British MEPs clash during EU Parliament Brexit debate

Written by Martin Banks on 15 March 2018 in News
News

A bitter war of words has broken out in the European Parliament between British MEPs over Brexit.

Brexit | Photo credit: Press Association


The UK deputies clashed on Tuesday in Strasbourg in a stormy parliamentary debate on a resolution on Brexit which was endorsed by the institution on Wednesday.

The resolution, backed by the main groups, says that an association agreement, including a free trade deal, with the UK is the most likely outcome of the Brexit talks.

The verbal spat started when Scottish Nationalist deputy Alyn Smith branded Brexiteers as “useless idiots and shysters.”


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This drew an angry response from several MEPs, including Steven Woolfe, an independent member, who demanded that Smith be asked to withdraw the remarks, particular the word “shysters” which he described as “demeaning.”

Woolfe branded Smith’s comments as “flannel and nonsense.”

He told Smith, “Fear and panic is all you hear from the Remainers.”

The resolution backed by most mainstream groups was, he said, “another attempt to undermine the UK.”

“No one voted to make themselves poorer. But the Brexiteers lied to you. As we get to the end point of this process let’s remember that there is no shame in changing your mind so, yes, there is still time to change your mind” Alyn Smith MEP

“But, rather than the UK staying, you will find more countries will want to leave and join Brexit as well.”

An unrepentant Smith refused to take back his statement and went on to point out that Scotland had voted by some margin to remain in the EU in the EU Referendum.

The post Brexit outlook for the UK, he said, was “pretty bloody bleak” predicting it will result in a “diminished UK and a poorer UK economy.”

He said, “No one voted to make themselves poorer. But the Brexiteers lied to you. As we get to the end point of this process let’s remember that there is no shame in changing your mind so, yes, there is still time to change your mind.”

“Fear and panic is all you hear from the Remainers” Steven Woolfe MEP

The two were taking part in a debate in Parliament on the guidelines on the framework of future EU-UK relations. This takes the form of a 19-page resolution which members overwhelmingly backed in a vote on Wednesday.

The Parliament’s Greens/EFA group used the debate to call on UK PM Theresa May to “resolve the contradictions in her position.”

UK Greens member Molly Scott Cato said, “What makes me really sad is that it is being left to the EU side to protect citizens’ rights. My government has done little to protect their interests. This is the epitome of bad government.”

More comment came from UK Socialist Richard Corbett who said the resolution which insists on parliament’s red lines – citizens’ rights, the divorce bill and the Irish border – being met “should not come as a surprise to UK government.”

“I fear that these talks will end in deadlock as long as we continue with a divided government which disagrees on these issues” Richard Corbett MEP

He said, “The biggest ambiguity in its position is that you think you can have frictionless trade with the EU while also leaving the single market and the customs union.

“All of us are waiting with baited breath to hear what the UK government has to say about resolving the Northern Ireland border issue.”

Corbett added, “I fear that these talks will end in deadlock as long as we continue with a divided government which disagrees on these issues.”

German ECR deputy Hans-Olaf Henkel told MEPs, “Brexit is a lose-lose situation but no one here in this parliament is trying to stop it.

“In the [Brexit] referendum we voted to take back control and do not want more EU laws imposed on us. Brexit must mean exit” Gerard Batten MEP

“My message to Jean-Claude Juncker is it is time to make the UK a new offer, one which it cannot refuse and always wanted. In other words, give it more autonomy over immigration and keep them in the EU.”

Italian GUE member Barbara Spinelli cautioned, “The Brexit discussions will not work unless the UK government offers something on citizens’ rights. Citizens need to be taken out of the state of anxiety in which they are currently living.”

Danuta Hübner, a senior EPP group member from Poland, said, “It should be clear that the UK withdrawal is not a one off event. It is a lengthy process with far reaching consequences for many people.”

“But remember that parliament must provide consent at the end of this process. Clock has not stopped ticking so there is still time for the UK to rethink its red lines.”

“The UK does not wish to be a vassal state” Diane James MEP

On the issue of rights, UK Greens MEP Jill Evans said, “No one has the right to strip anyone of their citizenship against their will but this is what could happen.”

However, UKIP’s Nigel Farage hit back, predicting that, after it leaves the EU, the UK could “do a trade deal with the US in 48 hours.”

Ahead of next week’s EU summit, he said his message to UK Prime Minister Theresa May was “Do what President Trump has done and stand strong against the EU bullies.”

Eurosceptic ENF member Janice Atkinson said the EU should take heed of the fact that “70 per cent of youth in Italy voted for populist parties in the recent Italian elections” while UK non-attached deputy Diane James said, “The UK does not wish to be a vassal state.”

“[Theresa May needs to] do what President Trump has done and stand strong against the EU bullies” Nigel Frage MEP

UKIP member Gerard Batten said, “In the [Brexit] referendum we voted to take back control and do not want more EU laws imposed on us. Brexit must mean exit.”

British Conservative MEP John Flack attacked “has beens like Tony Blair and Sir Nick Clegg” who, he said, were “acting as a kind of 5th column.”

His message to Brussels was, “We are your friends but do not push us too far.”

Speaking later at a news conference in parliament, EPP leader Manfred Weber said the talks were currently stalled “because the UK is not saying what it wants. There are a lot of red lines but no progress is being made.

"What makes me really sad is that it is being left to the EU side to protect citizens’ rights. My government has done little to protect their interests. This is the epitome of bad government” Molly Scott Cato MEP

“It is looking more likely that we will end up with a bad result, bad for both for the EU and the UK.”

He expects parliament to adopt the resolution which amounts to “a constructive message.”
He said, ”A lot of people are presenting problems but we are suggesting solutions and are ready for serious talks because we are running out of time.”

However, Weber warned the UK, “You cannot have the same status if you are out as you would have as a member of the EU. I cannot imagine voting for a treaty which has resolved issues over money, citizens’ rights and Ireland but still has no idea of the long term relationship. That is why we still need clarification.”

About the author

Martin Banks is a senior reporter for the Parliament Magazine

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