Brexit: It is in UK's 'best interest to behave' says Barnier
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Joao Vale de Almeida suggested that new defence projects and the bloc’s multi-billion euro coronavirus recovery fund could have been blocked by the UK. The top diplomat said he shares “doubts” that these proposals would’ve been possible without Brexit. Speaking at an EU-UK Forum, Mr Vale de Almeida said: “To be very frank, I think that the EU has pretty well managed Brexit in terms of if you look at the advances we were capable of making on defence and security, which maybe would have been more difficult to achieve if the UK was still a member.
“If I look at our reaction to the Covid crisis – the Next Generation EU programme – which has been called a Hamiltonian moment the history of the EU.
“Would this have been possible with the UK still part of the European Union? Some have doubts about that and I may share those doubts.”
Many believe the EU would have been unable to negotiate its £641 billion recovery fund with Britain still in the bloc.
Under the scheme, the European Commission is raising funds on international markets to dish out as non-repayable grants and low-cost loans to pandemic-stricken regions and industries.
Mr Vale de Almeida explained it is his opinion that Brexit has in fact strengthen the EU.
While serving as the bloc’s ambassador to the United Nations in New York, he suggested that many of his colleagues would often ask what member state would be next to leave.
He added: “No one else left, and if I trust public opinions, no one wants to leave, because the levels of support have gone up instead of going down after Brexit.
“Overall, I think we’ve managed the trauma of Brexit quite well. It is, of course, a different European Union without the United Kingdom.”
But Mr Vale de Almeida suggested that a real evaluation of the EU’s performance after Brexit will not be possible until next year.
Meanwhile EU-UK relations continue down a rocky road because of the row over trade checks for Northern Ireland.
Brussels has threatened fresh legal action if Britain doesn’t implement EU-mandated border controls.
EU Brexit chief Maros Sefcovic raised the prospect of a future trade conflict if an agreement cannot be found in the row over the customs controls.
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The European Commission vice-president said the biggest challenge to UK-EU relations is the lack of trust.
Speaking at an EU-UK Forum event, Mr Sefcovic said: “Trust is essential for any constructive relationship, but to build trust in each other as partners requires first working together cooperatively and refraining from surprises in the form of unilateral actions.
“Unfortunately, the unilateral measures the UK Government took in March contradicted this much-needed spirit of joint action and clearly violated what we agreed.
“In response, we were forced to launch an infringement procedure and without satisfactory steps by the UK to remedy these measures, we’re going to have no choice but to step up these legal proceedings.”
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Prime Minister Boris Johnson has threatened to rip up the Northern Ireland Protocol unless an agreement to ease EU red tape is found.
Downing Street fears that the customs controls have driven a wedge between the region and the rest of the UK, and has stoked up tensions in Loyalist communities.
Mr Sefcovic insisted that legal action is not the EU’s “preferred option”.
He said a negotiated agreement, such as the recent decision to delay the EU’s ban on British sausages being sold in Northern Ireland, is a much more preferable solution.
The Slovak diplomat described the move as a concession and said the EU was also working hard to change its own legislation to protect medicine supplies to the region.
But he refused to drop an EU proposal for Britain to align to the bloc’s animal and food safety rules in order to eliminate the majority of the border checks.
To avoid a hard border, Northern Ireland effectively remains in the EU’s single market, with a number of controls on goods shipped from mainland Britain.
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