Mr Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit representative, became a familiar figure in the referendum campaign, and continued to voice his opinion in no uncertain terms after Britain voted to quit the bloc in 2016. However, in his new book ‘Ireland and the EU Post Brexit’, Ray Bassett, the country’s former ambassador to Canada, Jamaica and the Bahamas, reveals gaps in the former Belgian Prime Minister’s knowledge of Anglo-Irish relations.
The subject of the border between the north and south dogged former Prime Minister Theresa May throughout her Premiership, as well as then-Ireland Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, with the question of how goods crossing Britain’s only land border with the EU the subject of fierce debate.
The discussion revealed a general lack of understanding in Brussels, and Mr Bassett wrote: “The lack of knowledge on the European side was demonstrated in an interview with Claire Byrne on RTE on April 9, 2019, when Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s lead on Brexit, claimed that the placing of even ‘one sensor on the border would endanger peace in Ireland’.”
Mr Verhofstadt, Mr Bassett said, had been “unaware that there are a considerable number of cameras already in place, and have been for many years, monitoring traffic on the main Dublin-Belfast highway close to the border.
“These installations have provoked no adverse response locally.”
Nor does Mr Bassett’s criticism end with arrangements for the border itself.
In a lengthy discussion of the Good Friday Agreement (GFA), the landmark 1998 deal which is widely acknowledged to have drawn a line under the Troubles which divided the island of Ireland for decades, Mr Bassett said the EU’s lack of involvement in the process was frequently overlooked.
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He was also slated on social media after accusing Home Secretary Priti Patel of “pulling up the drawbridge” in response to her tweet about the Government’s plan to end freedom of movement.
He commented: “The sad reality behind this newspeak: less freedoms & opportunities for continental Europeans and British people alike. Everyone loses.”
His post generated a strong response on Twitter, with one saying: “Nothing pleases me more than seeing how triggered you are by Brexit becoming a reality.
“All that hard work you did to try and overturn a democratic vote failed. Thanks Guy, I needed that.”
Another added: “It hurts you Guy, the fact that we have left, that pleases me so much, to think you once laughed we would be a colony of the EU.
“Well, you’re not laughing now, enjoy your new Baltic nations net contributors will have to subsidise, lucky we don’t have to.”
A third added: “Shouldn’t have tried to make us a vassal state then.
“Should have treated us as the sovereign nation we voted to be and not tried to overturn our decision.”
Another suggested Mr Verfhofstadt was struggling to grap the reality of the situation, saying: “Doh! Poor old Verhofstadt STILL hasn’t worked out it was his EU freedoms and opportunities that CAUSED Brexit.”