Former EU boss on Brexit: "This isn't punishment - it's diplomatic reality"

Jonathan Faull was the top British EU official until he retired in January, and a seasoned negotiator. 

NS

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Only “deluded” Brits should think the EU is “punishing them” over Brexit, former European Commission director general Jonathan Faull has declared.

Faull, who was the most senior British official in the European Commission until he retired in January, said the EU negotiators were simply setting out the realistic rules of engagement.

“It is simply the aftermath of a period in which people were led to believe this was a glorious liberation,” he told academics at the UK in a Changing Europe conference. “These are the harsh winds of diplomatic reality.”

He warned that the time to negotiate would be shorter than many expected, and consequently more difficult: "I don’t think people should be surprised unless they were deluded in the first place.”

Referring to the spat over Britain’s territory on the Iberian Peninsula, he added: “It shouldn’t surprise anybody that Spain is particularly interested in Gibraltar.”

Faull, who has held four different director-general jobs within the European Commission, spearheaded the attempt to agree on an package of reforms for the UK before the EU referendum - the ill-fated "EU deal".

Speaking alongside Faull was Professor Brigid Laffan, an expert in EU governance and European integration.

She said the impact of Brexit on the UK is “unknowable” at this stage: “Even if there is another Scottish referendum, and it is defeated, you will still have part of the UK that was taken out of the EU against the wishes of 62 per cent of the population.”

It would also be a “disaster” for the island of Ireland, she said: “This is not just a question of tariffs – it puts at risk the Good Friday Agreement and peace of the island of Ireland.”

Julia Rampen is the digital news editor of the New Statesman (previously editor of The Staggers, The New Statesman's online rolling politics blog). She has also been deputy editor at Mirror Money Online and has worked as a financial journalist for several trade magazines.