European Commission head Jean-Claude Juncker sharply criticised politicians Nigel Farage and Boris Johnson as the “sad heroes” who backed out of leading Britain through the EU exit they had campaigned for.
“The Brexit heroes of yesterday are now the sad heroes of today,” Juncker told a session of the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France.
“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,” Juncker said.
“Patriots don’t resign when things get difficult, they stay,” he added.
Juncker was reporting to MEP’s the results of last week’s historic European Union summit, in which British Prime Minister David Cameron reported to his fellow leaders the vote by Britain to leave the bloc.
Johnson pulled out of the leadership race to succeed Cameron, who has said he will resign by October, while Farage on Monday stepped down as leader of the eurosceptic UK Independence Party.
Ex-Luxembourg premier Juncker also criticised those who campaigned to leave the EU for failing to know what they wanted to do next, with Britain delaying on pulling the trigger on its official divorce from the EU.
“Instead of developing a plan they are leaving the boat,” Juncker said.
Farage, who has said he will continue as an MEP despite resigning as UKIP chief, was not in the chamber to hear the comments.
– Tusk warning –
EU President Donald Tusk meanwhile said the bloc’s remaining 27 members — who met without a British leader present on the second day of last week’s summit — “hope to have the UK as a close partner in future”.
The former Polish prime minister said the EU was ready for an “amicable divorce”, adding that it was Britain’s decision on when to pull the trigger and that “we cannot effectively force this decision on the UK.”
But he reiterated that it would have to accept the union’s free movement rules if it wanted access to the single market.
“We will not sell off our freedoms and there will be no single market ‘� la carte’,” he told MEPs.
He later warned that the remaining 27 EU members would look after themselves first when it came to negotiating a new relationship with Britain, adding that there would be no negotiations until Britain had triggered Article 50 — the EU’s divorce process.
“I would like to reassure you that wherever there may be a conflict of interest, we will act in the interest of the EU, and we will do so effectively,” Tusk told parliament.
Senior liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt also slammed Farage and Johnson.
“Brexiteers remind me of rats leaving the sinking ship,” said Verhofstadt. “What are you waiting for — the next referendum in France, in Italy maybe.”
French far-right leader Marine Le Pen meanwhile said the Brexit vote showed a growing tide of euroscepticism.
“The people want their sovereignty back,” she said.