Belfast Telegraph

English people ‘unfamiliar’ with workings of EU, ex-Irish leader says

Former taoiseach John Bruton said the Brexit negotiations were forcing the UK to acquaint itself with how the body works.

An English misunderstanding of how the European Union actually works is at the root of many problems besetting the Brexit negotiations, a former Irish premier has said.

John Bruton told a conference in London that UK negotiators were failing to appreciate the rigid rules and guidelines within which the EU side had to operate due to the treaties that underpin it.

He said a lack of a written constitution in the UK meant its politicians had a tendency to blame issues in talks on the personalities on the EU side, when in fact the lack of flexibility is down to how the European Union is structured.

English public opinion, as indeed the English political elite, are only learning about what the EU is as they are leaving it John Bruton

Former taoiseach Mr Bruton was addressing the Brexit And The Island Of Ireland event, organised by the UK in a Changing Europe research body.

“The EU is a rules-based organisation with a common system for making, interpreting and enforcing a single set of rules and the UK has instead looked at it as a sort of traditional power-based international organisation where the rules weren’t really as important as having influence on the important countries,” he said afterwards.

“The UK is still thinking that it can ignore the Europe Commission and go to the capitals to get things fixed, which just isn’t the way it works.

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The UK is leaving the EU (Victoria Jones/PA)

“The EU is a body which essentially has a written constitution, which is the treaties, and they are interpreted not by the politicians, but by the court.

“So the European Union can only make an agreement with the UK as a departing member which is consistent with its written constitution and this is sort of something with which English people are unfamiliar because they haven’t had a written constitution.”

He added: “English public opinion, as indeed the English political elite, are only learning about what the EU is as they are leaving it.

“It’s only as they leave, because of the process of leaving, they are having to discover what it is they have left or are about to leave.

“It explains why they are inclined to personalise things, this is very common around English debate, they personalise it around (Jean-Claude) Juncker or (Michel) Barnier or Leo Varadkar when in fact it’s not really personal, it’s rules
– it’s rules that are causing the issue.”

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