EU Parliament chief Brexit negotiator calls Boris Johnson ‘old-fashioned and reductionist’

Guy Verhofstadt.

Guy Verhofstadt.
REUTERS/Yves Herman

    EU parliament chief negotiator launches scathing attack on Boris Johnson after the foreign secretary accuses young British people of having “split allegiances” between EU and UK. Guy Verhofstadt accuses Johnson of an “old fashioned and reductionist” views. Comments come during visit to Northern Ireland to discuss future of the border with UK. Theresa May due to set out Britain’s negotiating plans in major speech on Friday.

LONDON – The EU Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator today launched a scathing attack on Boris Johnson, accusing the UK foreign secretary of having an “old-fashioned and reductionist” views.

Guy Verhofstadt criticised Johnson for suggesting in an article for the Telegraph that young Brits who wear EU have “genuinely split allegiances.”

“I am troubled with the thought that people are beginning to have genuinely split allegiance,” Johnson wrote about pro-EU young people in an article he penned last week.

Speaking to Irish parliamentarians in the Oireachtas on Thursday morning, Verhofstadt accused the foreign minister of having an outdated understanding of identity, suggesting British people can feel a sense of both national and European pride.

“I know some British politicians, not to name Boris Johnson, criticise their countrymen and women for wanting to keep their European identity. He accused them even of split allegiance. I think this is a binary, old-fashioned and reductionist definition of identity,” the former Belgian prime minister told Irish politicians.

“So I think it’s nonsense to talk about split allegiance. It’s perfectly possible to feel English, British and European at the same time,” he added.

Verhofstadt is in the Republic of Ireland to speak to politicians there about how the issue of the Irish border can be resolved in Brexit negotiations between the EU and Britain.

The EU Parliament’s chief Brexit spokesperson said that full responsibility for providing a solution to the border issues lies solely with Theresa May’s government.

“The solution for this problem [Irish border] is entirely a responsibility for the UK government,” he said.

Explainer: Why does the Irish border matter so much?

The border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland is currently more or less invisible. There are no border controls meaning goods and people move freely to and from the neighbouring countries.

However, Brexit creates complications. When the UK officially leaves the EU in March 2019, Northern Ireland will be removed from the 28-nation bloc alongside England, Wales and Scotland. The Republic of Ireland, on the other hand, will remain an EU member state.

Why does this matter? Well, if May sticks to her current plans to leave the customs union, then there will need to be some form of new border controls between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, in order to avoid smuggling between the UK and EU.

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier has previously warned that “frictionless trade” is “not possible” following Brexit.

This is deeply important to the UK economy. A House of Lords report published in December said that €60 billion is traded between the UK and Ireland each year, and an estimated 30,000 people cross the Irish border every day. A hard border would put this at risk.