European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker sharply criticised politicians Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as the “sad heroes” of Brexit who backed out of leading Britain through the EU exit they had campaigned for.
“The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sad heroes of today,” Juncker told a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
“Those who have contributed to the situation in the UK have resigned, Johnson, Farage and others. They are as it were retro-nationalists, they are not patriots,” Juncker said.
“Patriots don’t resign when things get difficult, they stay,” he added.
Juncker was reporting to MEPs the results of last week’s historic EU summit, in which British Prime Minister David Cameron reported to his fellow leaders the vote by Britain to leave the bloc.
Johnson pulled out of the leadership race to succeed Cameron, who has said he will resign by October, while Farage on Monday stepped down as leader of the Eurosceptic UK Independence Party.
Juncker also criticised those who campaigned to leave the EU for failing to know what they wanted to do next, with Britain delaying on pulling the trigger on its official divorce from the EU.
“Instead of developing a plan they are leaving the boat,” Juncker said.
EU President Donald Tusk meanwhile said the bloc’s members “hope to have the UK as a close partner in future”, but reiterated that it would have to accept the union’s free movement rules if it wanted access to the single market.
“We will not sell off our freedoms and there will be no single market ‘à la carte’,” he told MEPs.
Senior liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt also slammed Farage and Johnson.
“Brexiteers remind me of rats leaving the sinking ship,” said Verhofstadt, “What are you waiting for? The next referendum in France, in Italy maybe?”
Juncker repeated that there would be no negotiation with the UK, until the British government triggers Article 50, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU.
At the European Council summit held after the referendum, Prime Minister David Cameron told EU leaders his successor would handle the divorce talks.
Britain’s Conservative party starts voting on Tuesday (5 June) to replace outgoing Cameron following his resignation in the wake of Britain’s shock decision to leave the EU.
Interior minister Theresa May is the clear frontrunner, pitching herself as a sober operator capable of unifying a party fractured by last month’s referendum and leading Britain out of the EU.
May has said she does not plan to invoke Article 50, the formal procedure for leaving the EU, until the end of the year at the earliest despite pressure from European leaders for a quicker divorce.
May campaigned for Britain to stay in the EU but now says that “Brexit means Brexit” and has ruled out an early election or a second referendum — both seen as possible ways of rowing back from the result.
One of her leading rivals, Andrea Leadsom, who campaigned for Britain to leave, has said she wants exit negotiations to be “as short as possible” in order to avoid “prolonged uncertainty”.
The ruling party’s 330 MPs will vote for one of five candidates, with the least popular being eliminated ahead of similar votes to reduce the shortlist to two.
The party’s 150,000 members will then decide the winner, with the result to be declared on 9 September.
UKIP deputy leader Paul Nuttall, tipped by many to succeed Farage, told MEPs in Strasbourg, “The British people have spoken and threats and bullying are not the answer to the questions the UK leaving the European Union has thrown up.
“The UK and Europe are joined by geography, culture, history and trade and that will not change.We owe it to the citizens of both the UK and Europe to conduct these negotiations in a grown up manner so we can get the best deal for everyone.”
Tax cut criticised
Meanwhile, the European Union’s top economic official criticised a British proposal to slash corporate tax to less than 15%.
Britain’s finance minister George Osborne said at the weekend he would seek to slash corporation tax to under 15% over fears of a corporate exodus following the June 23 referendum.
The 28-nation EU gave a frosty reception to the plan, however, saying it would raise the threat of a competitive series of corporate tax cuts as countries try to lure firms to their shores.
“Going to 15% does not seem to me to be a good initiative,” the EU’s economic affairs commissioner, Pierre Moscovici, told French radio station Radio Classique.
We should not enter into exacerbated fiscal competition between ourselves, or fiscal dumping,” Moscovici said in the first public reaction by the bloc to Osborne’s proposal.
The British finance minister revealed his plan in an interview with the Financial Times published on Sunday evening. The Treasury confirmed the comments to AFP.
Prior to the Brexit vote, British tax rates on corporate profits were already set to be cut from 20% to 19% next year and to 17% in 2020.
But the new target, which has no timetable, would give Britain the lowest rates of any major economy, and put it closer to the 12.5% rate in EU member Ireland.