake of the Brexit vote, with British and German newspapers reporting that he is seen by Berlin as part of the problem. His meeting last week with Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon was seen by some in the UK as antagonistic.

"Instead of wanting to get on with the friendly relationship with the UK [they] foster hope that maybe a part of the UK can remain in the EU, rolling out the red carpet for the First Minister of Scotland," Mr Kamall said.

The debate ended with a plea for calm by Donald Tusk, who chairs EU leaders' summits. "We cannot give in to these emotions," he said, urging MEPs not to get caught up in "individual importance, in some kind of perpetual vanity fair".

Irish Independent

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