LONDON — Less than a week after the U.K. left the European Union late Friday night, the mood has already soured — with British and EU officials trading cross-Channel barbs over a possible trade deal and the future of the U.K.
Brexit night on Friday, January 31, marked the end of a remorseful but relatively friendly period of farewell and triggered a new, much more belligerent tone from both London and Brussels.
Before the weekend was out, U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab accused the EU of “trying to shift the goalposts” ahead of trade talks and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar called U.K. plans for its diplomats to sit apart from EU counterparts in international forums “a little bit petty.”
If that wasn’t enough, recently departed European Council President Donald Tusk told a television interviewer that Brussels would be “enthusiastic” about an independent Scotland one day joining the EU. Never mind that this would mean the dismemberment of the U.K. It prompted Raab (again) to accuse Tusk of being “irresponsible.”
To some extent a change of tone was inevitable. Since the Brexit deal was struck in October, London and Brussels have had a common goal: ratifying the deal and guaranteeing the U.K.’s orderly departure.
The current tit-for-tat is really a battle to set the parameters of the trade talks to come.
On February 1, that shared endeavor ceded into the past, to be replaced by a new dynamic. The U.K. is now a third country, on the opposite side of a negotiating table where it and the EU will both ruthlessly pursue their own self-interest.