Brexit: EU Parliament to call for association agreement with UK
Parliament will next week be asked to back a draft resolution calling for an association agreement with the UK after it exits the EU.
Antonio Tajani and Guy Verhofstadt | Photo credit: European Parliament audiovisual
The draft was outlined at a news conference in Parliament late on Wednesday by its chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt and the assembly’s President, Antonio Tajani.
The resolution takes a tough stance with the UK on some issues, notably citizens’ rights, and recommends what Verhofstadt called a “broad, intense and detailed” association agreement with the UK.
The ALDE group leader told reporters that Parliament, which has the right to sign off any final deal between the UK and EU, will “respect the UK red lines but at the same time safeguard EU principles.”
The 65-paragraph resolution was agreed on Wednesday by Parliament’s five biggest groups.
It is due to be debated in plenary next Tuesday with a vote the following day.
Verhofstadt told reporters, “This is our contribution to the discussion due to take place at the Council meeting this month on the guidelines for start of talks with the UK on a future trading relationship.
“It is a broad resolution and aims to find a solution to the issues. It is kind of bridge between the red lines of the UK on, for instance, no free movement of people and no oversight by the ECJ after it leaves the EU, and the principles and system of the EU.”
He added, “We respect the UK red lines but will want to safeguard EU principles.”
The MEP added, “We are proposing an association agreement but one that is totally different from other countries, such as Ukraine. It would be far broader, more detailed and more specific than those.”
There would, he said, be four “specific pillars” to any such deal with the UK: trade and economics; international security and defence; internal security, justice and home affairs; and thematic cooperation, for example, covering the Erasmus scheme, Horizon 2020, Europol, fisheries policy, Euratom and the aviation sector.
Verhofstadt said, “We are being more ambitious and specific than just saying we need an FTA.”
“These proposals aim to avoid different agreements but instead argues for a broad, intense and detailed association agreement with the UK.”
He said he hopes the resolution will be a “source of inspiration” for the Council summit in Brussels at the end of March.
The Belgian deputy said, “This is the thing that is missing at the moment: a concept or vision of how the future relationship will work.”
Verhofstadt, who heads Parliament’s Brexit steering group, said he expected “broad support” for the resolution in Strasbourg, saying, “This is a constructive contribution to find a way out and develop a new relationship for the UK outside the EU but one that is still close and deep.”
When asked how the resolution differs from the position outlined earlier in the day by European Council President Donald Tusk, he said, “Ours is not a different position to the Council but one that is more specific.”
He also gave more details of his meeting with UK Prime Minister Teresa May in London earlier this week, saying, “I explained our position to Mrs May in our meeting in Downing Street on Tuesday.”
This, he said, included discussions on Northern Ireland and the border issue, saying Parliament’s position in any withdrawal agreement will be to avoid a hard border.
Verhofstadt also rejected accusations that, with the rise of populist parties in Europe, as witnessed in the Italian elections, there was a risk to the European project.
He said, “I do not believe there is a risk of the EU falling apart so long as it manages to reform itself.
“Reform, though, is absolutely needed. The results in Italy show that we need reform to make the EU work and to produce policies and answers to public concerns. That was also the conclusion of the French elections.
“I do believe there is a will among people to change and reform things in Europe but not throw away Europe.”
Speaking alongside Verhofstadt, Tajani said the draft approved by political group leaders formed the “principle governing our future relationship with the UK.”
Tajani said that paramount to this was the “integrity of the single market”, adding that a “sector by sector partnership will not be possible.”
He said, “A level playing field between the two is essential and we want the closest possible relationship.”
He said that May’s speech on Brexit last Friday “was clear on the single market but leaves little room for alternatives. The alternative can only be an FTA with the FTAs with Canada and Japan being the models for this.”
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