Thursday

17th Jan 2019

Brexit vote will delay decision on EU-Ukraine deal, says Rutte

  • Dutch PM Rutte (r) will not frame a response until UK colleague David Cameron (l) has endured his referendum (Photo: The Council of the European Union)

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte will not present a policy response to voters' rejection of the EU-Ukraine association agreement before 23 June, when British citizens vote on whether or not to remain in the EU.

The two political parties supporting his coalition government on Wednesday (13 April) approved his approach not to unilaterally withdraw the law which ratifies the Ukraine deal.

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  • 61 percent of Dutch voters that showed up at the referendum rejected the EU-Ukraine treaty (Photo: Peter Teffer)

Rutte's centre-right Liberals and centre-left Labour have a slim majority in the parliament's Lower House, where the entire opposition has demanded the ratification law be withdrawn following the referendum in which 61 percent of voters rejected the treaty.

“The people have spoken. The people were clear. The people said No,” said anti-EU opposition MP Geert Wilders during a Lower House debate Wednesday evening.

But PM Rutte asked the parliament for a chance to first try to find a solution by having discussions with the 27 other EU member states, who did ratify the treaty and with Ukraine.

Paradox

He said withdrawing the ratification law would undermine those talks.

“We would lose our entry ticket to those talks, that is the paradox we are dealing with,” said Rutte, adding that in that case “no-one” would want to talk to the Dutch government.

He added that a conclusion to those talks would not be reached before 23 June, when the UK will have its referendum on whether to remain or leave the bloc.

“Our political estimation, based on the first signals we received from our European partners, is that they want that [the UK referendum] out of the way first,” said Rutte.

“That doesn't mean that nothing can happen behind closed doors,” he said, but adding that only a public debate in Brussels about the Dutch referendum could lead to political conclusions. Rutte said he was aiming at such a resolution “before the summer”.

No means No

His government was criticised by the entire opposition for not immediately pulling the plug on ratification, including by political parties who had campaigned in favour of the agreement.

“Real people went to real polling stations to really say No,” said MP Sybrand Buma, of the centre-right Christian Democrats. “I find it dramatic, but we can't say in hindsight: 'it's disappointing, we are going to do what we want.'”

His left-wing Green colleague Rik Grashoff added: “I don't envy the prime minister, but he is going to have to negotiate in Brussels with the position that the Netherlands has withdrawn its support for the treaty.”

Eurosceptic opposition MP Marianne Thieme said Rutte is trying to fool No voters that some renegotiation of the treaty is what they wanted.

“The citizen should be taken seriously. In this debate, the prime minister is feeding the public distrust in politics,” she said.

In a way, the Dutch political establishment created the mess for itself. Before the referendum, all main parties said they would follow the advice no matter what the result.

So although the vote was formally non-binding, the politicians framed it in such a way that the result could not be ignored.

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