MEPs back tough EU negotiating stance with UK

British pro-brexit Members of the European Parliament leave the EU Parliament for the last time in Brussels January 31, 2020. — Reuters pic
British pro-brexit Members of the European Parliament leave the EU Parliament for the last time in Brussels January 31, 2020. — Reuters pic

STRASBOURG, Feb 12 — The European Parliament today backed a tough EU negotiating position with Britain that emphasises access for EU fishing boats and a continued role for the European Court of Justice.

A vote, passed 579 in favour and 24 against, endorsed the general lines of a mandate whose details are about to be finalised by the European Commission ahead of negotiations to begin next month.

The talks aim to work out the future relationship between the EU and Britain following the latter’s exit from the bloc two weeks ago. 

Currently, a transition period running to the end of the year lets Britain operate almost like an EU member state while the negotiations take place.

The parliament stated that Britain going forward “must not have the same rights and benefits as a member state of the EU” and comply with a number of conditions.

The European Commission’s pointman on Brexit, Michel Barnier, who is to handle the negotiations, has already set out many of those conditions.

He has stressed that the EU wants to ensure a “level playing field” with Britain upholding EU norms on labour, the environment, taxes and state aid, as well as a deal to allow EU fishing boats access to UK waters.

From next year, London’s powerful financial sector will lose its access to the EU market except where the EU grants sub-sector “equivalences” that can be unilaterally withdrawn at short notice, according to Barnier.

The EU also wants the ECJ to be the final arbiter deciding issues relating to European law in a future UK accord.

The text passed by the European Parliament today enshrines all those issues, stressing its determination “to prevent any kind of ‘dumping’ in the framework of the future EU-UK relationship”.

UK ready for trade friction

Britain, on the other hand, has declared it is more than willing to accept trade friction with the EU if that is the cost of it asserting its sovereignty.

It rejects any role for the ECJ in the new relationship and wants full control over its fishing waters with the right to evaluate EU access annually, while arguing its financial firms should retain broad and long-term access to the bloc.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to maintain EU-level standards, but says it is not necessary to set those out in a legally binding treaty.

His government this week stepped up preparations for a possible trading arrangement with the EU that does not give tariff- and check-free access to the single market. — AFP

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