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Boris 'a piece of work' says ex-EU chief who negotiated Brexit as Johnson mounts opposition to Sunak's deal

2 March 2023, 18:06

Boris Johnson was a "piece of work", the former EU chief said
Boris Johnson was a "piece of work", the former EU chief said. Picture: LBC/Alamy

By Will Taylor

Former EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker has described Boris Johnson as a "piece of work" as the Prime Minister mounts opposition to Rishi Sunak's new Brexit deal.

The ex-EU Commission president, who oversaw the Brexit negotiations with Mr Johnson and Theresa May, admitted he "liked him as a person".

But he said the former prime minister was can't be "categorised in normal definitions| and said he regretted "not really intervening to counter these lies" he accused Mr Johnson of spreading during the referendum campaign.

Speaking to LBC's Andrew Marr, Mr Juncker said: "I had a good personal relationship with him, I like him as a person, he's funny but he's serious nevertheless.

Former EU boss reflects on what ex-PM Boris Johnson was like during Brexit negotiations

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"I had better relations with all the prime ministers I've known starting with John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, even David Cameron, then Theresa May, who was a lady and madame, as we are saying in the French.

"Because she was always delivering with what she promised, although she had to face strong opposition in Westminster. But that was not her fault.

Mr Juncker said he liked Mr Johnson but branded him a "piece of work"
Mr Juncker said he liked Mr Johnson but branded him a "piece of work". Picture: LBC

"And Boris Johnson was a piece of work, someone you can't categorise in normal definitions.

"But I liked him as a person and we made a deal and now this deal has been adjusted in this Windsor framework. Although I strongly disagreed with his final position… I liked him."

And he admitted regret at not countering what he described as falsehoods peddled by Mr Johnson as he railed against the EU in the 2016 referendum campaign – namely the infamous "£350m for the NHS" slogan.

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"The propaganda was there, the lies were there – this £350m lie put forward as a campaign element by Boris Johnson, and I should have reacted more strongly against this lie.

But I was asked by the former prime minister, David Cameron, not to intervene in the British referendum campaign because he was telling me, 'Jean-Claude, listen, the Commission is very unpopular in Britain, more unpopular than in the rest of Europe', which is quite a performance. So I did not intervene."

Former EU boss says that there is a part in the NI deal that some Brits are trying to 'hide'

He said it was a "major mistake I did not really intervene to counter these lies Boris Johnson was spreading around".

His comments came as Mr Johnson appeared to start a challenge against his former chancellor's bid to win approval for the "Windsor Framework".

That is despite Mr Johnson having been responsible for the initial deal that provided the Northern Ireland protocol, now hated by Brexiteers for establishing a kind of customs border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland – so as to avoid a hard border on Ireland.

Read more: Boris Johnson criticises Sunak’s new Brexit deal for Northern Ireland

"This is not about the UK taking back control, and although there are easements this is really a version of the solution that was being offered last year to Liz Truss when she was foreign secretary," he said in a speech on Thursday.

"This is the EU graciously unbending to allow us to do what we want to do in our own country, not by our laws but by theirs."

Mr Sunak, who has promised to put the deal he negotiated with Mr Juncker's successor Ursula von der Leyen to a vote in Parliament, is hoping to win the approval of the DUP in Northern Ireland and Brexiteers in his own party, who have so often proved a thorn in the side of prime ministers during discussions with Brussels.

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