Tuesday

19th Feb 2019

Pro-EU MEPs still see room for stopping Brexit

  • Members of the House of Commons will vote on Theresa May's Brexit deal on Tuesday evening (Photo: European Parliament)

Members of the European Parliament have arrived in Strasbourg for their plenary session, but many will be more interested about events in London.

On Tuesday (15 January), the House of Commons is scheduled to vote on the Brexit deal that settles the terms of the United Kingdom's end of its EU membership.

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  • Centre-left MEP Jo Leinen (c) and Greens MEP Benedek Javor (r) hope UK citizens will reconsider Brexit (Photo: European Parliament)

"It is one of the most important political decisions this year - not only in Europe, but in the world," Ryszard Czarnecki, a conservative Polish MEP, told EUobserver.

He was planning to watch the vote, expected for Tuesday evening.

"Of course everybody follows the developments," added Benedek Javor, a Hungarian MEP from the Greens group.

Javor is among the 100+ MEPs who signed an open letter which asked the citizens of the UK to reconsider leaving the EU.

"Any British decision to remain in the EU would be warmly welcomed by us and we would work with you to reform and improve the European Union, so that it works better in the interests of all citizens," said the letter, made public over the weekend.

It was signed by 145 MEPs as of Monday evening. The European Parliament has 751 members.

The signatories came from 26 of the EU's 27 member states - none of the six Cypriot MEPs signed it.

However, the letter was not signed by MEPs from all eight political groups.

Almost half of them, 71 signatories, are members of the centre-left Socialists & Democrats (S&D) group - perhaps because the letter was an initiative by the Austrian S&D member Josef Weidenholzer.

The other signatories are from the centre-right European People's Party (37), the Liberals (20), and Greens (17).

The four groups are generally the ones most in favour of more EU integration.

"If there is a very last chance to keep Britain in the EU, any effort is worthwhile doing it," centre-left German MEP Jo Leinen told EUobserver on Monday.

He noted that opinion polls indicated that UK citizens had changed their minds on Brexit since voting in the in/out referendum in 2016, and mentioned the possibility of a second referendum.

"I think that's the only way out, because you had a referendum and I don't think that the Yes to Brexit can be overthrown easily by a parliament vote alone," said Leinen.

"I would be very disappointed to see our UK friends to leave the EU," added Javor.

Sovereignty

Polish MEP Czarnecki did not sign the letter.

He is a member of the European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR) group, which also is home to UK prime minister Theresa May's Conservative party.

"It's the sovereign matter of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland," said Czarnecki.

He said that the EU should not be a "teacher" telling the UK what to do, and that attempts to convince the UK to stay could backfire.

"The political effect of this debate can be … the growth of support of Brexit in the UK," he said.

German MEP Hans-Olaf Henkel, who is, like Czarnecki, from the mildly eurosceptic ECR group, on Monday published his own open letter, to his fellow MEPs.

He said that their letter could be counterproductive, and seen "as meddling in their [British] internal affairs".

"Let's offer the British some degree of autonomy over immigration, a certain kind of flexibility," added Henkel.

Leinen and Javor disagreed.

"This is not something generated by MEPs or European bodies, but it is an ongoing discussion in the UK as well," said Javor.

The letter to the Brits in fact specifically mentioned that the undersigned were "reluctant to intervene in your domestic politics".

"We are every day interfering in domestic politics, because we are so much connected with each other," said Leinen.

"Brexit is a common challenge, not only for Britain but as well for the EU27," he noted.

Javor and Leinen also said they thought they had the backing of their voters.

"In my opinion there is a large majority of Europeans who want to have Britain in the EU," said Leinen, although he acknowledged that there was frustration as well.

"There are a number of people who say 'let them go, and the quicker they go, the better'. But I feel that this is more an expression of desperation," he noted.

"Those who keep a cool head would say that in a world full of troubles and challenges we would be stronger to defend our values and our interests being together than separating from each other," said Leinen.

The open letter by MEPs was not the only correspondence heading to London.

Presidents' letter

On Monday, the presidents of the European Council and the European Commission, Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker respectively, also sent an open letter.

The letter did not contain any new commitments, but said the agreed deal was a "fair compromise [that] aims to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union, thereby limiting the negative consequences of Brexit".

MEPs have scheduled a debate for Wednesday morning, about the outcome of Tuesday's vote in the House of Commons.

No more Brexit talks, despite May's pleas

EU leaders said they can do no more than reassure the UK they do not want to trap it over Ireland, but May might need more than that to get the Brexit deal through parliament.

EU-27 unimpressed by May, offer little on Brexit

British PM asked for a legally binding guarantee on the backstop and for it to end no matter what in 2021, but did not reveal a strategy on how to sell the Brexit deal to her parliament.

MEPs positive on Brexit deal, but with provisos

'A lot of the requests that the parliament has put forward, been achieved in the negotiations,' said Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament's 'point man' on Brexit.

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