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After three years of political wrangling, Britain finally left the EU at 11pm on January 31. It is a new chapter for the country’s national history – one that will hopefully see the UK return to being an independent sovereign state after the transition period. Prime Minister Boris Johnson has less than seven months to negotiate a free trade agreement but there still appears to be significant differences between the negotiating positions of the two sides.
Brussels continues to insist on maintaining its current fishing rights in British waters and wants London to agree to a number of EU regulations, including environmental standards, workers’ rights and state aid rules.
On the other hand, Mr Johnson is demanding the right to diverge from the bloc’s rules in order to strike trade agreements around the world.
According to unearthed reports, Britain learnt in 2011 that the EU was not willing to compromise and engage with its concerns and objections.
Nine years ago, as the crisis in the eurozone reached its peak, the bloc needed to make urgent institutional changes to prevent financial disaster and change to the Lisbon Treaty was proposed.
However, institutional changes to the primary law had to be agreed and ratified by all member states and former Prime Minister David Cameron only agreed to the revision if other EU leaders guaranteed to protect the position of the City of London.
The EU rejected Mr Cameron’s demands and the former Prime Minister decided to use his veto to block the EU-wide treaty, claiming he had to protect key British interests – including its financial markets.
However, that same day, former French President Nicola Sarkozy hailed a “historic” breakaway “euro plus” bloc that would have pursued fiscal and economic union via a new treaty outside the EU, leaving Britain isolated and not part of the negotiations.
Despite Brussels effectively circumventing Britain out of the talks, according to a 2011 report by the Daily Express, senior figures in the EU wanted to use the powerful voting majority of the new eurozone “fiscal union” bloc to punish the UK for using its veto.
Some were reportedly calling for a deluge of new regulations and red tape to be imposed on British business.
Others were even calling for Britain to be driven out of Europe altogether.
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Former President of the European Parliament, Martin Schulz, said at the time: “I doubt in the long term whether Britain will stay in the EU.
“The EU can, if necessary, do without Britain, but Britain would have more difficulty without the EU.”
Gunther Krichbaum, the chairman of the powerful EU committee in the German Parliament and a political ally of Chancellor Angela Merkel, added: “The Treaty of Lisbon explicitly opens the possibility of a country’s withdrawal.
“The British must now decide whether they are for or against Europe.”
Elmar Brok, a senior German Christian Democrat Euro MP, claimed the EU had to marginalise Britain, so that the country came to feel “its loss of influence”.
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Daniel Cohn-Bendit, the former leader of the Green MEPs, also said at the time: “Now we must put pressure on the British and force them, by implementing tough regulations on financial markets, to decide if they want out of the EU or stay inside.”
Despite not attending the meetings of the new fiscal union, Whitehall officials were braced for a string of new initiatives that would have had an impact on the UK economy.
One Whitehall source said: “A decision taken by the Euro-Plus summit is a fait accompli for the EU.
“If the Euro-Plus decides that will be translated into an EU decision via its in-built qualified majority, Britain won’t have a chance to influence EU decisions on economic, social and employment legislation that overrides its national law.”
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