In a European Parliament debate on Wednesday, European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans told MEPs that “regardless of the tremendous efforts of [chief EU negotiator] Michel Barnier and [European Commission President] Jean-Claude Juncker to help [British Prime Minister] Theresa May, the Withdrawal Agreement was still voted down.”
“So we must now wait for the next vote in the UK’s House of Commons because the only ones who can give direction to this are MPs.”
The debate, in Strasbourg, comes ahead of a second vote later on Wednesday by British MPs on a possible no deal Brexit. If crashing out without a deal is rejected, a third vote will be held on Thursday on asking the EU for an extension to Article 50.
Timmermans said, “What we’ve tried to do is to ensure we meet the UK red lines and avoid a hard border in Ireland. I do not see any better solution than the Withdrawal Agreement. What we want to do is inflict as little harm as possible in what is a very harmful process, because Brexit is very harmful.
“This position will not change but we are in the hands of the British political system. The solution has to come from London and we will take it from there. Let us remember that there are lots of other issues Europe has to deal with in the coming years.”
The Dutch official said that in their talks with May this week the EU had “spared no effort” in trying to resolve the current impasse adding, “The Withdrawal Agreement is the best and only solution to the dilemma and I hope this is well understood.”
Timmermans told MEPs that reports had shown that a hard Brexit will result in a 9.3 per cent drop in economic growth in the UK and he asked some UK members present: “Are you willing to pay such a price for your pipe dream of more sovereignty? What will your sovereignty mean if this happens?”
“Try telling people in car plants in place like Sunderland that your pipe dream is more important than their jobs.” He added, “Let us also remember the 16.1 million who voted to stay. They have not disappeared but we never hear about them.”
Speaking in the same debate, Michel Barnier told MEPs, “The [UK’s] vote on Tuesday just prolongs and makes worse the deep uncertainty created three years ago. We respect, but regret, the decision but the job of finding a way out of the impasse lies fair and squarely with the UK.”
"We must now wait for the next vote in the UK’s House of Commons because the only ones who can give direction to this are MPs” European Commission vice president Frans Timmermans
We have tried to find solutions to the countless problems and there are many of them, human, social, legal, technical, financial and economic. The aim is the same: to manage all the different consequences of Brexit so the UK can make an orderly exit. This is in the interests of both sides.
“Let’s remember that the most important negotiations are yet to come – our future relations with the UK.” He added, “If the UK still wants to leave, this Withdrawal Agreement is, and will remain, the only available treaty. Everyone must understand this fully.”
“We have done a lot of work in the last few days including here in Strasbourg on Monday [with Theresa May] to explain, clarify and guarantee things and also to provide new assurances to the UK over the backstop.”
“We went as far as we could to help the UK government get the support of the Commons for the Withdrawal Agreement. Now there are some MPs who want a second referendum. Others want a no deal – but both these run counter to all the legal guarantees we offered Mrs May this week.”
“Let me repeat: There will be no further assurances or clarifications. We cannot go any further. It is the UK’s responsibility to tell us what they want – that is the question we need an answer to now.”
He also addressed the issue of a possible extension to the Article 50 process, adding, “Why would we extend this? Article 50 is done and dusted. We are now at a critical point and the risks of a no deal have never been higher, including an exit by accident. I urge the UK not to underestimate this or the consequences. I am today calling on all players to avoid the risk of a no deal.”
Romania’s EU affairs minister Melania Gabriela Ciot told deputies, “To be or not to be a member of the EU is the question the British must ask. Unfortunately we are not dealing with theatre here but the lives and jobs of EU citizens.”
A no deal, she warned, would be to the detriment of all member states, especially Ireland, but “given the assurances we gave on Monday it is now difficult to see what more we can do.” She added, “Within limits we are open to further talks if this helps the ratification process in the UK and I repeat that the backstop is only intended as temporary. We must also have a credible justification for any possible extension.”
“Let me repeat: There will be no further assurances or clarifications. We cannot go any further. It is the UK’s responsibility to tell us what they want – that is the question we need an answer to now” EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier
She told the plenary, “I am confident our institutions can complete this process in good time and we do remain open for talks as long as there is an end in sight to all this. This means the UK government must come up with a clear sense of direction as to where there is a majority for anything.”
“In the meantime the only certainty is increased uncertainty for citizens and business so it is therefore all the more necessary to prepare for all outcomes including a no deal. That is why we are intensifying contingencies for this.”
“I am encouraged by the large number of contingency measures despite the heavy workload this involves at this late stage. ”She added, “I still hope they won’t be needed.”