EU Talks Churchill and World War I as U.K. Prepares to Leave
(Bloomberg) -- The European Parliament scratched century-old wounds and traded Brexit insults during what might -- or might not be -- the U.K.’s final full session in the assembly after 43 years of EU membership.
As British lawmakers prepare to vote back in London on their preferred model for the U.K.’s relationship with the bloc, Nigel Farage, one of the leading Brexit campaigners, and Guy Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister, exchanged jibes in Strasbourg, France.
“You remind me more and more of Field Marshall Haig in Blackadder,” Verhofstadt told Farage, demonstrating his knowledge of British comedy -- in this case, a show mocking British wartime leadership 100 years ago. “He was sitting in the First World War in his office in London, and you’re sitting in Strasbourg, while your own people are marching through the rain and cold.”
Farage, who took part in a pro-Brexit rally on Saturday that was overshadowed by a larger pro-EU protest in London, didn’t see the funny side.
“As a former Belgian prime minister you should know that it was Field Marshall Haig in 1914 who saved the Belgian town of Ypres from German domination,” Farage said. “Far from mocking him, he should be a great hero to you.”
Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, was undeterred.
“Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm,” Verhofstadt said. “This quote from Winston Churchill is absolutely applicable today to British politics, the House of Commons and Prime Minister May.”
The British Parliament is voting on alternatives to the Brexit deal May struck with the EU in November, including keeping closer ties to the bloc and holding a second referendum. European leaders have given the U.K. until April 12 to decide how to advance. The U.K. could leave on that date without a deal if another way forward isn’t found.
EU President Donald Tusk told the assembly in Strasbourg that several options remain on the table until then, including passing May’s deal, leaving without any agreement, remaining in the EU for many more months or revoking the decision to leave completely.
Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, called for respect, as he too recalled the U.K.’s wartime defense of the European continent.
“I admire it for its history, its culture; the men and women who have led it,” Barnier said. “And the solidarity you have shown in our gravest hour.”
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