The European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt is known for his outspoken tweets attacking Britain’s Brexit strategies and standing up for the EU.
And while his style may seem rather more outlandish than Britain’s longest-reigning Prime Minister of the 20th Century, Mr Verhofstadt, 64, revealed he was given the nickname ‘Baby Thatcher’ during his time in Belgian politics.
In a warning shot to Britain, the former Belgian Prime Minister said the shrewd way he governed his country earned him the title.
He told Politico: “I was elected as leader of my party at 28. It was a record at that time.
This EU leader says that he earned the nickname ‘baby Thatcher’
“I became, at 32, the deputy prime minister and budget minister in a government with the Christian Democrats.
“At that time Belgium was the ‘sick man of Europe’ in terms of public finances — a little bit the same situation as Greece or Italy today.
“Our debt was 138 percent of GDP. We launched the first plan to reduce the expenditures, and it gave me later the name ‘Baby Thatcher’.
“We succeeded. When I started, we had a fiscal deficit of 13 per cent and we reduced it in two years to 7.8 per cent, and then created a fiscal surplus.”
Mr Verhofstadt, 64, is an influential European player in the talks over Britain’s exit from the EU
During my meeting with @JunckerEU, I reiterated that EU citizens in the UK should not have to go through an unclear, costly and burdensome procedure. Their rights must be guaranteed. They came to the UK in good faith and must be treated with the respect they deserve. pic.twitter.com/oY9nlAHwkF
— Guy Verhofstadt (@guyverhofstadt) December 4, 2017
Mrs Thatcher, a towering figure in British politics, died aged 87, in 2013.
But her stint as Conservative prime minister from 1979 to 1990 was marked as one of the most memorable of any leader.
The first woman to hold the position was a polarising figure who divided opinion in Britain with her policies of cutting welfare programmes, curbing the power of trade unions and privatising industries.
She was dubbed the ‘Iron lady’ because she was tough and unwavering in her belief in free market capitalism.
Mrs Thatcher, a towering figure in British politics was prime minister from 1979 to 1990
She was also a staunch advocate of “fixing” the economy in 1970s Britain – which was in dire straits with high unemployment.
Mr Vehofstadt, a pro-EU liberal, who appears honoured to follow in her footsteps, said the European Parliament was still pressing for more from London on guarantees for the rights of EU citizens in Britain during Brexit talks.
He tweeted: “During my meeting with @JunckerEU, I reiterated that EU citizens in the UK should not have to go through an unclear, costly and burdensome procedure.
“Their rights must be guaranteed. They came to the UK in good faith and must be treated with the respect they deserve.”
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Several key sticking points scuppered real progress on Brexit as Mrs May met with European leaders this week.
Mrs May went to Brussels for a long negotiating lunch with EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker.
But the European Union and Britain ended a flurry of top-level diplomatic meetings without a deal on the terms of their divorce.
There was no agreement on how to maintain an open Irish border after the DUP leader Arlene Foster made her opposition clear to changes to the status quo.
However, the two sides said they were within striking distance of consensus, setting up a hectic negotiating rush ahead of an EU summit next week.
Member countries must now decide whether to broaden the talks to the topic of future relations.