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5 April 2017

European Parliament’s Brexit plan: what the resolution says – and what it means

Brexit is not only about Brexit,” said the European Parliament's lead negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt.

By Julia Rampen

“Colleagues, within a few weeks, we will start the process of separation.” So said Guy Verhofstadt, the Belgian MEP and the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator on Wednesday morning. MEPs will get a vote on the eventual Brexit deal. 

Setting out his desire for a “new and stable relationship” between the UK and the EU, Verhofstadt nevertheless moved on. “Brexit is not only about Brexit,” he said, in a dig at Theresa May’s famous phrase.  “Brexit is also about our capacity to give rebirth to our European project.”

Later that morning, the European Parliament approved a resolution on Brexit negotiations. But what does it actually mean? 

1. “A regrettable event”

whereas this will be an unprecedented and regrettable event as a Member State has never withdrawn from the European Union before; whereas that withdrawal must be arranged in an orderly fashion so as not to negatively affect the European Union, its citizens and the process of European integration; 

You may be messed up, but we’re going to try to hold this shit together. 

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As Pierre Vimont, the former EU ambassador, noted at a King’s College London conference earlier this week, the EU negotiations threatens to open “a Pandora’s Box”.

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He said some EU member states will be eyeing up Britain’s demands: “Some of the EU member states inside the EU27 will start saying maybe we can have same arrangements as Britain. This is a sensitive issue.”

2. “Sincere co-operation”

whereas until it leaves the European Union the United Kingdom must enjoy all the rights and fulfil all the obligations deriving from the Treaties, including the principle of sincere cooperation laid down in Article 4(3) of the Treaty on European Union;

Just because you’re moving out next month doesn’t excuse you from doing the washing up. 

3. “The optimal solution”

whereas, nevertheless, continued membership of the United Kingdom of the internal market, the European Economic Area and/or the customs union would have been the optimal solution for both the United Kingdom and the EU-27; whereas this is not possible as long as the United Kingdom Government maintains its objections to the four freedoms and to the jurisdiction of the Court of Justice of the European Union, refuses to make a general contribution to the Union budget, and wants to conduct its own trade policy;

No, you cannot have your cake and eat it. 

Vote Leave was a big advocate of self-replenishing flour-based treats. Owen Paterson, a Tory MP who backed Brexit, once declared: “Only a madman would actually leave the market.”

Unfortunately, it seems when EU leaders said you couldn’t break all the rules and still get access to the most lucrative perk of the club, they actually meant it. In January, the Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged as much when she said she would not seek continued membership of the single market. 

4. “Safeguard peace”

whereas a large number of United Kingdom citizens, including a majority in Northern Ireland and Scotland, voted to remain in the European Union;

whereas the European Parliament is especially concerned at the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union for Northern Ireland and its future relations with Ireland; whereas in that respect it is crucial to safeguard peace and therefore to preserve the Good Friday Agreement in all its parts, recalling that it was brokered with the active participation of the Union, as the European Parliament emphasised in its resolution of 13 November 2014 on the Northern Ireland peace process;

How keen really are you on breaking up unions? 

With all the soul searching over Northern Ireland, British commentators have somewhat overlooked the fact that the Irish Republic remains an EU member state with 26 other friends. 

“It is the EU27 that has to take on board the interests of the Irish Republic,” was how Verhofstadt put it. As for the Good Friday Agreement? Verhofstadt was blunt: “Don’t touch it.”

The inclusion of Scotland is the latest bit of mischief making from the EU. Strangely, while Brexiteers are all in favour of shaking off the yoke of Brussels, they are less sympathetic to the idea of Scotland liberating itself from Westminster. Scottish independence advocates, on the other hand, suddenly find the proceedings of the European Parliament fascinating…

5. “Contrary to Union law” 

Recalls that, in this respect, it would be contrary to Union law for the United Kingdom to begin, in advance of its withdrawal, negotiations on possible trade agreements with third countries

No negotiating behind our backs.

This is awkward for International Trade secretary Liam Fox, who has been jamming his foot in all kinds of exotic doors (most recently he declared “shared values” with gun-em-down Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte.)

6. “In contradiction with the Treaties”

Warns that any bilateral arrangement between one or several remaining Member States and the United Kingdom, in the areas of European Union competence, that has not been agreed by the EU-27, relating to issues included in the scope of the withdrawal agreement and/or impinging on the future relationship of the European Union with the United Kingdom, would also be in contradiction with the Treaties; 

And definitely no negotiation with any EU member states. 

So far, the EU27 has presented a unified front in the Brexit phony war, but the nightmare stalking negotiators is that one becomes a loose cannon and brings the whole façade crashing down. Rogue member states could include Hungary (pro-hard borders) or France if Marine Le Pen wins the Presidency in May (anti-everything).

7. “Budgetary obligations”

Stresses that the United Kingdom must honour all its legal, financial and budgetary obligations, including commitments under the current multiannual financial framework, falling due up to and after the date of its withdrawal;


Britain has signed up to EU spending commitments that extend into the future. Foreign secretary Boris Johnson has been declaring Britain should follow Margaret Thatcher’s example and demand “our money back”. It seems the EU disagrees.

Quizzed on the subject, Verhofstadt said the European Parliament believed all liabilities should be on the table. “Then it will be easy at the end,” he said. “If you agree with the principle, you agree with the figure.”

8. “Respective rights”

Requires the fair treatment of EU-27 citizens living or having lived in the United Kingdom and of United Kingdom citizens living or having lived in the EU-27 and is of the opinion that their respective rights and interests must be given full priority in the negotiations; 

Stop using EU citizens as bargaining chips – because we have bargaining chips too.

The United Nations estimates 1.2 million people born in the UK live in other EU countries. Most of them live in Spain, France and Ireland. 

9. “Adherence to the standards”

Stresses that any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom is conditional on the United Kingdom’s continued adherence to the standards provided by international obligations, including human rights, and the Union’s legislation and policies, in, among others, the fields of the environment, climate change, the fight against tax evasion and avoidance, fair competition, trade and social rights, especially safeguards against social dumping;

Hahahaha we are the masters of trade deals and you know nothing.

As Peter Mandelson, the former European Commissioner for Trade, pointed out at the Institute for Government: “First of all there are some people who think so long as we pay enough into the European coffers we’ll get any trade deal we want. Wrong.” 

Instead, he said: “It’s rules and regulations that determine the quality of the deal we get.”

10. “No piecemeal provisions”

Opposes any future agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom that would contain piecemeal or sectorial provisions, including with respect to financial services, providing United Kingdom-based undertakings with preferential access to the internal market and/or the customs union; underlines that after its withdrawal the United Kingdom will fall under the third-country regime provided for in Union legislation;

And no, the bankers don’t get a special opt out.

Especially since Dublin, Frankfurt and Paris are eyeing up the prize of poaching them and stealing London’s crown as the European capital of finance.