Nigel Farage on European Commission’s vaccine demands
Disaster marred Brussels this week as the EU scrambled to defend its actions after threatening to cut the UK’s vaccine supplies and triggering the contentious Article 16 of the Brexit deal, which effectively erects a hard border on the island of Ireland. While European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen has since backtracked on the bloc’s aggression, after a tense call with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the question of stability across the Irish Sea has once again surfaced. Police are now monitoring “stress” and “growing discontent” within unionist communities in the border regions, with frustrated graffiti having appeared and “sinister” threats made to staff in recent days.
The UK and EU have since met virtually to rectify the issue, with a joint statement released on Wednesday announcing that talks had been “constructive”.
Nevertheless, existing anger has been brought to the fore, with Robert Tombs, the renowned British historian, telling Express.co.uk how the bloc has a knack for utilising discontent within Britain for its own purposes.
He reflected on the negotiation process that took four years before a Brexit deal was struck.
In those years, polarisation became a key characterisation of the UK, with the country effectively split between Leave and Remain.
EU news: The bloc benefited from the UK’s division while negotiating a Brexit deal
Northern Ireland: Tensions at the island of Ireland’s border regions have surfaced in recent days
While the EU had no prerogative to force its hand into that field, figures from Brussels appeared to involve themselves in the country’s debate and wedge a further divide among the electorate.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s former Brexit coordinator, travelled to London in 2019 to talk on behalf of the Liberal Democrats’ “B******s to Brexit” campaign.
At the time, he urged Remain voters in the UK to vote for then Lib Dem leader Jo Swinson’s party, as it was “the most pro-European” party in the UK.
Twists and turns in both Westminster and Brussels followed, with the UK’s Brexit negotiator David Frost, and his counterpart Michel Barnier, both making countless trips to each other’s home turf to navigate the terms of a deal.
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In the final stretch, as tensions rose at home, European Council President Charles Michel refused to bow to British insistence for the EU to fundamentally change its negotiating stance.
He maintained that if the UK wanted to keep access to EU markets it would have to keep its waters open to EU fishermen.
Prof Tombs explained that pressure at home with the Leave-Remain divide meant that Brussels had leverage over such demands.
He said: “We had already turned on each other, and I think the EU benefited from that in the sense that it was much easier for them to negotiate with a country that was divided.
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Charles Michel: The European Council President refused to concede ground to the UK
Robert Tombs: The historian said Britons had done the work in turning on each other
“The EU was always going on about how it was united.
“While on the other hand we were certainly divided.
“I think many EU negotiators, politicians and indeed ordinary people, didn’t really believe that Brexit would happen: They thought it would simply be reversed, just as votes in other countries had been reversed.
“And I think some Remainers at least encouraged this belief which made it much more difficult for Britain to negotiate with the EU.”
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A Brexit deal was struck at the eleventh hour, on December 24, 2020.
Mr Johnson described it as allowing the UK to have “its cake eat it”.
He insisted that Britain would have free trade with the EU.
However, when pressed, he refused to acknowledge the fact it meant new barriers to trade.
In the end, even Remainers were untied with the Prime Minister – who campaigned to leave the EU – in her Brexit deal.
Paul Embery: The trade unionist said the UK has the opportunity to pursue state driven endeavours
Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer – considered one of the key architects of a People’s Vote – whipped his MPs to support the bill in the House of Commons.
It passed by 521 votes to 73.
Tariffs or taxes will not be imposed on imports from the EU.
However, there have been teething problems; things like increased paperwork for the freight transport industry, new rules about travelling to the EU, among other things.
Paul Embery, a leading trade unionist and Labour member, told Express.co.uk that the deal, and Britain being free of the EU, now meant it could take back control of a number of things, including state aid, and manufacturing and industry.
He said: “We can now repatriate those powers, and we’re free to pursue those things in the future.”
‘This Sovereign Isle, published by Allen Lane, is out now.