Friday

21st Sep 2018

Opinion

UK should work more closely with MEPs on Brexit

  • When it comes to engaging with the European Parliament on Britain's withdrawal from the EU, Brexit secretary David Davis looks to have made a wise call. (Photo: European Commission)

There is a long and colourful history of European politicians saying one thing in Brussels only to go home and tell their domestic audience the complete opposite.

David Davis has learned the hard way that when it comes to Brexit, it's best to stick to the original script or he risks damaging the UK's negotiating position.

Read and decide

Join EUobserver today

Support quality EU news

Get instant access to all articles — and 18 year's of archives. 30 days free trial.

... or join as a group

Davis got into trouble when he said that the hard-fought agreement between prime minister Theresa May and the Commission's task force to move the Brexit talks onto the future bilateral relationship was merely a "statement of intent".

But something positive might have emerged from this – Davis now says he is keen to work more closely with the European Parliament.

Strictly speaking David Davis was correct – the deal will remain a gentleman's agreement until it is translated into a legal text. But his flippant statement put noses out of joint in Brussels.

Guy Verhofstadt, the parliament's point man for Brexit, accused Davis of undermining mutual trust. And the comment prompted the parliament to toughen its stance and insist that the Brexit talks can progress during the second phase only if the British government fully respect its commitments.

Davis responded on Twitter that he had spoken "to my friend" Verhofstadt, and that he was committed to turning the EU-UK agreement into a legal text as soon as possible.

Then came the silver lining: Davis tweeted that he looked forward to working closely with the parliament on the next phase of the Brexit talks, especially on citizens' rights.

Wise move

This is a wise move. The European parliament does not have formal powers to negotiate with the British alongside Michel Barnier. But it can veto the UK's withdrawal agreement as well as any deal on its future relations with the EU-27. There's no indication that it might use that power, which would result in the UK crashing out the EU without a deal, but it has skin in the game.

MEPs have flexed muscles before in order to extract concessions from the commission and member states.

In 2010, MEPs torpedoed for example an agreement between the EU and the US on the processing and transfer of financial data for the purposes of terrorist finance tracking. It would help the UK's negotiators to treat the European parliament seriously.

Brexiteers have tended to overlook the role of the European parliament both in the Brexit process and in the past. The body made up of 751 members of the European parliament (MEPs) elected by EU citizens has for years been ridiculed in the UK for being little more than an expensive talking shop.

The parliament's shuffling between plenary sessions in Brussels and Strasbourg has become a well-worn metaphor for the largesse and absurdity of European institutions. Most Britons have little idea what the European parliament really does. News coverage has been largely negative, from criticism of MEPs generous salaries, or more recently, when eurosceptic parliamentarians from the UK Independence Party had a physical altercation which left one in hospital.

Follow Barnier's lead

True, the European parliament is not perfect. It has pushed for larger EU budgets at a time when several member states were being forced to cut their spending. But it has also done many commendable things; it has fought relentlessly to improve consumer rights, launching for example an inquiry into the Volkswagen emission scandal. On Brexit, MEPs helped to make citizens' rights one of the priorities of the early phase of the negotiations.

The EU's chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, understood early on that it is important to have the European parliament on side to ensure that the Brexit negotiations go smoothly. He has regular meetings with MEPs, takes the parliament's views into account ahead of the negotiating rounds with Davis and debriefs MEPs afterwards.

The British government should follow Barnier's lead and step up engagement with the European Parliament. Theresa May has met some high profile MEPs but she has been reluctant to address the plenary. But if the UK wants to strike an ambitious agreement on the future relations with the EU-27 it needs to make a case for it not only in member-states or Berlaymont but also in the European Parliament.

Davis has joked that he doesn't have to be clever to do his job, or to know very much. But when it comes to engaging with the European parliament on Britain's withdrawal from the bloc, he looks to have made a wise call. Britain stands to benefit if he can now follow through on his statement of intent

Agata Gostynska-Jakubowska is senior research fellow at the Centre for European Reform

Brexit: EU trade talks to start in April

Talks on future trade relations to start mid-April, as Brussels waits for London to say what sort of relationship it wants, but last week's deal now 'Davis-proofed'.

MEPs to keep 27 UK seats after Brexit

The number of French MEPs will grow from 74 to 79, while Spanish MEPs will increase in number from 54 to 59. Italy, the Netherlands, and Ireland will also get more MEPs, but Germany is already at the maximum allowed.

Will the centre-right stand up for EU values?

Time for Christian Democrats in the EP to show where they stand on Hungary and on the EU's founding principles, say Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International in a joint text.

Europe needs more modern leadership

If Europe wants to be a global leader, our political leadership has to change dramatically. Power needs a new face in Europe, and it needs to get legitimacy from the people, argues liberal MEP Sophie in 't Veld.

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe vital bioeconomy. New issue of “Sustainable Growth the Nordic Way” out now
  2. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSThe Nordic gender effect goes international
  3. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSPaula Lehtomaki from Finland elected as the Council's first female Secretary General
  4. NORDIC COUNCIL OF MINISTERSNordic design sets the stage at COP24, running a competition for sustainable chairs.
  5. Counter BalanceIn Kenya, a motorway funded by the European Investment Bank runs over roadside dwellers
  6. ACCACompany Law Package: Making the Best of Digital and Cross Border Mobility,
  7. IPHRCivil Society Worried About Shortcomings in EU-Kyrgyzstan Human Rights Dialogue
  8. UNESDAThe European Soft Drinks Industry Supports over 1.7 Million Jobs
  9. Mission of China to the EUJointly Building Belt and Road Initiative Leads to a Better Future for All
  10. IPHRCivil society asks PACE to appoint Rapporteur to probe issue of political prisoners in Azerbaijan
  11. ACCASocial Mobility – How Can We Increase Opportunities Through Training and Education?
  12. Nordic Council of MinistersEnergy Solutions for a Greener Tomorrow

Latest News

  1. Brexit and MEPs expenses in the spotlight This WEEK
  2. Wake-up call on European Day Against Islamophobia
  3. Sound of discord at 'Sound of Music' Salzburg summit
  4. Salzburg summit presses for bigger Frontex mandate
  5. UK's post-Brexit plan 'will not work', EU says
  6. Airbnb agrees to clarify pricing for EU
  7. Libya keeps coast guards rejected by the EU
  8. EU divisions on menu at Salzburg dinner

Stakeholders' Highlights

  1. UNICEFWhat Kind of Europe Do Children Want? Unicef & Eurochild Launch Survey on the Europe Kids Want
  2. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Countries Take a Stand for Climate-Smart Energy Solutions
  3. Mission of China to the EUChina: Work Together for a Better Globalisation
  4. Nordic Council of MinistersNordics Could Be First Carbon-Negative Region in World
  5. European Federation of Allergy and AirwaysLife Is Possible for Patients with Severe Asthma
  6. PKEE - Polish Energy AssociationCommon-Sense Approach Needed for EU Energy Reform
  7. Nordic Council of MinistersNordic Region to Lead in Developing and Rolling Out 5G Network
  8. Mission of China to the EUChina-EU Economic and Trade Relations Enjoy a Bright Future
  9. ACCAEmpowering Businesses to Engage with Sustainable Finance and the SDGs
  10. Nordic Council of MinistersCooperation in Nordic Electricity Market Considered World Class Model
  11. FIFAGreen Stadiums at the 2018 Fifa World Cup
  12. Mission of China to the EUChina and EU Work Together to Promote Sustainable Development

Join EUobserver

Support quality EU news

Join us