Independent euro MP Steven Woolfe revealed how the EU Parliament is splitting down ideological lines, with each camp seeing Britain’s impending departure as an opportunity to stamp their own authority on the club.
The British MEP, who formerly belonged to Ukip but has now built bridges across political divides, said four key tribes are emerging who all want to grab hold of the power vacuum left by the UK.
In a wide-ranging interview with express.co.uk in Brussels, Mr Woolfe revealed there are now many within the EU Parliament who would be “happier for Britain not to come back” to the bloc at all.
Whilst some Remainers in the British establishment have been accused of trying to overturn the referendum result, he said many MEPs now want to see the UK carry through with Brexit as quickly as possible.
He said: “Some people are beginning in Europe to look at a different future post-Brexit and as a consequence of that some of them are going to be happier for us not to come back because their own ambitions would be thwarted.”
The first faction is made up of what Mr Woolfe described as the EU “federalists”, who want to exploit Brexit as the opportunity to finally fulfil their dream of an EU superstate.
This group, led by the enigmatic liberal chief Guy Verhofstadt, has been buoyed recently by the election of French president Emmanuel Macron and a deeply integrationist approach from the Commission.
Mr Verhofstadt is pressing hard for the 73 parliament seats currently occupied by British MEPs to be redistributed by way of pan-EU lists, meaning voters would elect European rather than national MEPs for the first time in 2019.
Mr Woolfe said the former Belgian prime minister, who is the Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, wants “to really push on once Britain’s gone and have this United States of Europe”.
The second grouping is dominated by reformists, spearheaded by the Swedish MEP Gunnar Hokmark, who believe that Brexit should be used as an overdue opportunity to slim down the EU’s budget.
According to Mr Woolfe, this faction consists of “a group of people who believe the EU should reduce costs” and who will battle to scrap the UK’s 73 seats altogether after 2019.
Thirdly, the British MEP revealed there is a growing contingent within the EU parliament who believe that those seats should be redistributed amongst Mediterranean countries to rebalance power away from Germany and France.
There has been growing resentment in much of Southern Europe about the stranglehold Berlin and Paris have on EU power, and in particular fiscal policies related to the eurozone many feel have damaged growth.
Mr Woolfe said: “A lot of Spaniards, Italians, Greeks and Portuguese firmly believe those seats should be allocated towards them and they believe that will shift the balance of power away from the German-Franco axis, and towards Southern Europe.
“So they are quite keen for Britain to go to. You can see the blocs are forming, the southern states feel they are going to get a lot more power after we’ve gone.”
The final group trying to capitalise on Brexit is the Visegrad bloc of four countries – Poland, Hungary, the Czech Republic and Slovakia – which may be about to add a fifth in the form of Austria.
The Central European powerhouse, whose members are currently at loggerheads with Brussels over issues relating to migration, the Rule of Law and the operations of NGOs, is eyeing up a bigger role after Britain has left.
Warsaw in particular sees itself as a natural successor to London in terms of standing up to the EU over ever closer political integration any any perceived encroachment on sovereignty.
Mr Woolfe said: “With Poland, they feel they’re growing economy and population will give them the leading role as the new Britain. They consider themselves as a power broker in the future.”