European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker asked lawmakers of Britain’s anti-EU UKIP on Tuesday why they had attended a European Parliament session to discuss the consequences of the British vote to leave the bloc.
“We must respect British democracy and the way it has expressed its view,” Juncker said in a speech to parliament, words that were greeted by rare applause from the UKIP members present.
“That’s the last time you are applauding here… and to some extent I’m really surprised you are here. You are fighting for the exit. The British people voted in favour of the exit. Why are you here?” Juncker continued, breaking from his speech text.
Juncker spoke from a desk next to that of UKIP leader Nigel Farage, who followed the largely French and German speech with headphones and with a British flag planted in front of him.
Before the session began, Farage had gone over to speak to Juncker. Both men appeared relaxed and as Farage made to leave, Juncker pulled him close and gave him an air-kiss on the cheek.
Juncker said he would make no apology for being “sad” at the result of the British vote – “I am not a robot,” he said, “I am not a grey bureaucrat.”
He urged Britain to explain quickly what it wanted from the EU in terms of a new relationship but insisted he had told his staff to engage in no preliminary talks with British officials until London engages the two-year mechanism for leaving the EU.
“No notification, no negotiation,” he said.
On a rare personal note, the 61-year-old former Luxembourg prime minister, struck out at critics, notably in the German press but also among east European governments, who have called on him to stand down following the Brexit vote.
“I am neither tired or sick, as the German papers say,” he said. “I will fight to my last breath for a united Europe.”