EU: Mark Rutte calls for ‘strong Europe in an unstable world’
The UK this week pushed a fresh set of requests onto the agenda to redraw the post-Brexit trading agreements it signed with the EU over Northern Ireland. The Government argues that border checks on goods from Great Britain it signed up to in the 2019 Brexit divorce deal have proved unsustainable. Brexit Minister Lord David Frost said the checks were damaging the “fabric” of the UK and risked harming business.
The EU hit back, and said it would not agree to renegotiate the terms of the 2019 deal.
Many will be more than familiar with the tense exchanges and a burgeoning stalemate between the UK and Brussels.
For four years from 2016, it took the two more than four years to agree on an exit deal.
Negotiators from either side agreed on the Northern Ireland Protocol in 2019, having revised it to remove the so-called backstop, replaced with arrangements that meet the “Government’s objectives”.
Brexit fury: Mark Rutte demanded that the UK change its position in 2019 (Image: GETTY)
Lord Frost: The Brexit minister has called for a renegotiation of the NI Protocol (Image: GETTY)
Yet, a few months before this, Netherlands Prime Minister Mark Rutte demanded that the UK change its position on the declaration as well as the direction it was heading in terms of a Brexit deal and divorce settlement.
At the time, the Conservative Party was in the midst of a leadership contest, with the outgoing Prime Minister Theresa May having failed in her attempts to break the deadlock with Brussels.
Boris Johnson and Sajid Javid, both running for the top job, promised to take the UK out of the EU, deal or no deal.
They had also both committed to the October 31 deadline of withdrawing if a renegotiation of the exit plan had not been finalised with Brussels.
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Boris Johnson: The PM took the UK out of the EU last year, later securing a trade deal (Image: GETTY)
We now know this was not the case, the exit coming on the eve of February 2020.
Mr Rutte, however, was less than impressed with their rhetoric.
He demanded that the UK change its approach and position to the negotiating table.
Talking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said: “I hope campaigning is done in poetry and governing is in prose, as I think [British Prime Minister Winston] Churchill said once.
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Netherlands: Rutte is currently serving in a caretaker role (Image: GETTY)
Downing Street: Rutte pictured at No 10 in 2019 (Image: GETTY)
“And that when [the new Tory leader] will read all the briefs and get aware of all the details of where we are at the moment in terms of Brexit negotiations, that they will realise… that something has to change in terms of the British position.”
Earlier on in that interview, Mr Rutte argued that without the EU, the UK would become a weak, “diminished” power unimportant on the global stage.
He said: “With a hard Brexit — even with a normal Brexit — the UK will be a different country.
“It will be a diminished country.
“It is unavoidable.
“Because you are no longer part of the European Union and you are not big enough to have an important position, important enough on the world stage, on your own.”
Brexit timeline: Some of the key dates that led up to the UK’s eventual exit from the EU (Image: Express Newspapers)
Mr Rutte’s words appear not to have aged well.
The UK has continued on its global path, however, pressing ahead with its project, “Global Britain”.
It has since rolled over a string of deals with countries around the world.
And, last month, it signed a landmark free trade deal with Australia – the first of its kind in decades and outside the EU.
Ursula von der Leyen: The Commission President triggered Article 16 earlier this year (Image: GETTY)
Meanwhile, checks are included in the Northern Ireland Protocol in order to avoid border checks on the island of Ireland.
Lord Frost called on the EU to look at the UK’s proposals with “fresh eyes,” adding: “We cannot go on as we are.”
However, he announced the UK would not be triggering Article 16 of the protocol, which would allow it to suspend parts of the Brexit deal, before talks with Brussels.
This is unlike the move made by European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen earlier this year, who triggered Article 16 following a row over COVID-19 vaccine.
She later apologised for the misjudged action.