Sant: ‘Derided’ EU partnership no longer meaningless with Brexit deal

Former Labour prime minister who campaigned against EU accession for ‘partnership’ says UK Brexit deal proves it’s possible

Sant as Labour leader during a 2003 electoral meeting
Sant as Labour leader during a 2003 electoral meeting

Much blood, sweat and tears have gone into the UK’s costly retreat from the European Union, yet for one original eurosceptic – the Labour MEP and former prime minister Alfred Sant – the new Brexit adventure is partly vindicating.

As the proponent of an alternative to Malta’s EU membership, the ‘partnership’ he so advocated in 1995, Sant froze Malta’s application for accession upon winning power in 1996.

After his short-lived 22-month premiership, Sant campaigned against EU accession right up to 2003 by proposing an alternative membership-lite model with the EU. Now he says the EU’s negotiation with the UK, freshly removed from the bloc after two years of hard negotiations, proves his “partnership concept” is an alternative to EU membership.

“The European Parliament has adopted a resolution that describes the EU’s position in negotiations towards a comprehensive partnership between the UK and the EU following Brexit. Some years ago, the concept of a partnership was derided in Malta as meaningless but it has become increasingly evident that the partnership framework will continue to be developed by the EU as the best method by which to maintain deep and close relations with European states that do not aspire to become members of the Union,” Sant said.

The resolution approved by the European Parliament covers provisions that go well beyond free trade and investment cooperation issues, with a text that acknowledges that the EU and the UK will continue to have many interests in common.

The European Commission was urged to conduct negotiations transparently, through public consultation and dialogue with social partners, together with yhe inclusion of national parliaments.

“The proposed mandate contains some very tough positions. At the opening of any negotiation, this is how a mandate should be formulated. However it also confirms and updates the concept of a European state having relations with the EU in the form of a partnership,” Sant said.

The Labour Party’s failure back in 2003 to convince the nation that full EU membership was not its best available option remains Sant’s biggest political disappointment.

He had said on TVM’s Xtra: “I believe that the relationship between Malta and Europe is crucial for our country… My main disappointment is that I hadn't managed to convince the people that the way we were proposing [a partnership rather than full EU membership] was the best for Malta at the time. But now that Malta has decided in favour of accession, we have to make the most of it for the success of our country.”

Sant said he was still very sceptical about Europe becoming a federalist state, and expressed disappointment that Malta would lose its relationship with British MEPs following Brexit, people who he said had the healthiest relationship with Malta.

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