Brexit 'red tape' causing 'huge problems' for both UK and EU, top MEP Guy Verhofstadt tells LBC

23 September 2023, 11:43 | Updated: 23 September 2023, 15:02

Guy Verhofstadt: 'It has been a stupid thing to cut yourself off from your main market.'

Kieran Kelly

By Kieran Kelly

A key official in the Brexit negotiations for the European Union has told LBC 'red tape' brought about by the UK's departure is causing "huge problems" for both parties.

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Speaking exclusively to LBC, the former prime minister of Belgium and member of the European Parliament Guy Verhofstadt said the British economy and industry has suffered since leaving the EU.

It came after caller Gareth from Matlock told Mr Verhofstadt that both the EU and the UK will benefit from “frictionless” trade in future, as he predicted more free trade agreements would come about.

But Mr Verhofstadt hit back, telling LBC’s Matt Frei: “That’s not the reality on the ground. The reality on the ground is there are huge problems for the European Union and for the British economy and the British industry.

“It has been a stupid thing, I think, to cut yourself off from your main market [the single market] and to have all this red tape and import duties as we see today."

He went on: “What happened with Brexit…those who sold Brexit during the referendum said ‘no, no, we will not go out of the single market’ and then once the results were in, they changed completely and became extremists of Brexit."

Watch Again: Matt Frei is joined by MEP Guy Verhofstadt | 23/09/23

Brexit was thrust back into the limelight this week after Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told a conference in Canada his government "would not diverge from the EU".

A number of Tory MPs hit out at Sir Keir's comments, including the Chancellor Jeremy Hunt, who told LBC's Nick Ferrari the Labour leader's comments are likely to have worried leave voters.

Read More: Sir Keir Starmer says he is right to seek changes to Brexit deal but there's 'no case for rejoining the EU'

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Sir Keir was forced to defend his position on Friday, insisting there is "no case" for joining the European Union or the single market.

Commenting on Labour's position on Brexit, Mr Verhofstadt acknowledged that the British public are tired of the issue and said he understands why politicians are unwilling to reopen the debate.

Keir Starmer has insisted there is "no case" for rejoining the European Union
Keir Starmer has insisted there is "no case" for rejoining the European Union. Picture: Getty

“I think they should be more outspoken [on Brexit] but I understand. I’m a politician at the end of his career. So I understand that most poltical parties, the Lib Dems also…they don’t want to touch it for tactical reasons," the MEP said.

“The British Parliamentary system is a tactical machine,” he added.

"I don't expect a change on all this until the next general election is over."

He added that he would "absolutely" welcome the UK rejoining the single market.

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On the issue of red tape, some businesses have been claiming for some time that they have found the transition post-Brexit.

Speaking last year, the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC) said businesses were struggling with the 'red tape' imposed by the UK leaving the EU.

The government claims Brexit has opened "new opportunities for UK businesses".