Michael Gove discusses changes to EU travel after Brexit
Prime Minister Boris Johnson told the UK that a historic trade deal between the EU and Britain had finally been reached. The deal now needs to pass through Parliament before this week’s December 31 deadline. He and European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen clinched the deal on Christmas Eve after haggling over fishing rights.
Despite the feelgood factor embraced by the UK, over in Brussels the mood struck a more sombre tone, with Ms von der Leyen underlining that she felt “relief that we can finally put Brexit behind us”.
Debate had continued for months, and only at the last minute did it emerge that a deal could be struck, with Mr Johnson previously warning the UK to prepare for no deal.
The wrangling over issues such as the so-called level playing field and fishing rights left a deal in jeopardy, leading some MEPs in the European Parliament to accuse the bloc of stifling Britain, as it sought to leave.
One critic was Finnish MEP Laura Huhtasaari, who argued “inspirational” Britain was “striving for more freedom and democracy” as negotiations over trade begun earlier this year.
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She told Parliament that once the UK left, the “EU will never be the same again”, because Britain will “reach its full potential, and that will cause criticism against the EU in the remaining 27 member states”.
Mrs Huhtasaari added: “People are going to realise that the current technocratic EU is just holding us back.
“A truly sovereign state is able to decide on its own laws, taxes and borders.
“As a member of the EU, a nation state relinquishes these rights, which creates a severe democratic deficit.”
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Fears other nations will leave the bloc have been rife in the years following the historic Brexit referendum in 2016.
Eurosceptics in countries such as France, Finland, the Netherlands and Italy have vocalised their anger at the bloc, with some arguing major changes to how the union is run were needed.
One major fallout occurred as a result of the bloc’s decision to set up the coronavirus fund, which was used as loans and grants to help the countries hardest hit by Covid-19.
Around €750billion (£668billion) was offered, but talks over the fund sparked a bitter divide between those suffering the effects of economic decline, and those demanding more “frugal” packages be offered.
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Denmark, Sweden, Finland, the Netherlands and Austria all pushed back on an initial package of grants worth €500billion (£450billon), reportedly causing French President Emmanuel Macron to unleash his anger.
Those against the move included the Netherlands’ Prime Minister Mark Rutte, who was caught on camera telling Dutch workers the country would not give financial support to Rome or Madrid.
The video sparked outrage among those inside the bloc, yet Caroline de Gruyter – a Dutch author – said the row was just another example of how the Netherlands was adopting a hardline stance against the EU.
She wrote in a report earlier this year: “Nowadays, many who remember the Dutch as engaged, enthusiastic Europeans are puzzled by the harsh positions on eurozone reform or the Covid-19 package coming from The Hague. But this is not new.”
She added: “Most Dutch love the internal market and are positive about EU membership, but many reject the political aspects of European integration. European defence, a common foreign policy, or European taxes make them jittery.
“Their first reflex is to oppose those things.”
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