David Cameron, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage have been described as “rats fleeing a sinking ship” following their resignations in the immediate aftermath of Britain’s historic European Union referendum.
Guy Verhofstadt, the former Prime Minister of Belgium who now heads up the alliance of Liberal and Democrats for Europe, made the comparison the day after Mr Farage resigned as the leader of the UK Independence Party, saying “he couldn’t possibly achieve more”.
Mr Verhofstadt: "The Brexiters do not have a clue what needs to be done. Cameron, Johnson and Farage behave like rats fleeing a sinking ship."
His unflattering depiction of the three senior British politicians came as Jean-Claude Junker, president of the European Commission, accused the former London mayor Mr Johnson and Mr Farage of quitting when things got difficult. “The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sad heroes of today,” Mr Juncker told a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg.
“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," he added.
"Patriots don't resign when things get difficult, they stay.
“Instead of developing the plan, they are leaving the boat.”
Mr Johnson had long been the favourite to succeed Mr Cameron, who stepped down after being defeated in the EU referendum. However his prime ministerial ambitions were dealt a fatal blow after his former Vote Leave ally Michael Gove, the Justice Secretary, announced he was standing as leader.
“I must tell you, my friends, you who have waited faithfully for the punchline of this speech, that having consulted colleagues and in view of the circumstances in parliament I have concluded that person cannot be me," Mr Johnson said.
“My role will be to give every possible support to the next Conservative administration to make sure that we properly fulfill the mandate of the people that was delivered at the referendum, and to champion the agenda I believe in – to stick up for the forgotten people in this country.”
Fellow Brexit campaigner Mr Farage, announcing his resignation on Monday, said: “During the referendum campaign, I said I wanted my country back. What I’m saying today is I want my life back, and it begins right now.”
EU Council President Donald Tusk, meanwhile, said the bloc’s members “hope to have the UK as a close partner in the future”, but reiterated that Britain would be obliged to accept the EU’s four freedoms – people, goods, capital and services – 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.
Reports also emerged from the WirtschaftsWoche – a business weekly in Germay – suggesting that the EU Commission expects Britain to apply to leave the EU in September 2017 at the earliest, following elections in Germany and France.
“We do not expect that the request will be made this year,” a source close to the EU Commission told WirtschaftsWoche. “If a British politician triggers Article 50, they will do so after the elections in France and Germany”.
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