European parliament backs red lines resolution for Brexit negotiations

The European parliament has overwhelmingly voted in favour of a tough negotiating stance towards the British government in the Brexit negotiations.

MEPs in Strasbourg approved a resolution setting out the parliament’s red lines in the coming talks by 516 votes to 133, with 50 abstentions, comfortably exceeding the two-thirds majority sought by parliament leaders to show unity behind their approach.

The resolution backs “phased negotiations” in the divorce proceedings, going against the wishes of Theresa May’s government, which would like exit talks and discussions of a future trade arrangement to happen in parallel. Talks on such a deal can also only occur once London has come to a settlement with the EU on its financial liabilities and the rights of citizens.

The parliament leaves open the possibility that UK citizens might be able to individually apply to keep the rights they currently enjoy, and suggests Ukraine’s association agreement might be a future model for an EU-UK trade deal.

However, the resolution also says that any transition arrangements to cushion the UK’s departure, such as tariff-free access to the single market, can only last a maximum of three years after the UK departs.

The parliament’s motion also backs making the European court of justice responsible for settling any legal challenges during the transition period, and is opposed to a special deal for the City of London.

However, the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, said the European parliament – as the first EU institution to respond to May’s letter and the institution that will ultimately be asked for its consent on a deal – had set the tone for the talks.

Speaking to MEPs during the debate that preceded the vote, Barnier said it was not a ruse on the part of the EU to insist on dealing with the UK’s divorce bill first, but an essential precondition for success.

“A single financial settlement, as a result of UK commitments to the EU, and the EU commitments to the UK – there your resolution is very clear. We do not seek to punish the UK, but simply ask the UK to deliver on its commitments and undertakings as a member of the EU.”

Addressing the former Ukip leader, Nigel Farage, who earlier in the debate accused the EU of behaving like the mafia in making “impossible demands”, Barnier said: “In fact, Mr Farage, all we are doing is settling the accounts, no more, no less.”

The EU believes that the UK Treasury will need to pay about €60bn (£51bn) to cover unpaid budget commitments, pension liabilities, loan guarantees and spending on UK-based projects.

Some cabinet ministers have dismissed the idea of the UK paying a large bill on leaving. However, Barnier explained that the EU could not with confidence discuss the future without the British government having dealt with its commitments from the past.

“The UK letter makes clear that the UK government will push for parallel negotiations on the withdrawal and the future relations,” he said.

“This is a very risky approach. To succeed we need, on the contrary, to devote the first phase of the negotiation to reaching an agreement on the principles of exit. We are not proposing this to be tactical or to create difficulties for the UK.

“On the contrary, it is an essential condition to maximise the chance of reaching an agreement together in two years, which is very short. It is also our best chance to build trust. To build trust before proceeding to the second phase of negotiations.”

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