In a debate on Brexit in the European Parliament, UK Greens MEP Molly Scott Cato said, “It is welcome that the UK Parliament has at least shown the good sense to reject the ‘No Deal is better than a Bad Deal’ nonsense by supporting the amendment from Caroline Spelman.”
She was responding to the UK Parliament debate and votes on amendments to the Withdrawal Agreement which was thrashed out between the EU and UK over the last two years.
Scott Cato added, “This clearly indicates the UK Parliament wants to protect the country against a no-deal calamity. However, Parliament also veered into the realms of fantasy by supporting the Brady amendment to reopen negotiations that the EU have made clear are firmly closed.”
During the Brussels debate this week, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, who sat alongside former UKIP MEP Nigel Farage, re-stated that “the Withdrawal Agreement, approved by both parties, is the best and only possible deal.”
The majority of MEPs who spoke in the lively debate underlined the EU’s need to continue preparing for a no-deal scenario and made clear that the backstop was needed to ensure that there is no return to a hard border in Ireland.
This, it was said, was also needed to secure peace and stability and to preserve the integrity of the single market.
They were supported by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, who told MEPs: “It is not a dogmatic position, it is a realistic solution to a problem caused by the decision of the UK to leave the EU”.
“This clearly indicates the UK Parliament wants to protect the country against a no-deal calamity” Molly Scott-Cato MEP
MEPs also underlined that a broad, positive majority was needed to break the current deadlock and they reaffirmed that, were the UK to suggest it, the EU is open to considering a closer, deeper future relationship.
Scott Cato added, “It is deeply worrying that Labour is failing to show the opposition and leadership the country needs. Its support for the powerful Grieve and Cooper amendments was late and half-hearted and we desperately need Jeremy Corbyn to oppose with considerably more conviction.”
“In particular the country will expect him to stay true to Labour’s conference resolution and come out in support of a People’s Vote.”
Another UK MEP, Ashley Fox, addressed the Irish border issue, the single biggest obstacle to a deal.
On this Fox said, “The Irish backstop will create a hard border, not prevent one. My government and the House of Commons want to leave the EU in an orderly manner and with a deal. And to achieve that we need to amend how the Protocol on Northern Ireland operates.”
“We must do all we can to support the Good Friday Agreement. But it is a paradox that the backstop, whose purpose is to avoid a hard border, may - in just 58 days’ time - be the cause of creating such a hard border on the island of Ireland.”
Fox went on to say, “Let us look at that now. Let us consider whether time limits and exit mechanisms offer a solution. Let us proceed with goodwill, remembering that flexibility and generosity are not signs of weakness but of strength.”
“My government and the House of Commons want to leave the EU in an orderly manner and with a deal. And to achieve that we need to amend how the Protocol on Northern Ireland operates” Ashley Fox MEP
“At stake is the future partnership between the EU and the UK. Let us ensure that we can construct a long-term relationship to promote our common values and our shared interests in an uncertain world,” he added.
‘USEFUL EXCHANGE OF VIEWS’
Elsewhere, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met UK Prime Minister Theresa May at Westminster on Wednesday and had what the Labour Party described as a “useful exchange of views” on Brexit.
Corbyn said that he “set out the Labour case for a comprehensive customs union with the European Union in order to protect jobs in this country and trade,” and also stressed to May the importance of maintaining the “regulations that we have on environment, consumers and workers’ rights”.
On the question of the Irish backstop, Corbyn said he told May that “this would be the first time in British history we’d entered into a treaty arrangement with anybody else of which there was no right to leave, because it would be a decision that could be made only by the other side.”
He also said he was suspicious that the Government had a “programme of running down the clock.”
May said, “I stressed to him [Corbyn] the importance of the UK being able to do our own trade deals, and emphasised that the only way to avoid No Deal is to vote for a deal.”
May also held telephone conversations with European Council President, Donald Tusk, and Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar.
Meanwhile, the European Economic and Social Committee (EESC), the EU institution that represents organised civil society, will meet at Queen's University in Belfast on 15 February to take stock of the Brexit process and focus on its consequences for the Northern Ireland peace process.
Politicians, experts and civil society organisations will gather together with the EESC members to discuss the different issues ahead of the UK's scheduled 29 March exit day. The event will take place in the aftermath of the second vote in the House of Commons on the Brexit deal, planned for 13 February.