An Italian MEP has apologised to Britain for the treatment it received over Brexit, praising the UK’s vaccine roll-out and future prosperity in a withering attack on the EU.
‘The UK humiliated us,’ Antonio Maria Rinaldi told the European Parliament today. ‘I learned that the European Union has sued the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. We hope that the lawyers in charge are not the same ones who formulated the contracts last year!
‘Why is the Commission not using some very good London law firm this time? They would be sure to win,’ he added.
The parliament was debating Brexit for the final time ahead of the EU’s formal ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement.
Many MEPs fired parting shots at Britain, following Ursula von der Leyen’s lead after she warned Boris Johnson that the Bloc ‘will not hesitate’ to take action if there are any breaches to the Brexit trade deal.
But Rinaldi, a former banker and member of the Eurosceptic Lega party, poured scorn on the ‘disgusting lies’ told about Britain, ‘a great and proud country.’
‘The UK humiliated us,’ Antonio Maria Rinaldi told the European Parliament today. ‘I learned that the European Union has sued the pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca. We hope that the lawyers in charge are not the same ones who formulated the contracts last year! Why is the Commission not using some very good London law firm this time? They would be sure to win.’
Antonio Maria Rinaldi, a former banker and esteemed economist, who serves as an MEP for the right-wing Lega party of Matteo Salvini
Ursula von der Leyen took the opportunity to warn Boris Johnson that the Bloc ‘will not hesitate’ to take action if there are any breaches to the Brexit trade deal
It comes as Von der Leyen’s Commission announced it was suing AstraZeneca over vaccine shortfalls, the latest development in a furious row that has seen European leaders bitterly attack Britain for having secured more doses.
Britain has administered at least one vaccine dose to more than half the population, while just 20 per cent of EU citizens have had a first dose.
Rinaldi, a professor of economics, argued that now was ‘an excellent opportunity’ for the EU to admit its folly and commit to reform, particularly in its financial governance.
He lamented the ‘swamps of regulations and bureaucracy’ in Brussels, adding: ‘I want to bet here in front of you all that in two years Britain’s growth will be much higher than that of the European Union.’
The 66-year-old continued: ‘It took five years to finally reach this agreement having for too long knowingly ignored that the United Kingdom is a net buyer of goods and services to the Union,’ Rinaldi told the house.
‘Where I come from the customer is always right… But maybe those dealing with Brexit didn’t know?
‘Seeing as no one until now has had the courage and humility to apologise to the citizens of the United Kingdom for the lies that have been told just for daring to no longer follow the EU’s erroneous dictates, then I do so in this one moment as a member of this Parliament.
‘Thank you and good luck.’
He added: ‘In two months it will be five years from the Brexit referendum. How many disgusting lies have we had to hear from politicians screaming “Britain is destroyed” just because they are terrified of a dangerous precedent? …
‘They didn’t understand the legitimate will of a great and proud country that preferred to exercise its sovereignty in a democratic way instead of delegating it to grey bureaucrats who have shown that they cannot even manage a condominium.
‘Characters who, if they had worked in a private company, would have been immediately kicked out.’
Rinaldi’s respect for Britain stands in stark contrast to the berating message sent out by Von der Leyen earlier as she spoke of ‘real teeth’ and ‘unilateral measures’ to punish Britain if it acts outside the terms of the Brexit trade deal.
French fishermen stand near a banner as they gather as part of a protest action against the delay in granting licenses to access British waters at the port of Boulogne-sur-Mer on April 22
She stressed that she and the Commission ‘do not want to have to use these tools’ as MEPs prepared to finally vote for the trade agreement which was struck by the two sides in December.
Her warning shot came amid a rumbling row between the UK and the EU over the Northern Ireland Protocol which was agreed as part of the original Brexit divorce deal.
Addressing the European Parliament, Von der Leyen said: ‘This agreement comes with real teeth. With a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for unilateral remedial measures where necessary.
‘Let me be very clear: We do not want to have to use these tools. But we will not hesitate to use them if necessary.
‘They are essential to ensure full compliance with the TCA and with the Withdrawal Agreement.’
Von der Leyen noted concerns in the EU that the UK had not yet fully complied with the terms of the Brexit divorce deal and stressed that ‘vigilance’ would be required in future when it comes to sticking to the terms of the trade deal.
The Trade and Cooperation Agreement reached with Mr Johnson on Christmas Eve governs the way the UK and the EU deal with each other.
The deal has been applied provisionally since January 1 but requires the approval of MEPs – who are not expected to oppose it when they vote today – before it can be formally ratified.
Mrs von der Leyen said: ‘We know it will not always be easy and there is a lot of vigilance, diligence and hard work ahead.
‘But, while today’s vote is obviously an end, it is also the beginning of a new chapter.
‘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.’
Relations between the UK and EU have been strained over the application of the Northern Ireland Protocol which governs the post-Brexit arrangements aimed at preventing a hard border with Ireland.
Much of the disruption and controversy created by the protocol relates to the fact that Great Britain has left the Single Market for goods, while Northern Ireland remains in the EU regulatory zone.
Michel Barnier, who led the EU’s negotiations with the UK, said Brexit was a sign of political failure for the bloc. He is pictured in Brussels today as MEPs prepared to vote on the Brexit trade deal
That necessitates a significant number of documentary checks and physical inspections on agri-food goods arriving into Northern Ireland from Great Britain.
The UK has unilaterally extended grace periods covering areas of the economy including supermarket supplies and parcel deliveries to Northern Ireland from Great Britain, meaning post-Brexit checks are not yet fully applied – which has triggered a legal dispute with Brussels.
Mrs von der Leyen said there was a need for ‘joint solutions’ as ‘unilateral decisions will get us nowhere’.
She said there had been ‘some progress’ in talks on improving the protocol between commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic and the UK’s Brexit Minister Lord Frost.
‘In recent days and weeks, we have seen a new, constructive dynamic and we will continue to work closely with the UK to find constructive solutions that respect what was agreed,’ she told MEPs.
‘The next step is to mutually agree on compliance paths, with concrete deadlines and milestones.’
She added: ‘We need solutions, not soundbites, if we are to make the protocol work for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.’
Michel Barnier, who led the EU’s negotiations with the UK, said Brexit was a sign of political failure for the bloc.
‘This is a divorce. It’s a warning, Brexit, and it’s a failure – a failure of the European Union,’ he said.
‘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. Our duty is to listen and understand the feelings of the people.’