Wednesday 13 December 2017

Juncker fires barrage at Farage

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has words with Ukip’s Nigel Farage at the European Parliament. Photo: Reuters
European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker has words with Ukip’s Nigel Farage at the European Parliament. Photo: Reuters

Sarah Collins

Britain's jilted EU partners are at odds over what kind of divorce settlement they want, while the UK refuses to even file the papers.

Tensions were high at the first summit of EU leaders since the UK's shock vote to exit the bloc last week, as member states fought over how to sever 43 years of economic and diplomatic ties.

Ukip leader and MEP Nigel Farage stormed into the summit to tell reporters that the bloc was "finished".

But despite his defiance, he appeared strangely reluctant to leave a job that has kept him in tailored suits and pints of bitter for the past 17 years.

"I'm not going to resign until Britain leaves the EU," he said yesterday, after accusing fellow MEPs at the special sitting of the European Parliament of being "in denial".

"The biggest problem that you've got, the main reason the United Kingdom voted the way that it did, is you have - by stealth, by deception, without ever telling the truth to the British or the rest of the peoples of Europe - you have imposed upon them a political union," he said, to jeers and boos from his fellow lawmakers.

"None of you have ever done a proper job in your lives, or worked in business, or worked in trade, or indeed ever created a job," he said, threatening EU negotiators that they would be worse off if they chose to punish the UK in any future trade deal.

"If you were to decide to cut off your noses to spite your faces, and to reject any idea of a sensible trade deal, the consequences would be far worse for you than it would be for us," Mr Farage added.

The outburst came as MEPs were holding an emergency meeting in Brussels to debate what to do with Britain next.

"Democracy is democracy," said Jean-Claude Juncker, the president of the European Commission, somewhat resignedly. "And we must respect the way the UK has voiced its view."

Sitting across the chamber, Nigel Farage applauded.

Mr Juncker snapped back: "That's the last time you're applauding here!"

"The British people voted for the exit!" he asked. "Why are you even here?"

Read more: 'That's the last time you're applauding here... why are you here?' - European Commission President Juncker asks Brexit lawmakers

Read more: Nigel Farage jeered and booed as he tells European Parliament: 'You're not laughing now'

Mr Farage's defiant attitude was in marked contrast to UK Prime Minister David Cameron, who showed up to the summit talking of a "constructive" settlement with the EU and "the closest possible relationship in terms of trade and co-operation and security".

"While we're leaving the European Union, we mustn't be turning our backs on Europe," Mr Cameron said. "These countries are our neighbours, our friends, our allies, our partners."

France wants to usher Britain out the door swiftly to head off the current market rout and move ahead with further integration, particularly for the 19 countries using the euro.

"It is now essential for the UK to submit its notification to leave the European Union as quickly as possible, so that we can calmly get our house in order, in the interests of the United Kingdom, of course, but above all in the interests of the European Union," said French President François Hollande.

"There is no time to lose, the world is watching us."

But Taoiseach Enda Kenny has backed calls by German chancellor Angela Merkel to give the UK some time to allow for the Tory leadership contest to play out and for the UK parliament to vote on the referendum result, which is required to make it legally binding.

Those close to the talks have mooted a Norway-style agreement for Britain, which would mean the UK government would still have to pay to access the bloc's single market, something Mr Farage and former London mayor Boris Johnson have ruled out.

But Finnish prime minister Juha Sipilä speculated the UK could get a "tailored" trade deal, better than Norway's, once the divorce was finalised - which could take two years or more.

Other leaders, meanwhile, used the summit to vent their own private frustrations with the soon-to-be 27-member bloc.

Greek prime minister Alexis Tsipras, who held his own referendum last year on his country's EU-IMF bailout package, said the current crisis was "predictable".

"I hope that the outcome of the British referendum will work as a wake-up call for Europe," Mr Tsipras said. "It is necessary to take brave decisions in order to make Europe more attractive to its people."

EU leaders, diplomats and officials are gradually coming to terms with the initial shock at last week's UK referendum result.

Estonian prime minister Taavi Rõivas tweeted that the atmosphere at the summit table was "sad but constructive", while senior officials insisted there was no desire to be vindictive or punitive towards the UK in the settlement deal.

The tone may change, however, when the 27 leaders reunite today, minus the UK, to try to agree a joint position.

Irish Independent

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