DUBLIN — The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator took an apparent swipe at Boris Johnson on Thursday over his uneasiness at young people wanting to express their identity as Europeans.
In a 4,000-word article for the Daily Telegraph last week that was widely interpreted as the opening salvo of a leadership bid, the U.K. foreign secretary wrote: “I look at so many young people with the 12 stars lipsticked on their faces and I am troubled with the thought that people are beginning to have genuinely split allegiances.”
“And when people say that they feel they have more in common with others in Europe than with people who voted Leave, I want to say: ‘But that is part of the reason why people voted Leave,'” he said.
The remark goes to the heart of the cultural divide in the U.K. over Brexit and provoked a backlash from Remainers.
Without mentioning Johnson by name, Guy Verhofstadt told the chamber of the Irish parliament, the Dáil: “Some British politicians criticize people who want to retain their European identity. You can be English, British and European at the same time. I want to deliver a message of [EU] solidarity with the Irish people.”
The MEP also said it was up to the British to come up with solutions to the problems they were creating for Ireland by leaving the EU and that “Ireland must not pay the price for Brexit.”
“The imposition of the border between Northern Ireland and you is not your fault,” said the former Belgian prime minister. “Northern Ireland should remain part of the customs union … The U.K. will have to come up with solutions.”
The MEP, on a two-day trip speaking to politicians on both sides of the border, stressed EU unity on the Brexit issue. “The European position is the Irish position,” he said.
Verhofstadt told a symposium of three Irish parliamentary committees that he regarded the U.K.’s proposals on the Northern Irish border as unworkable.
“The U.K. position that the border can be solved by new technology is not convincing,” he said, referring to suggestions that hauliers could declare their cargo at a point remote from the border so removing the need for customs checks at the frontier itself.
In response to Verhofstadt’s speech, Irish parliamentarian Michael Healy-Rae, who is chair of the Irish parliamentary committee on European affairs, told the gathering “that [Brexit] is a horrible, horrible problem for Ireland and its people.”