All hopes for smooth and effortless negotiations over Brexit were abandoned yesterday when the European parliament (EP) voted a resolution in support of the original guidelines drafted by the leaders of EU27.
According to the MEPs the UK is first to make steps towards having clearer position over the rights of the 3 million EU citizens in Britain and 1 million British expats in Europe. Then an agreement has to be achieved over the Brexit bill and the situation with the Irish border. Finally, after this “substantial progress”, EU will be ready to negotiate the future relations between the UK and EU27.
The resolution was voted with 560 to 133, clearly indicating the MEPs will support the country’s leaders on their “tough negotiating position”. Despite the outcome of the debates, some British politicians are staying positive. Robin Walker, UK Under Secretary for Brexit, saw it as “positive move” and agrees that the first step in the negotiations should be arranging the rights of citizens. However, he stressed that the UK would prefer the trade talks to start sooner.
One of the hot topics, during the debates, was the status of Gibraltar. The little peninsula, which currently is under British sovereignty, became the topic of serious dispute just few days after the EU Council announced that the Gibraltar’s future can be determinate only with mutual agreement between the UK and Spain. UKIP MEP James Carver accused his EU colleagues of ignoring Spanish aggression over Gibraltar, indicating the two referendums in which Gibraltar voted against switching to Spanish government. His party colleague Jonathan Arnott commented on his twitter account: “By including Gibraltar in its guidelines, the EU has shown it’s not serious about getting round the negotiating table.” The UKIP leader Nigel Farage went even further than this, calling for another referendum on which the 30,000 inhabitants of the peninsula will decide if it is to become part of UK and thus will “no longer be used as a bargaining chip in the EU-Brexit negotiations.”
Their suggestions were voted down.
The British Conservative MEPs also suggested an amendment which would mark Gibraltar’s having voted pro-EU vote last year, but would also underline their preference to remain under British sovereign rule. But that was also rejected by the majority of the MEPs.
The second proposed amendment was also voted down. It was quite similar in text: alteration text for Scotland and Northern Ireland preferences to stay in the EU, just like Gibraltar. According to the parliamentary officials, it was opposed because “we do not agree to give to the Gibraltar issue the same importance as Scotland’s and Northern Ireland’s”.
Scotland was mentioned in the after debates talks as well. The German MEP Elmar Brok stated that the process of Scotland eventually rejoining the EU as an independent country could be “relatively speedy”, with minor technical obstacles to be overcome, if countries like Spain show positive political will.
Despite the harsh tone of the debates and the final resolution confirming the tough political stance of the European Council, the 751 members of the EP have left the door a bit open. A minor change in the Tusk’s original draft hinted at the possibility of the UK reversing the Brexit process. “The door is open if Britain changes its mind,” Gianni Pittella, leader of the centre-left group in EP said. His words were supported by representatives of the European Green party and the EP chief negotiator Guy Verhofstadt who said: “I am convinced and one hundred per cent sure about one thing, that there will be a young man or woman who will try again. Who will lead Britain into the European family once again. And a young generation that will see Brexit for what it really is, a catfight in the conservative party that got out of hand. A loss of time, a waste of energy, stupidity.”