MEPs say ball is in UK court over future relationship with EU

MEPs are adamant that a no-deal Brexit would be in no one’s interest and say that it is up to the UK to make it clear what type of relationship it wants with the European Union.
Photo Credit: Press Association

By Martin Banks

Martin Banks is a senior reporter at the Parliament Magazine

16 Jan 2019

This was the recurring message to emerge from a 90-minute debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday on the outcome of last night’s “meaningful vote” on the Withdrawal Agreement that was held in the UK House of Commons.

Among those taking part in the debate in Strasbourg was ECR co-leader Syed Kamall, who said that the EU faced two choices following the heavy defeat of the Brexit deal in the Commons.

"At this point the EU will face a choice. You can do nothing and choose no deal or gamble that Brexit could be stopped. Or you can attempt to address some of the concerns expressed. For example, by convincing UK MPs that you have no intention of keeping the UK in the customs union forever and that the backstop - if ever applied - would only be temporary."

Speaking in the specially-convened Brexit debate during Parliament’s monthly plenary, Kamall said a “critical” stage had been reached in the Brexit process, adding, "But I’m afraid that you will have to wait a little longer while the government faces the vote of confidence, which I expect it to win, and the Prime Minister holds cross-party discussions to find a realistic way forward that can win the support of Parliament.”


Kamall urged politicians to recognise the “bigger picture”, adding, "We must never forget this is ultimately about people, not politics. Our decisions in the coming days and weeks will affect people’s jobs, the success of our companies and the growth of our economies.”

"Monday’s letter from presidents Juncker and Tusk hinted at more flexibility. Let us see, when the Prime Minister comes back, if we can help turn that flexibility into concrete proposals to address concerns that led to last night’s result."

Nigel Farage, the former UKIP leader, also took part in the debate and accused Theresa May of “acting like a leader of a nation defeated in war which led to her surrender document being defeated in the Commons.”

He also warned that if the British voted again in a second referendum the majority for Leave would be “even bigger.”

“If necessary, the EU should offer time to provide the British people with the opportunity for general elections or a ‘People’s Vote' so that they can have a fair and informed choice between the terms on which they withdraw from the EU or whether they prefer to remain a member of the EU” Bas Eickhout MEP

Another participant, Greens/EFA MEP Bas Eickhout said, “By insisting on leaving the single market, leaving the customs union and ending free movement, May’s government has created her own political deadlock, given that the red lines around the Good Friday Agreement can and should not change.”

“A no deal is clearly in the interest of no one and must therefore be avoided. It is time that the UK political class stops arguing with itself. If necessary, the EU should offer time to provide the British people with the opportunity for general elections or a ‘People’s Vote' so that they can have a fair and informed choice between the terms on which they withdraw from the EU or whether they prefer to remain a member of the EU,” added the Dutch MEP.

Parliament’s president Antonio Tajani, who opened the lively discussion said, “We take note of this vote, although not without regret, and we respect it because it expresses the will of the majority of the political forces in the House of Commons.”

The Italian MEP went on, “It is too early to assess the consequences of this vote, but we are certainly not yet in a no-deal situation. Moreover, there is no majority in Westminster for that either. We understand that there are two negative majorities in the British parliament, one against the agreement and the other against the possibility of leaving the Union without agreement, but there is no positive majority.”

Tajani told the debate, “We will certainly have to continue our preparations to deal with the possibility of an exit without an agreement, thinking in particular of the citizens of the Union living in the UK and the British on the continent who, more than anyone else, suffer from uncertainty and would be the first victims of a disorderly exit.”

“Even at this juncture, we must maintain unity among member states and the institutions that we have managed to build up during these long and difficult negotiations showing that the Union, in difficult situations, works well,” Tajani added.


Meanwhile, Europe’s SMEs say they are “very concerned” about the British Parliament’s rejection of the EU–UK Brexit Agreement, saying the vote increases their concerns of a no-deal Brexit, “the likelihood of this outcome being much higher with this decision.”

According to SMEunited president Ulrike Rabmer-Koller, a Brexit with no agreement will not only be a “disaster” for SMEs in the UK but will also “render major problems” for SMEs in the rest of EU.

“European SMEs need to urgently intensify efforts to be prepared in case of a no-deal scenario. We expect a swift reaction from the UK government, one that clarifies how to avoid a no-deal Brexit,” Rabmer-Koller added.

Roger Casale, a former Labour MP and secretary general of the campaign group New Europeans, said, "It is good news that the Withdrawal Agreement has been defeated in the House of Commons. The best way to defend the rights of citizens is to stop Brexit and this is a necessary step on the way to doing that. We continue to be concerned about the level of anxiety experienced by the5million EU citizens [EU27 citizens in the UK and Britons in Europe] whose lives are in limbo.”

Leaders in Europe were also quick to react with German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas saying “there could be further talks” between the EU and the UK after the House of Commons rejects the Withdrawal Agreement.

He said, “The agreement stands, as it is. I doubt very much that the agreement can be fundamentally reopened. If there were a better solution, it would already have been put forward.”

His comments come as the German government denied reports of Chancellor Angela Merkel giving extra assurances to the UK over the Irish backstop.

Former German Foreign Minister Sigmar Gabriel said, “What’s happening in London affects us all and that’s why we’re getting involved. It is primarily a political decision by the British, but has far-reaching consequences for everyone else in Europe.”

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