‘Legendary British pragmatism’ will secure trade deal with EU by year end, says senior MEP

The co-author of a parliamentary report on Brexit said this is still the likely scenario despite “four years of drama and the UK painfully coming to grips” with its EU exit.
Photo credit: European Parliament Audiovisual

By Martin Banks

18 Jun 2020

Christophe Hansen, a senior member of Parliament’s UK Coordination Group, told the plenary Brexit debate on Wednesday that the “global Britain that was dangled before UK voters in the EU referendum is no longer viable, if it ever was.”

He was critical of the UK’s “refusal” to negotiate with the EU on “certain issues” while at the same time opening trade talks earlier this week with Australia and “discussing the same issues.”

“No surprise there, then,” he added.


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Hansen, with Dutch Socialist member Kati Piri, co-authored a 35-page report on Brexit which had contributions from 17 committees in Parliament. The plenary is expected to endorse the report in a vote today.

Hansen told the plenary, “Personally, I remain confident that the legendary British pragmatism will still prevail over ideology.”

“Personally, I remain confident that the legendary British pragmatism will still prevail over ideology” Christophe Hansen MEP

The two-hour debate was opened by Commission President Ursula von der Leyen who gave a withering assessment of the protracted talks, saying, “These talks always promised to be difficult and they have not disappointed.”

She told the two-thirds empty chamber, “We are halfway through the talks with five months left to negotiate but we are definitely not halfway through the negotiations.”

“One thing we are not ready to do though is to put into question our principles and integrity.”

She said there cannot be a comprehensive trade agreement without agreement on fisheries, governance and a level playing field.

“No one can say for sure where we will be at the end of the year and the UK has taken one step backwards [in stating there will be no extension to the talks] but so far we [the EU] have done all we can to reach agreement.”

Piri said, “We have 204 days left to reach a deal but after four rounds of talks we have reached a stalemate, so we need a new injection of dynamism and a paradigm shift.”

She added, “I welcome Boris Johnson’s recent and new-found enthusiasm to ‘finalise an agreement within six weeks.’ But the UK PM did not explain how this will happen so I look forward to seeing the details on this.”

“These talks always promised to be difficult and they have not disappointed. We are halfway through the talks with five months left to negotiate but we are definitely not halfway through the negotiations” Ursula von der Leyen, Commission President

Piri said the report she had co-authored “reflects how serious we take our role [on Brexit] in this Parliament.”

“It is a strong text with a clear message: we want a deal but not any deal. The UK must respect the Political Agreement and ensure full implantation of the Withdrawal Declaration.”

She said the big problem was that the “UK expects to keep the benefits of EU membership without having to comply with any of the obligations and that is not realistic.”

She added, “I see no divide between the people in the UK and Europe but, rather, between those who have a vision [the EU] and the UK government which has backtracked on its commitments.”

“The time has come for Boris Johnson to join us and deliver.”

Both Piri and Hansen are members of the 12-strong UK Coordination Group (UKCG) in Parliament which is overseeing the assembly’s contribution to the drawn-out Brexit talks.

The report “regrets that no real progress has been achieved so far and that the divergences remain substantial.”

It reiterates Parliament’s full support for chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and condemns the UK government’s current “piecemeal approach.”

The authors emphasise that a comprehensive agreement is in the interest of both parties, saying that “having the UK cherry-pick certain policies and its access to the single market after Brexit is unacceptable for the EU.”

“We have 204 days left to reach a deal but after four rounds of talks we have reached a stalemate, so we need a new injection of dynamism and a paradigm shift” Kati Piri MEP

They say Parliament’s consent to any future trade agreement with the UK “is conditional” on the British government agreeing to a level playing field [common rules and standards] in the area of, among others, environmental protection, labour standards, and state aid.

German EPP deputy David McAllister, chair of the UKCG, told the plenary debate that the report authored by Piri and Hansen “has had input from no less than 17 committees, which is quite unprecedented.”

He said the report “gives a strong message of unity” from the EU side and backs the negotiating position of Michel Barnier.

He added, “This week’s High Level Conference between the two sides decided that new momentum was needed for the talks and this would be in the interest of both the UK and the EU.”

Polish EPP member Danuta Hubner said, “The lack of progress so far is disappointing but there is still time to finalise things. We have to remember that what’s at stake is the quality of the future relationship between the UK and EU.”

“Whatever happens, London will still continue to be an important financial centre.”

German Socialist member Bernd Lange, chair of the Committee on International Trade and a member of the UKCG said, “Parliament is very clear in its strong preference for a comprehensive economic and political partnership with the UK.”

“Now is the time of truth and Parliament stands united with the Commission and the Council in rejecting the piecemeal approach by the UK government to these negotiations leading to separate agreements.”

“In this respect, it is no surprise that Parliament will reject a trade agreement that does not include robust guarantees for fair competition and fair trade,” he added.

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