The president of the European Council has told of how Brexit makes him “furious” and might be “one of the saddest moments” in recent European history.
In a speech in Dublin Donald Tusk said Britain’s departure from the EU was diverting him from concentrating on more European integration and instead had left him “dealing with disintegration” and taking part in a damage control exercise.
“I don’t like Brexit. Actually, that’s an understatement,” he told an audience at the University College Dublin Law Society, where he was receiving an honorary lifetime membership.
“I believe Brexit is one of the saddest moments in 21st century European history – in fact, sometimes I am even furious about it.”
He added: “This year will be about Brexit mainly, unfortunately. It means that instead of further integration I will be dealing with disintegration, in fact.
“By this I mean some kind of damage control process, and my main focus will be to eliminate, or at least to reduce the negative side effects of Brexit, with the Irish question, of course, at the centre of my attention.”
Mr Tusk contrasted his host country of Ireland with its neighbour Britain, saying that despite Ireland taking proportionally more EU immigrants than the UK it had raised relatively few problems or concerns about immigration. He spoke at length about the bond he saw between his native Poland and Ireland, stating that “nobody celebrates a defeat as beautifully as the Irish and the Poles, and history has given both of our countries quite and few opportunities for such celebrations”.
In a question and answer session following the speech, Mr Tusk said he did not have “grand visions” for the future of the European Union but instead that “the most important thing in politics is to always try to achieve what is possible”.
“I think today we need to be more cautious with dreams and more effective when it comes to acts,” he added, warning that his audience should be aware of “how little time is needed to undermine and demolish this structure” of European unity.
In his last speech in Ireland at the start of the year, Mr Tusk had said there could be no progress on other Brexit issues until the issue of the Irish border was dealt with – just days before the European Council signed off progress on a transition period while leaving the Irish border issue unresolved.
Both sides of Brexit talks are now locked in intense negotiations about the Irish border, with the EU hoping for progress by June.
Ireland’s EU commissioner Phil Hogan rubbished Theresa May’s plan for a “global Britain” trading with the world after Brexit on Monday, warning that there are “stubborn facts that over-shadow a rosy picture” painted by the prime minister.
Speaking at Ireland’s headquarters in Brussels, Mr Hogan said the UK would become a “medium-sized nation” after it left the EU with reduced bargaining power, and that the value of the pound would become increasingly vulnerable to shocks.
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