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EU parliament passes resolution for Brexit negotiations

The message from the EU is clear: with benefits, come obligations. Also, ECJ still rules.


MEPs have overwhelmingly voted in favour of a resolution that outlines the EU parliament’s mandate for approving a Brexit deal. The resolution was passed with 516 in favour, 133 against and 50 abstentions). It’s the first official response to the triggering of Article 50 and sets out the EU parliament’s red lines over a withdrawal agreement. The EU parliament has a key role in Brexit negotiations as any agreement will require the approval of MEPs.

Last week, EU council president Donald Tusk sent out the council’s draft negotiation guidelines, which are set to be formally agreed at an EU council summit on 29 April. What is clear from both the sets of guidelines is that there is unity on a number of key issues. Both say that negotiations will need to be conducted in a phased approach. Both also state that “substantial progress” needs to be made towards a withdrawal agreement before talks can begin on a future relationship agreement. More importantly, both say that a future relationship agreement can only be concluded once the UK is a third country.

There is nothing in the EU parliament’s guidelines that should come as a surprise. They are in line with what the EU has said since the referendum vote including “no cherry-picking”, a commitment to the four freedoms and that a non-member cannot enjoy better conditions than a member state.

A message that runs throughout the guidelines is that benefits come with obligations. It’s a reminder to the UK that the “have cake and eat it” position won’t stand. This applies to future trade as much as it does to continued participation in EU programmes such as Erasmus. It’s also a good reminder that, yes, a post-Brexit Britain could slash as much “red tape” as it likes but a consequence is that it does less trade with its biggest market. Something that even the prime minister acknowledged in her notification letter.

Other key points from the agreed guidelines include the European Court of Justice (ECJ) as the ruling body tasked with enforcing both the withdrawal agreement and any transitional arrangements. The document also stipulates that transitional arrangements cannot last longer than three years.

On citizens’ rights, the EU parliament is clear that the status and rights of EU citizens remain in place as they are until the date of withdrawal. They also stress that any agreement on the future status and rights of EU citizens living in the UK and Brits living in the EU should be based on principles of “reciprocity, equity, symmetry and non-discrimination”.

The formalised guidelines show how the EU sees negotiations under Article 50 going. At best, the UK and EU will be able to agree a withdrawal deal (encompassing citizens’ rights, the settling of accounts and a solution to the Irish border) as well as agree transitional arrangements. Should negotiations fail, those issues will not disappear. The legal status and rights of EU citizens in the UK and Brits in the EU will still need to be resolved and so will the border issue. And whilst some Brexiteers will push for the UK to refuse any “exit bill”, the EU will continue to push for the UK to settle its accounts. This all continues to happen even if Britain walks away with “no deal”. Except, it will also walk away leaving everything in disarray. Getting an agreement on transitional arrangements should be the main goal for the UK in negotiations.

In a plenary session before a formal vote on the resolution, a number of MEPs gave speeches including Guy Verhofstadt who is the parliament’s lead negotiator. European Commission president Jean Claude-Juncker and the EU’s lead negotiator Michel Barnier also have speeches.

In Barnier’s speech, he acknowledged the UK’s wish for parallel talks on withdrawal and a future relationship agreement. However, he warned that this would be “a very risky approach” and that a phased approach is essential to reaching an agreement in the short timeframe. He also noted that a phased approach is the best way “to build trust before proceeding to the second phase of negotiations”.

Verhofstadt has tweeted a copy of his speech, which you can see below:

You can see a statement from the EU parliament on the resolution at europarl.europa.eu.

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