Guy Verhofstadt has ridiculed Boris Johnson for talking “nonsense” after the foreign secretary accused young British people who wanted to keep their European identity of having “split allegiances”.
The European Parliament’s lead Brexit spokesman told the Irish parliament on Thursday morning it was possible for people to “feel English, British and European at the same time”.
Johnson used his lengthy column in The Daily Telegraph last week to attack “Euro-patriotism”.
“I look at so many young people with the 12 stars lipsticked on their faces and I am troubled with the thought that people are beginning to have genuinely split allegiances,” he wrote.
“You don’t have to be some tub-thumping nationalist to worry that a transnational sense of allegiance can weaken the ties between us; and you don’t have to be an out‑and‑out nationalist to feel an immense pride in this country and what it can do.”
But Verhofstadt hit back at the foreign secretary for having an “binary, old fashioned and reductionist understanding of identity”.
“I note that some British politicians, not to name Boris Johnson, criticise their countrymen and women for wanting to keep their European identity,” he said.
“I think we need to be smarter, and more open and more inventive than that.
“It’s not your origin or the fact that by accident that you were born in this or that village, city or country that makes you a good citizen. No, it’s the fact that you embrace the values of your community.
Verhofstadt added: “I think it’s nonsense to talk about split allegiance. It’s perfectly possible, I think - I never practice it - but to feel English, British and European at the same time.
“And I think it is perfectly normal to be a Dubliner, Irish and European without being schizophrenic about split allegiance.”
Verhofstadt used his speech to also warn against the erection of a “hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit.
Theresa May this morning briefed her cabinet on her plan to break the stalemate in the Brexit negotiations ahead of a keynote speech on Friday.
The prime minister flew back to the UK after attending the United Nations General Assembly in New York and headed straight to Downing Street.
She is setting out details of her address in Florence on Friday, seen as crucial if the talks in Brussels with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier are to move forward to discuss a free trade deal once Britain has left the bloc.
May was accompanied on her flight from New York by Johnson, who had threatened to trigger a new round of ministerial infighting with his Daily Teelgraph column which was seen as his personal Brexit manifesto.