England Versus Belgium in World Cup Triggers Some Brexit Baiting

(Bloomberg) -- Brexit tensions could reach fever pitch on June 28, the day England plays Belgium in the World Cup and also when Prime Minister Theresa May in Brussels for showdown talks.

The goading has already begun. On Thursday, during a debate in the European Parliament, when the president of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, urged Belgium’s leader to confer citizenship to Brits living in Brussels: “They deserve it. They deserve it.”

Nigel Farage, one of the U.K.’s most prominent Brexit campaigners, took the bait. He fumed: “Nobody ever dares tell the truth about Belgium. Belgium is not a nation; it’s an artificial creation.”

That didn’t go down too well with Belgium prime minister Charles Michel, nor one of his predecessors, Guy Verhofstadt, who now leads the parliament’s Brexit work. “He’ll see how real Belgium is when we play England in the World Cup!” Verhofstadt said on Twitter.

The England versus Belgium issue arose during a debate on “the future of Europe.” Most of the EU’s institutions are based in Brussels, the Belgian capital.

Juncker is known for being the occasional provocateur. He kicked off the storm in the teacup by saying during the debate that British officials in the EU’s civil service “deserve” to get Belgian citizenship to allow them to stay in continental Europe after Brexit forever.

That’s a right that, under the provisional Brexit agreement, U.K.-only citizens will no longer enjoy. Many of the officials have worked in Brussels for years, but don’t pay Belgian tax so often don’t qualify under its immigration laws.

As England and Belgium go into battle on the pitch in Kaliningrad, Russia, May will be hoping to convince the EU summit to sign up to her Brexit ideas.

©2018 Bloomberg L.P.