Britain’s mounting fuel crisis which has seen pumps run dry is a “direct consequence” of Brexit, the EU’s former chief negotiator Michel Barnier has said.
r Barnier, who is running for the French presidency, said the drastic shortage of lorry drivers and ongoing supply chain problems were down to the UK’s decision to quit the EU.
“Part of the answer is linked, effectively, to the consequences of the Brexit because the UK chose to end the freedom of movement [of people],” he said.
“And there is a clear link to the truck drivers,” Mr Barnier added.
“In addition to the freedom of movement, the UK choosing to leave the single market – that means that the UK decided to rebuild, for the very first time, non-tariff barriers between the EU and the UK. It is a direct and mechanical consequence of Brexit.”
The French politician was speaking at a virtual event hosted at the London School of Economics, promoting his new book My Secret Brexit Diary – which details his time negotiating the exit deal on behalf of the European Commission.
The former Brexit negotiator also told BBC’s Newsnight that the Northern Ireland protocol “cannot” be dropped and remains the “only way to find a solution for all the problems created by Brexit”.
Mr Barnier also claimed Mr Johnson “knew exactly what he signed” when he negotiated the Brexit deal with the EU. “What creates problems in Ireland is Brexit, nothing else.”
Despite his criticism of Britain’s decision to leave the EU, Mr Barnier has been accused of adopting Eurosceptic rhetoric in his bid to win the French presidency for the centre-right Republicans.
He stunned ex-colleagues in Brussels earlier this month by saying it was time for France to “regain sovereignty” lost to the European judiciary, and has called for a referendum to impose a five-year moratorium on immigration to France from outside the EU.
Former Irish premier Leo Varadkar, now the country’s trade minister, also said Brexit was largely to blame for the fuel shortages and empty supermarket shelves in the UK.
“We can see, in England, real difficulties because they have left the single market, because they have left the single labour market – you know, gas stations closed, concerns about products getting to them by Christmas,” Mr Varadkar said on Monday.
“I think some of the difficulties that are being experienced in Northern Ireland are less about the protocol and more about Covid and Brexit, but they’re all getting wrapped into one and the protocol is being blamed.”
It followed similar comments by Olaf Scholz, the man who looks set to replace Angela Merkel as Germany’s chancellor.
“We worked very hard to convince the British not to leave the union. Now they decided different and I hope they will manage the problems coming from that,” said the leader of the Social Democrats, referring to the driver shortage.