‘You’re not laughing now’ – Farage teases MEPs

Jean-Claude Juncker says EU ‘cannot be embroiled in lasting uncertainty’ over Brexit

Ukip leader and Brexit champion Nigel Farage could barely contain his joy during an emergency session of the European Parliament in Brussels on Tuesday morning, saying "You're not laughing now", to boos and heckles from the chamber.

Hours before an EU summit taking place nearby, the MEP - who has made his call for a British exit from the European Union his life calling - gave a robust speech.

“When I came here 17 years ago and I said that I wanted to lead a campaign to get Britain out of the European Union, you all laughed at me. Well, I have to say, you’re not laughing now, are you?”

He said the British referendum result had been a seismic event, “not just for British politics, but for European politics [and] perhaps even for global politics too. Because what the little people did, what the ordinary people did, what the people who have been oppressed over the last few years and who have seen their living standards go down [did], they rejected the multinationals, they rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics.


“And they said, actually, we want our country back.

“The reason you are so upset, the reason you are so angry, has been perfectly clear from all the angry exchanges this morning: you are in denial. You are in denial that your currency is failing,” he said.

Facing down more boos, he said: “As a policy to impose poverty on Greece and the rest of the Mediterranean, you have done very well.

“You are in denial over [German chancellor] Mrs Merkel’s call last year for as many people as possible to cross the Mediterranean into the European Union, which has led to massive divisions between countries and within countries.

"But the biggest problem you have got, and the main reason the United Kingdom voted the way it did, is that you have, by stealth, by deception, without ever telling the truth to the British or the rest of the peoples of Europe, you have imposed upon them a political union."

Earlier Mr Farage sparred with European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker, who questioned why he had attended.

“That’s the last time you are applauding here,” Mr Juncker said after Mr Farage applauded his opening statement that Europe “must respect British democracy and the way it has expressed its view”.

“To some extent I am really surprised that you are here,” Mr Juncker told him. “You were fighting for the exit, the British people voted in favour of the exit. Why are you here?”

Mr Farage told him it was a “pleasure”.

The pair were then seen to share an embrace.

Reflective mood

Earlier, the mood had been more reflective as European Parliament Martin Schulz opened the session. An arch-federalist and passionate believer in the European project, the German politician last week called on British prime minister David Cameron to trigger exit negotiations as early as this week. On Tuesday morning he was more conciliatory as he called for “cool heads” and stressed that Britain would still be linked to Europe through “humanity”.

“We regret the decision that the United Kingdom has made. But you, the colleagues we have worked with, were are linked to you in humanity.”

Mr Juncker took the opportunity to defend his own record. Responding to murmurs of criticism of his leadership of the European Commission that have intensified since the British vote, the former Luxembourg prime minister declared: “I’m not tired, I’m not sick as newspapers in Germany write. I am what I am. To my last breath I will fight for Europe, for a united Europe.”

But in a warning to Britain of the difficult negotiations ahead, Mr Juncker called on the UK to “swiftly” clarifying its position regarding its plan to exit the European Union, warning that the union cannot be “embroiled in lasting uncertainty”.

Mr Cameron, who resigned after it became clear he had failed in his efforts to persuade the country to stay in the EU in last Thursday’s referendum, which he had called, says he will leave it to his successor to formally declare Britain’s exit.

Mr Cameron arrived in Brussels on Tuesday and went into a meeting with Mr Juncker without exchanging any words in front of the media.

Mr Cameron will hold bilateral meetings with his European counterparts in Brussels before addressing them all at what promises to be a frosty dinner to discuss Brexit.

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch

Suzanne Lynch, a former Irish Times journalist, was Washington correspondent and, before that, Europe correspondent