Brexit Bulletin: Keep your eye on the prize, ex-Croatian PM tells Britain

James Rothwell
British Prime Minister Theresa May arrives for an EU summit at the Europa building in Brussels - AP

Good afternoon.

Brexit is looking a tad gloomy these days: deadlock in Brussels over what the deal should look like, and an interminable row in Westminster as to whether we should have a deal at all.

But I recently caught up with the former prime minister of Croatia, who still feels optimistic about Britain’s decision - and is urging Brexit voters to keep their eye on the real prize.

“Honestly, I am sure I won’t be very popular in the EU for saying this but I think Brexit is a good thing for the UK,” Zlatko Matesa told me during a brief visit to London.

He believes that Brexit is a long game - and that any short term difficulties will be outweighed by the future benefits of an independent trading policy and full control over national borders.

“Short term, it will cost something. But from a long-term perspective, it is better than to stay in the union," he said.

“I have a feeling that people are a bit confused because they are orientated on the problems of the short term...they are neglecting the future of the UK economy because in the global world, you won’t be expelled just because you’re not in the EU.”

Mr Matesa, who served as prime minister from 1995-2000, was in the UK to attend the London International Forum for Equality summit.

He admitted that Croatia and the UK held vastly different positions within the EU, and that there was currently little strategic benefit in following Britain out the door.

But, in his view, “at the end of the day it will be proven as a good move.”

Bulletin readers might want to cut out and keep his thoughts as something to cheer them up during next week's EU summit.

More border pressure

To Dublin, where politicos were today treated to a quadruple-whammy: PM Leo Varadkar, deputy PM Simon Coveney and EU high priests Jean-Claude Juncker and Michel Barnier ramping up the pressure about the Irish border.

As usual, Mr Varadkar and Mr Coveney stressed that time was running out for the UK to cough up its innovative solution to the conundrum - and if they failed to do so, the dreaded backstop clause would apply.

Mr Juncker, meanwhile, warned Britain against trying to play divide and rule between member states, stressing that all 27 would not allow the talks to progress until the border has been resolved.

This follows murmurs in Brussels about UK officials attempting to brief other EU member states against Ireland, presumably in a bid to break the facade of EU unity.

But perhaps most interesting of all was Mr Juncker taking pains to reassure his audience in the Irish parliament that he wasn’t drunk.

“I have some difficulties to walk. I am not drunk. I have sciatica. I would prefer to be drunk," he insisted.

Sciatica, of course, is no laughing matter. But Mr Juncker saying he would like to be drunk most of the time will have raised a few chuckles in the parliament.

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