A leading German member of the European Parliament has warned that top EU negotiators “want to make a mess” of Brexit in order to keep other Eurosceptic member-states in line.
Hans-Olaf Henkel, deputy chairman of the European Conservatives and Reformists Group – which includes Britain’s ruling Conservative Party – claimed that Belgium’s former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt and France’s former foreign minister Michel Barnier “want to make a mess out of this whole unhappy situation” in an article for The Times.
Verhofstadt, once described as “high priest” in “the temple of European federalism” by Brexit campaign leader Nigel Farage, is the European Parliament’s chosen representative in the Brexit negotiations.
Barnier, who has previously served as a member of the unelected European Commission, is the bloc’s chief negotiator.
“Mr Verhofstadt is an ambitious politician who wants to achieve a United States of Europe,” wrote Henkel, alleging that the attitude he typifies “was responsible in no small part” for the British public voting to Leave the European Union in June 2016.
“Mr Verhofstadt now wants to punish the British, full stop,” he continued.
“He says he doesn’t want to, but I’m afraid he does. My impression is that Mr Barnier wants to do the same. The reason is simple. They would seek to make sure that Brexit is such a catastrophe that no country dares to take the step of leaving the EU again.”
In Henkel’s estimation, failure to accommodate Britain would be “a terrible situation for us all,” adding that, in Germany, “we value the ties we have with the British”.
The UK will be the Eurozone’s single largest export market after Brexit, and Leave campaigner and former environment and rural affairs minister Owen Paterson MP has recently noted that Germany sold around 950,000 cars to British buyers in 2016 alone.
Other European leaders, such as Hungarian foreign minister Péter Szijjártó and Flemish minister-president Geert Bourgeois, have also said that attempting to “punish” the British would be damaging for the EU, with European exporters losing competitiveness and market share in the UK as it reclaims its powers to conduct an independent trade policy and strikes deals with global economies such as Australia and the United States.
Henkel advised Times readers that his position “is that the EU must accommodate the British” – although he asked for a compromise over European Court of Justice (ECJ) jurisdiction as it relates the nuclear agency Euratom, which he hopes the UK will remain party to despite a previous commitment to withdraw.
“In the 1990s, I came to the UK to urge you to join the euro. Thank goodness you didn’t. The single currency has been a disaster, creating social and economic havoc,” he confessed, adding that he hoped British politicians might also reconsider their position on Euratom.