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Brussels panic: Barnier admits Brexit could collapse bloc – EU27 urged to 'be vigilant'

The Brussels diplomat hinted EU leaders will have to make an example of Brexit to prove to potential rebels that it’s “better to be inside than outside”. He said they should prepare to “combat” the same levels of resentment in the Brussels project that prompted Britons’ vote to leave more than four years ago. Speaking at an online event, Mr Barnier said: “Today, in many regions, there is this anger, the same feeling against Europe, the same problem to understand what we’re doing at the European level.”

Levels of euroscepticism have been steadily rising across the bloc in the years after our 2016 referendum vote to break free from Brussels.

Mr Barnier’s comments come after recent internal polling found that the EU’s “overall image continues to deteriorate”, with only 40 percent of europeans on average seeing it as a “positive” thing.

And separate official Eurobarometer analysis found that more than half of Europeans were “not satisfied” with the EU’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

These frustrations continue to grow with the EU’s vaccine strategy, prompting Hungary to become the first European state to approve Russia’s Sputnik V and the Oxford jabs.

Mr Barnier said: “We have to be vigilant because it is always a risk for the future.

“This risk can be combatted by the proof that it is clearly a better situation to be inside the EU than outside.”

The Frenchman, who has taken on a new role as special adviser on UK-EU relations, said the bloc should activity demonstrate the “consequences” of Brexit.

He added: “Brexit has exposed the consequences of leaving the EU for all to see.

“Even though we have a deal the UK’s choices mean that there will be inevitable short-term and long-term consequences.”

And Mr Barnier insisted that the EU should resist ironing out bumps in cross-Channel trade after Britain’s decision to quit the single market and customs union.

“Brexit means Brexit, it cannot be business as usual,” he concluded.

Mr Barnier was speaking after accepting the European Movement Ireland group’s “European of the Year” prize.

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“That you are so well known is a reflection of the fact that from the beginning spared no effort to understand the unique and disproportionate challenges facing our island in the context of Brexit.”

Foreign minister Simon Coveney added: “I had the privilege of working closely with you from the very start of the Brexit negotiations and you have never faltered through our regular meetings in Brussels, Dublin and beyond.

“I’ve been struck, not only by how effectively and persuasively you’ve represented the EU’s interest and values, but also by the enormous effort you’ve made to understand the specific issues affecting our island.”

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