Michel Barnier has said Brexit was “a failure of the EU” and that it needs to learn lessons from the “social anger” seen in the UK.
Barnier was the EU’s chief negotiator in the torturous Brexit negotiations – first as the two sides thrashed out a withdrawal deal and second as they brokered the terms of their “future relationship”.
On Tuesday, Barnier was making his final speech about Brexit to the European Parliament, and used it to urge EU leaders to grasp why 52% of UK voters chose to leave in the referendum five years ago.
Translated quotes recorded Barnier as saying: “This is a divorce. It’s a warning, Brexit, and it’s a failure. A failure of the EU.
“And we have to learn lessons from it as politicians here in the European Parliament, in council, in the Commission, in all of the capitals.
“Why did 52% of the British vote against Europe? There are reasons for that. Social anger and tension which existed in many regions in the UK, but also in many regions of the EU.”
Barnier said the EU needs to better “understand the feelings of the people” as he hinted at the prospect of further member states wanting to leave.
Watch: Daily politics briefing: April 27
“The feelings of the people, social anger, shouldn’t be confused with populism and we should do everything to respond to that in each of the member states… and continue to show the value of what we do together.”
He also cited the famous quote from murdered British MP Jo Cox, who was killed by far-right extremist Thomas Mair one week before the Brexit referendum: “We have far more in common than that which divides us.”
“We need to preserve the spirit of co-operation,” Barnier said.
He was speaking at a session in which MEPs were set to formally ratify the post-Brexit trade deal which was agreed on Christmas Eve last year.
European Commission president Ursula von der Leyen warned the deal has “real teeth” and that Brussels will not hesitate to take action if Boris Johnson breaches its terms.
While saying she did not want to move against the UK, she accused Johnson’s government of not yet fully complying with the terms of the earlier Brexit divorce deal, and stressed “vigilance” will be required in future.
She said: “The choice is now whether today’s vote will be the high-water mark of the EU-UK relations for the next decades, or whether we see this as the foundation of a strong and close partnership based on our shared values and interests.
“Only history will tell what road is taken – although I hope for the latter.”
Watch: MPs call for review of all coronavirus fines