European Parliament approves red lines for Brexit negotiations

Brexit champion Nigel Farage compares EU to ‘Mafia’ during debate on start of divorce negotiations

The last kiss goodbye: MEP Nigel Farage (left) and Jean-Claude Juncker crossed swords again in a debate on the start of Brexit negotiations
The last kiss goodbye: MEP Nigel Farage (left) and Jean-Claude Juncker crossed swords again in a debate on the start of Brexit negotiations

The European Parliament backed a motion setting out its position for the Brexit negotiations by 516 votes to 133.

MEPs will not participate directly in the exit talks, but they will have to vote in favour of the final deal for it to go ahead.

The motion for debate was supported by the two largest groups of MEPs, and calls for a “phased approach” to negotiations.

It also backs the call for transparency in the talks, and for the UK to be considered liable for financial commitments that apply after it leaves the EU.

Other principles include: Transitional arrangements should be time-limited to three years and be enforced by the EU’s Court of Justice; UK citizens in the EU and EU citizens in Britain should receive “reciprocal” treatment; the final deal should not include a “trade-off” between trade and security co-operation; the UK should adhere to EU environmental and anti-tax evasion standards to get close trade ties; the European Banking Authority and European Medicines Agency should be moved out of London’ and the UK should pay towards costs for the EU that “arise directly from its withdrawal”.

The European Parliament’s debate on negotiations for the United Kingdom’s exit from the European Union were described as a “delicate process” by the EP president Antonio Tajani.

MEPs backed European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker’s call for divorce proceedings to be first agreed on, which would later follow trade deals. “I say this to Mr Farage,” he told UKIP leader and MEP Nigel Farage, “It is the UK that is leaving the EU and not vice versa.”

The UKIP leader said the 29 March was a historic day for the British, referring to the triggering of Article 50 for the formal exit of the UK from the Union. “The UK did not join the EU but the EEC, and had they known that the situation would have gotten political, they would have done otherwise,” Farage said, accusing the EU of making demands impossible to comply with, and even comparing to the ‘Mafia’.

It was a comment immediately turned down by Tajani, who said such strong use of language was unacceptable. Instead Farage claimed the €52 billion cost for Brexit had been “plucked out of thin air”.

Malta’s parliamentary secretary for EU funds, Ian Borg, told MEPs the best interest of EU citizens would be kept in mind during Brexit negotiations, and that member states would present a unified message. “The EU believes it should work with sincere cooperation until the UK leaves the EU, since the EU has a further positive agenda to discuss and resolve.”

Borg, representing the Presidency of the Council of the European Union, informed the plenary on the preparations and the process that the Council will be undertaking for an orderly withdrawal of the UK. He said formal negotiations will be initiated towards the end of the Maltese Presidency and that Malta remains committed to continue working on the EU’s positive agenda and on other legislative files. He called for a constructive approach while the EU enters these unchartered territories.

Commission president Juncker said the UK’s exit from the EU would lead to the birth of a new bloc of 27 “already up and running and functioning [and] continue to build the European project with renewed energy. We need to work together with our civil societies.”

The head of the EU’s negotiating team for Brexit, Michel Barnier, also said the EU had to “speak the truth to our citizens, we need to objectively explain what Brexit means.”

Addressing Nigel Farage, Barnier said the EU should not seek to punish the UK, but that the UK should deliver on its commitments.

In other contributions from the floor, socialist MEPs made it very clear that they will not allow any cherry-picking from the UK, during the up coming two-year negotiations.  

According to the terms of the Lisbon Treaty, a two-year period of talks would then need to take place with the 27 remaining EU member states.

UK prime minister Theresa May wants to negotiate a new trade deal with Europe alongside the divorce settlement negotiations, but the EU has said that it is being reluctant to do so until after the UK has officially left.

The prime minister also admitted that curbs on freedom of movement will not come into force immediately after Britain has left the EU.

The European Parliament plays a crucial role in the Brexit negotiations, because it has to ratify the withdrawal agreement between the UK and the EU.

The European Greens said the European Parliament made it very clear that there will be no trade deal with a UK following a tax haven strategy. “However, this is not enough as the UK with its overseas territories is already the biggest tax haven in the world. The UK needs to end all its tax haven policies if it wants to get access to European capital markets. Great Britain must also no longer maintain tax havens in the Carribeans like the Cayman Islands or the BVI, as they promote worldwide tax dumping and money laundering,” German Green MEP Sven Giegold said.

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