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Brexit 5 years on: Europe 'is punishing the UK' for leaving EU: Poll

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By Alasdair Sandford
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (L) and his UK counterpart David Frost in post-Brexit Partnership Council and Joint Committee meetings, London, June 9, 2021.
European Commission vice-president Maros Sefcovic (L) and his UK counterpart David Frost in post-Brexit Partnership Council and Joint Committee meetings, London, June 9, 2021.   -   Copyright  Eddie MULHOLLAND / POOL / AFP
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Many people in the European Union's four largest countries think that since Brexit, relations between EU and UK politicians have become less cordial.

Many also think the EU wants to punish the UK for leaving.

The findings in an exclusive survey for Euronews by Redfield and Wilton Strategies reflect the strained relations between the two sides -- despite agreements on the terms of the UK's departure in January 2020, and on trade and other ties with the UK as a non-member.

They also suggest a majority of people believe the EU is neither better nor worse off without the UK as a member. Only one in seven on average think the EU is better off with the UK gone.

Since Britain began life outside the EU's legal orbit at the start of this year, London and Brussels have been at loggerheads over the implementation of new trade rules for Northern Ireland and their impact on a landmark peace accord. They have also clashed over fishing rights, vaccine exports and diplomatic representation.

People in France, Germany, Italy and Spain were asked whether they thought the behaviour of British politicians towards the EU and its members had become more or less cordial, or had not changed after Brexit. Across the four nations, more people replied "less cordial" than those who gave another answer: 51% in Spain, 43% in Italy, 39% in Germany and 37% in France.

British politicians and negotiators have argued that the EU is being inflexible over the Northern Ireland Protocol: the binding Brexit divorce accord which creates internal UK trade barriers across the Irish Sea in order to keep an open land border with the Irish Republic, an EU member.

The row escalated recently into a so-called "sausage war" over impending rules imposing checks on chilled meats sent from Britain to Northern Ireland.

In an article for the Financial Times earlier this month, Brexit minister David Frost accused the EU of "legal purism" and of seeking to impose its rules. The new leader of Northern Ireland's largest party, Edwin Poots of the DUP, said the EU was treating the region as a "plaything". London has alleged that Emmanuel Macron made "offensive" remarks suggesting Northern Ireland was not part of the UK.

EU leaders have repeatedly asserted that on Northern Ireland they are open to pragmatic solutions while simply demanding that the UK respect the agreement it signed. But the Euronews poll also shows that many Europeans believe that EU politicians have also become less courteous since Brexit.

The survey finds that in three of the four countries sampled, a greater number of people (44% in Spain, 43% in Italy, 39% in Germany) think the behaviour of the EU and European politicians has become less cordial towards the UK, compared to those who think their stance has either not changed or become more friendly.

Some of the language used by EU leaders over the Northern Ireland impasse has been blunt, though polite. The Commission's top negotiator Maros Sefcovic said the EU's patience with the UK was "wearing very, very thin".

His predecessor Michel Barnier said last week the UK needed to "pay attention to its reputation" and called on Johnson to "respect his signature". President Macron told the UK prime minister to his face, to keep his word. EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen told Euronews she wanted the British "just to do their job and implement what we have agreed upon".

The Euronews survey also finds that many people in the four EU countries agree with the statement: "The European Union wants to punish the United Kingdom for leaving". In three nations, more people (in Italy 35%, Spain 34%, France 33%) thought this was the case than those who disagreed. Only in Germany did more disagree than agree (32% compared to 30%).

Sefcovic has threatened swift retaliation if London breaks the binding Brexit divorce deal it agreed. Von der Leyen too has said the EU will use the "real teeth" under the deal's mechanism for settling disputes, to impose "unilateral remedial measures where necessary".

However, EU leaders argue such measures would only be used to punish the UK for breaching the terms of a binding international treaty.

The Euronews poll suggests many Europeans believe the EU wants to inflict punishment on the UK for daring to leave the bloc in the first place.

The survey of 1,500 people in each of the four countries -- France, Germany, Italy and Spain -- was carried out for Euronews by Redfield & Wilton Strategies on June 7 and 8.

Redfield and Wilton Strategies is a strategic research partner of Euronews. It conducts surveys on behalf of Euronews across European markets.