Sunday

17th Feb 2019

MEPs positive on Brexit deal, but with provisos

  • On Monday, the chief of the European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker (2nd from r), his right-hand Frans Timmermans (l) and Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier (2nd from l) visited the European Parliament's Brexit steering group (Photo: European Commission)

The European Parliament will vote on a resolution next Wednesday (13 December) which will recommend to EU leaders that they move to the next phase of Brexit negotiations.

Four MEPs presented the draft resolution on Friday afternoon (8 December), after the UK and EU achieved their initial deal earlier in the day.

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  • Four MEPs presented a draft resolution, which will be debated and put to a vote on Wednesday (Photo: Peter Teffer)

The parliament's Brexit coordinator, liberal Belgian MEP Guy Verhofstadt, told journalists that the draft text was an "assessment that is positive".

"A lot of the requests that the parliament has put forward, have been achieved in the negotiations," said Verhofstadt, a former Belgian prime minister.

"Our recommendation to the European Council [summit of leaders] is to go to phase two of the negotiations," he added.

"Nevertheless, the resolution will also mention a number of outstanding issues, that in our point of view need to be tackled", Verhofstadt noted.

Outstanding issues

The MEPs want citizens' rights to also include future partners. And they want the administrative procedure for EU citizens staying in the UK to be "light touch" and free of charge.

The parliament wants families to be able to deal with the UK authorities through a single form for the whole family. They want to be absolutely sure that decisions by the Court of Justice of the European Union will be binding.

They also want to make sure that UK citizens currently living in the 27 remaining EU member states, will keep their free movement rights after Brexit.

Finally, the draft text of the resolution said that the final deal must ensure that promises on avoiding a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland "are fully enforceable".

The draft was signed by Verhofstadt and five other MEPs, representing five groups.

No MEPs from mildly eurosceptic European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR), home to UK prime minister Theresa May's Conservative party, had co-signed, neither had anyone from the anti-EU groups Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy (EFDD) or Europe of Nations and Freedom (ENF).

But the text was sent to all political leaders on Friday, who could still sign up, Verhofstadt noted.

"I doubt it, but okay. … [The] ECR perhaps, maybe," he said.

"Let's hope. The bigger the majority the better the unity of the parliament," he added.

The text will be debated in Strasbourg on Wednesday, and followed by a vote. That timing will mean the text should be adopted before EU leaders arrive in Brussels for their 14-15 December summit.

No UK capitulation

At the press conference, the MEPs were careful not to sound triumphant.

Centre-left Italian MEP Roberto Gualtieri said the deal was "not a capitulation" by the UK, as a journalist suggested.

Verhofstadt also did not want to speak of winners and losers, saying the deal was "simply a fair agreement on issues that need fairness".

German centre-right MEP Elmar Brok said that "happy" would not be the correct word to describe his state of mind.

He noted that the interim deal was not yet the final withdrawal agreement.

"It is an important step within the withdrawal agreement, which was needed to build confidence," said Brok.

Gualtieri: "This is not perfect, this is sufficient."

Ireland

Green MEP Philippe Lamberts was not able to make it to the press conference, but sent out a press statement.

He noted that it was "simply impossible" for the UK to leave the single market, the customs union and jurisdiction of the EU's court, "while at the same time avoiding a hard border in Ireland and a border in the Irish Sea".

Lamberts said that "interestingly" the report did not specifically mention the UK leaving the single market and customs union.

"This may be the element that will need to be abandoned by the UK. Indeed, only by keeping the UK fully in the single market and customs union will borders be avoided both in Ireland and in the Irish Sea," he said.

Another senior MEP, from a different group, told EUobserver that there is indeed a contradiction between the UK's promise to avoid a hard border, to ensure "unfettered access for Northern Ireland's businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market", and leaving the customs union and single market.

"That is my conclusion too. But that is not my problem. That is the UK's problem," the MEP noted.

The final UK withdrawal agreement needs a majority support in the European Parliament.

Analysis

What are the key points of the Brexit deal?

Here is a brief summary of the main points of the 'joint report', the outline of the Brexit divorce deal reached on Friday morning - and what still lies ahead.

Deal reached in Brexit divorce negotiations

Juncker and May announced in Brussels on Friday morning that Brexit negotiators have reached an agreement on the divorce issues, and the Commission recommends to move talks onto the second phase.

EU leaders welcome Brexit divorce deal

British prime minister May's fellow leaders in Europe welcomed Friday's hard-won Brexit agreement on divorce, but Berlin in particular warned that the more 'highly complex' part of negotiations is to come.

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