Emotions ran high during an emergency session of the European Parliament on Brexit, with bitter exchanges between MEPs culminating in a call for Britain to trigger Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty and begin exit negotiations immediately.
The extraordinary session of parliament saw MEPs boo UKIP leader Nigel Farage – one of the main figures in the ‘Leave’ campaign – and turn their backs on him after he said none of them had ever done “a proper job” in their lives.
Meanwhile, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker accused the UKIP leader of lying and “fabricating reality” in the referendum campaign.
At the end of the debate, MEPs voted in favor of a motion urging Britain to begin formal exit negotiations immediately by triggering Article 50.
Juncker opened the debate by telling MEPs he was sad about Britain’s decision to vote for Brexit, but that the EU must respect British democracy.
Juncker said Farage “lied about the budgetary aspects” of the UK’s membership of the EU, before suggesting Britain may not have voted for Brexit if it knew the true figures.
The Vote Leave campaign controversially claimed Britain sends £350 million (about US$460 million) a week to the EU, a figure which has been widely discredited because it does not take into account Britain’s rebate.
A truer figure is £136 million a week, after taking into account the rebate and EU spending on the UK.
Farage also backtracked on a promise to see this £350 million invested in the National Health Service (NHS) – rather than the EU – within hours of the referendum result being announced last Friday.
“You told us a few days ago that you made a mistake on the budgetary aspects of what was at stake in the relationship between the UK and the EU,” Juncker told the UKIP head.
“If you’d said that before the vote, then I wouldn’t need to congratulate you [on winning the referendum]. But you lied, you didn’t tell the truth. You fabricated reality.”
Juncker then touched a personal note with his old adversary.
“I enjoy debating with you, sparring with you, Mr Farage. I think we share a similar sense of humor. You used to have a sense of humor, I still do I think. But I find it regrettable that this will be the last occasion we will be able to debate, because you won’t be coming back.”
Farage began his address to the parliament by accusing the EU of being in denial over its failed project.
“The reason you’re so upset, the reason you’re so angry, has been perfectly clear from all the angry exchanges this morning. You, as a political project, are in denial. You are in denial that your currency is failing.”
Farage went on say the “ordinary people” who voted to leave the EU “rejected the multinationals, they rejected the merchant banks, they rejected big politics.”
He ended by predicting the UK “will not be the last member state to leave the European Union."
Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt attacked Farage over his claim to be a defender of workers’ rights.
“I’m shocked Mr Farage. You are presenting yourself as a defender of the little man, the hard worker, while you have an offshore financial construction. I don’t think all citizens have offshore financial constructions in Britain.”
The leader of the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe added: “But finally we are going to get rid of the biggest waste in the European Union which we have paid for 17 years, your salary. Thank you.”