On the evening of Friday 24th June, as the first day of mourning and celebration over the referendum result wound down in the UK, Jean-Claude Juncker gave an interview to German TV station ARD. “It is not an amicable divorce,” the president of the European Commission said of the Brexit vote. “But it was also not an intimate love affair.”
After years of smiling through clenched teeth and attempting to forge ahead despite increasing animosity, Juncker threw in the towel on the relationship with an air of bitterness. The rift was complete and there was no point trying to play nice any more. “I do not understand why the British government needs until October to decide whether to send the divorce letter to Brussels,” he said. “I’d like it immediately.”
That evening, Lars Vesterbirk, 70, was at home in Kragenæs, a Danish village of 120 people about 150 kilometres south of Copenhagen. Juncker’s acidity came as no surprise to him. He had experienced similar treatment firsthand three decades earlier when he was put in charge of the negotiations on Greenland’s withdrawal from what was then the European Economic Community (EEC).
“I think [the EU] will have the same attitude now as they had 30 years ago,” he says. “That when you leave the family, you should not expect to get anything easily.”