'Not enough progress' on Brexit – MEPs

MEPs are sitting in Strasbourg this week

Not enough progress has been made in the Brexit talks so far for a ‘second phase’, including trade talks, to start, the European Parliament said today.

MEPs voted 557 to 92 on a resolution which advises that leaders of the EU27 states should hold off on agreeing to the second phase when they meet at a summit on October 20 – unless there are major breakthroughs in the fifth round of talks next week.

If the leaders follow the advice that will put back the date at which they could give the go-ahead to December.

Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt, leader of the Brexit steering group which drafted the resolution, told his colleagues he “deplored” that it was necessary to conclude that there had not been sufficient progress at this stage; he said he had been hoping to be able to report otherwise.

“On the other side of the table there is a lack of clarity, there is disunity... it is difficult to make sufficient progress and steps towards the second phase,” he said.

A solution for the Northern Ireland border remained a big concern, he said, adding that he had visited and had seen that the peace there – which he said the EU had helped to bring – is still fragile. He said the atmosphere there is one of a “ceasefire”, rather than giving the impression that everyone has moved on and it is imperative to protect the Good Friday agreement and “ensure violence doesn’t return.”

That would happen if there was a hard border after Brexit, he said.

On citizens’ rights, he said it was unacceptable for all three million EU citizens in the UK to have to apply for a new ‘settled status’ from the UK, “with a huge administrative burden”.

He said: “Our position is very simple, let’s give the same rights to the people living in the UK now as they have now and let’s do exactly the same for the UK citizens living on the continent. Why are we still discussing this? It can be resolved immediately.”

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As for the financial settlement which Britain owes to the EU as part of the leaving deal, the  remaining 27 states must not have to pay extra for anything that had been agreed as 28, he said (ie. Britain must honour in full any payments it had agreed to as a member and which the EU has budgeted for).

Mr Verhofstadt said Mrs May had made useful clarifications in her Florence speech but he was hoping for further clarity when she addresses the Conservative Party conference tomorrow.

The parliament’s president, Antonio Tajani, said the Florence speech demonstrated that Mrs May is open to dialogue and understands what is at stake.

“I would urge her to convert goodwill into the concrete plans needed to truly take negotiations forward with the European Union,” he said.

“The vote on today's resolution confirmed the Parliament's unity in support of our chief negotiator, Michel Barnier.

"The debate also showed a clear desire for constructive engagement with the United Kingdom, but equally, considerable concern with the delays encountered so far. I hope that the next few months will allow for sufficient progress to be achieved in order to fulfil the preconditions for starting discussions on our future relationship with the United Kingdom.”

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