UK Withdrawal Agreement passes two key hurdles
Having received Royal Assent in the UK and consent in a vote by Parliament’s Constitutional Affairs Committee on Thursday, the UK is now well on its way to exiting the EU next week.
A final hurdle will be next Wednesday's plenary vote in Brussels where, again, the agreement is expected to get the green light, allowing the UK to exit the EU at the end of this month, over three years after the EU Referendum.
The UK will officially leave the European Union after 47 years of membership, meaning that its representatives will no longer be present in the EU institutions.
But, ahead of the UK’s formal departure, the EU opened up a fresh potential clash with Britain by warning Boris Johnson of “sanctions” if he fails to implement controversial goods checks in the Irish Sea after Brexit.
On Wednesday, Stefaan De Rynck, senior adviser to the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said the bloc will “not tolerate any backsliding or half measures.”
The warning comes after the UK Prime Minister repeatedly claimed checks would not be necessary.
De Rynck, however, insisted the inspections were a joint legal agreement, as the price for Britain – but not Northern Ireland – breaking free of the single market and customs union.
The Belgian official was speaking at the 'Brexit - What Now?' event, at University College London.
"The UK's departure will force us to rethink the way in which we communicate with our citizens, so that they can relate in their everyday life to Europe's tangible and verifiable achievements” Luca Jahier, EESC President
The EU, it is believed, will take the UK to the European Court of Justice if it fails to implement the checks, with the threat of heavy fines being imposed.
The court will retain the power to fine the UK even after the transition period ends, at the end of 2020.
Elsewhere, David Caro, president of the ESBA, the body representing Europe’s SMEs at EU level, says that many of its members are concerned about the prospect of a no-deal Brexit at the end of this year.
Speaking at an ESBA event in Brussels on Wednesday, Caro, who has a business in the West Midlands, urged both sides to “do all they can” to ensure a “smooth transition.”
He warned that anything else could be damaging to the SME community which makes up over 95 percent of European industry.
Meanwhile, the legislative issues negotiated on Thursday come as a week of “farewells” to the UK and its representatives in Brussels got underway.
This started on Wednesday with the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) paying tribute to its British members at the last plenary session they will attend.
The 24 UK members received a commemorative medal in a ceremony that, according to the EESC, “showed the EESC's commitment to maintaining strong ties with British civil society after Brexit.”
An EESC spokesman said it was a “a touching ceremony where many personal feelings surfaced.”
Luca Jahier, President of the EESC, admitted that the choice made by British citizens to leave the EU was “a decision of historical importance that we deeply regret, but that we have to accept and respect.”
Paying tribute to “the crucial contribution made by British members to the work of the EESC in many fields,” he said that “the UK's departure will force us to rethink the way in which we communicate with our citizens, so that they can relate in their everyday life to Europe's tangible and verifiable achievements.”
He noted the EESC's determination to maintain close contacts with British civil society after Brexit, adding, “There is no other alternative than a strong relationship between the EU and the UK, and we at the EESC will do whatever it takes to keep that strong link alive.
“Ceci n'est qu'un au revoir, mes amis,” he added.
Tom Jenkins, president of the EESC between 1996 and 1998, was invited to the ceremony and expressed his sorrow for being about to lose his EU citizenship and, post-Brexit, urged the UK and EU to “encourage dialogue with civil society representatives.”
Pro-European activist Madeleina Key, also known as “EU Supergirl,” criticized the “mix of apathy and ignorance that have fuelled the rise of nationalism in the UK, and warned EU leaders about the need to change the way they communicate to citizens.”
She will, she told the plenary, continue to fight for Europe in the UK, adding, “We must believe that the future is Europe, so all British citizens know they will be forever Europeans.”
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