Britain already had no friends in Europe before Brexit, EU's Van Rompuy says

The former European Council president says negotiators will fight to preserve the interests of the remaining members of the bloc

"Britain had no friends anymore" - Van Rompuy

Britain was already “isolated” and lacking friends in Europe before it decided to leave the EU, the former president of the European Council has said.

Herman Van Rompuy, who led the EU’s collective leadership from 2009 to 2014, said Britain had drifted to the periphery of European affairs because of its multitude of opt-outs on major issues.

“Britain had already not many friends any more. I saw this clearly when I was in office when we had to vote on the candidacy of Jean-Claude Juncker for the Commission. Britain was isolated,” the former council president told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme.

“Still, we consider the Brexit as a political amputation of the first degree. Europe was a model of cooperation and integration for many countries, of how you can achieve peace and stability. That image of a strong Europe is tarnished a lot after Brexit.”

The former president went on predict that negotiations on Brexit were unlikely to start in earnest until the end of 2017, when the German and French elections would be out of the way.

He warned that the EU’s negotiators would fight to preserve the interests of the bloc’s remaining 27 countries, who wanted to make sure other countries did not leave the union.

“Of course there is a reputation of some of them being anti-Britain and very, very tough. Of course they have to defend the EU-27 interests and principles, but they are pragmatic. Any negotiation will be a difficult negotiation, independent of the personalities,” he said.

“There is not a feeling of we have to punish, but on the other hand most leaders don’t want to encourage other exits. There is a difference between punishing and not encouraging.”

His comments come as the leaders of the EU’s countries gather in Bratislava, the Slovakian capital, to discuss the future of the bloc following the Brexit vote.

Britain voted by 52 per cent to 48 per cent in favour of leaving the European Union in a referendum held on 23 June.

Correction: This article previously misidentified Herman Van Rompuy as the Commission rather than Council president

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