The head of the European Parliament derided British plans to leave the EU on Wednesday, saying they had not thought it through and faced problems for their trade, including vital food imports. The comments by Antonio Tajani, whose institution must sign off on any divorce deal before Britain leaves in March 2019, followed remarks on Tuesday when the Italian dismissed British Prime Minister Theresa May’s offer of some 20 billion euros on departure was “peanuts” and about a third of what London owes. “They risk having fewer possibilities than EU countries, even in trade,” said Tajani, dismissing talk in Britain of doing more trade with former colonies in the Commonwealth as a flawed reliance on a “structure from the past”. “Maybe they didn’t do their sums right when they decided to hold their referendum,” Tajani, a conservative ally of former Italian prime minister Silvio Berlusconi, told Italian reporters.
“Britain won’t gain much from leaving the EU … They aren’t self-sufficient in food. There are so many problems.” On the eve of an EU summit where Prime Minister Theresa May will urge fellow leaders to unblock talks on a free trade deal, parliament’s Brexit coordinator, former Belgian prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, hit out at May’s Brexit negotiator David Davis for accusing British MEPs in Brussels of being unpatriotic.
May suspended two of her Conservative members of the European Parliament last week for voting in favour of a motion brought by Verhofstadt saying that Britain must make more concessions to open trade talks. She also criticised opposition lawmakers who backed the Verhofstadt motion, saying they were not helping the process of agreeing an implementation period.
Verhofstadt, a liberal, said Davis had also written to British Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable asking him to “take action” against LibDem MEP Catherine Bearder for voting in the same way. “At first I thought this letter was a hoax,” Verhofstadt said in a statement. “I will raise my concerns officially with … David Davis, when we next meet. “It is deeply troubling that a government minister would use his office to infer that a democratically elected politician was acting in a traitorous or unpatriotic manner … This strikes me as profoundly un-British.”
A source in Davis’ Conservative Party said in response: “It is profoundly British to hold people to account for the way the vote. These MEPs voted for to stop talks progressing to the next stage, something that is self evidently in the national interest: it’s right they face criticism.” Speaking to British lawmakers earlier this week, Davis said he was confident Britain was “on the right path” in the negotiations and ready to begin discussing the future relationship with the EU.
However, underlining the cool welcome which Brussels may provide for May on Thursday, a senior member of the European Commission, the EU executive, also took an outspoken swipe at British tactics and the internal wrangles in May’s government over Brexit. “The London-London negotiation is still raging and if anything, intensifying,” Phil Hogan, the Irish commissioner who oversees EU farm policy, said late on Tuesday at the launch of a book on how Brexit is seriously affecting Ireland.
“What becomes more obvious day by day is that the Brexiteers are hooked on brinkmanship … their only approach is the tough-guy approach. No matter what Brussels says or does, no matter what business in the EU says or does … the hardliners cannot get out of their head the idea that if they bully their way towards the wire, the Union’s nerve will crack. “They cannot get it into their head that this is not how the European Union works … We are now so close to the cliff edge of a hard Brexit that we can see the drop right in front of our feet.”