Update: MEPs agree on key conditions for approving UK withdrawal agreement

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MEPs agree on key conditions for approving UK withdrawal agreementUpdate with statement from MEP Alfred Sant below – Leaders of the European Parliament political groups earlier today debated their priorities in the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

EU Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker and EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, who also took part in the debate, underlined the crucial role for MEPs during the negotiations.

European Parliament President Antonio Tajani, opening the debate, said that “Parliament’s vote will be decisive for the final outcome of the conditions for the UK’s withdrawal and for future EU-UK relations. The recent terrorist attacks make it clear that all European countries will need to continue working closely with each other.”

The overwhelming majority of the house (516 votes in favour, 133 against, with 50 abstentions) adopted a resolution officially laying down the European Parliament’s key principles and conditions for its approval of the UK’s withdrawal agreement. “Any such agreement at the end of UK-EU negotiations will need to win the approval of the European Parliament.” it said.

MEPs stressed the importance of securing “equal and fair treatment for EU citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EU.”

They also pointed out that the “UK remains an EU member until its official departure, and that this entails rights but also obligations, including financial commitments which may run beyond the withdrawal date.”

The adopted resolution “warns against any trade-off between security and the future EU-UK economic relationship, opposes any sort of cherry picking or a piecemeal economic relationship based on sector-specific deals, and reiterates the indivisibility of the four freedoms of the single market – free movement of goods, capital, services, and people.”

Finally, the resolution says that only when “substantial progress” has been made in talks on how the UK is to leave the EU “can discussions begin on possible transitional arrangements. These arrangements must not last longer than three years, while an agreement on a future relationship can only be concluded once the UK has left the EU.”

“Citizens’ interests must be at the forefront right from the beginning,” says the resolution, which goes on to note that Irish citizens “will be particularly affected.” MEPs urge all parties to remain committed to the Northern Ireland peace process and avoid a hard border. “The special circumstances presented by this situation must therefore be addressed as a matter of priority in the withdrawal agreement.”

The resolution also warns the UK “against any attempt to limit rights linked to the freedom of movement before it effectively withdraws from the EU” and it also asks the EU-27 to examine how to address the fear of British citizens that Brexit will lead to the loss of their current EU citizenship rights.

MEPs call for both sides to act in good faith and full transparency so as to ensure an orderly exit.

The resolution notes that it would be “a breach of EU law for the UK to negotiate trade agreements with third countries before it left the EU,” and it warns against the UK engaging in bilateral talks with one or some EU member states on the withdrawal proceedings or the EU-UK future relationship.

“The UK will continue to enjoy its rights as a member of the EU until its departure,” the resolution said. However, at the same time, “it will also have to shoulder its obligations, including financial obligations stemming inter alia from the current long-term EU budget. Such financial commitments could run beyond the date of departure,” the resolution adds.

European Parliament closely involved – “The European Parliament intends to build on the elements set out in this resolution as the negotiations develop, for example by adopting further resolutions, including on specific matters or sector-specific issues,” the resolution says.

Update: MEP Alfred Sant abstains on European Parliament vote

Maltese MEP Alfred Sant abstained on the final vote in the European Parliament this afternoon on the resolution which sets out its position on the Brexit negotiations.

Explaining his reasons behind the abstention, Dr Sant said the proposals on the dissolution of the UK membership from the EU may have the effect of increasing uncertainties, instead of minimising them.

He added that, “a more effective approach would be to negotiate on a final position for the UK-EU relationship, and then move towards it in a phased manner.”

“While in broad agreement with this resolution, I have abstained in the vote on it for the following reasons: I fail to see how in negotiating for an amicable divorce, it is proposed to first decide on the dissolution of the marriage, and then discuss the terms for the post divorce situation.”

Dr Sant pointed out that “this procedure is neither realistic nor coherent with objectives that the resolution itself sets. It may have the effect of increasing uncertainties, instead of minimising them.”

“A more effective approach would be to negotiate on a final position for the UK-EU relationship, and then move towards it in a phased manner. I fail to understand the claim that this would weaken the hands of EU negotiators,” he said.

“Also, the time allowed to MEPs for reflection and discussion was too short,” explained Dr Sant. “Internal discussions on the draft text were basically on a take it or leave it basis.”

“Thirdly, a Parliament which rightly prides itself on insisting for full transparency in public affairs, has chosen as its representative in the Brexit negotiations, a member who derives income from sources outside Parliament but on matters related to its activities. I cannot accept this; huge scope could arise for potential conflicts of interest.” remarked the Maltese MEP.

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