McAllister: Brexit is a historic mistake

David Mc Allister is a German MEP in the conservative party family EPP. [Olaf Kosinsky / Wikipedia]

It is not clear whether the Council will be able to state in December that sufficient progress in Brexit talks has been made, David McAllister, who chairs the European Parliament’s Foreign Affairs Committee, told EURACTIV.

McAllister said Brexit was a historic mistake which the EU will nevertheless respect, but stressed that a no-deal scenario was the worst possible outcome. Speaking of the failed coalition talks in Germany, he said the best option was a grand coalition with the SPD, rather than a minority government or a new election.

David McAllister spoke to EURACTIV Poland’s Editor-in-Chief Karolina Zbytniewska.

Six rounds of talks are behind us, can we expect sufficient progress in December and moving on to the second round of talks?

There’s no clarity if the Council can state that sufficient progress has been made in December. The next days will be decisive but the ball is in the British court. It’s they who have to deliver substantial solutions to all three main issues: the financial obligations, the Irish-Northern Irish border and the rights of citizens. And my advice is, the sooner they table a satisfactory offer, the better.

The EU is not making things easier. For example, it established the “sequencing” rule, meaning no simultaneous talks: first the Brexit arrangements; and only then the transitional and future trade deal. Seems like the only explanation behind it is to show other member states not to follow the same path. Another thing is the Irish border you mention. All sides say they want a soft border but at the end of the day it has to be a hard one because it’s the EU’s external border. And Ireland will be a hostage of this outcome.

Ireland will be a hostage directly as a result of the UK’s decision to leave the single market and the customs union, along with leaving the EU itself. You know, on that border there are 110 million border crossings per year and 15,000 commuters cross it daily. This border is now more or less invisible.

For passers-by, it will remain invisible, as both sides have agreed to continue with the Common Trade Area, but it won’t be for goods and services anymore.

There’s more to be done to see the whole picture and come up with flexible and imaginative solutions for these unique circumstances. We need to simultaneously avoid a hard border and preserve the integrity of the EU single market.

It sounds irreconcilable.

When a country leaves the customs union, it means it will have a customs border. It’s a direct consequence. But there’s an alternative that was proposed in Dublin – Northern Ireland remaining attached to the single market. London has ruled it out so far as it would harm the unity of the United Kingdom. Now we need to hear other flexible solutions on how to make this all work.

It seems that a “no Brexit” scenario that you and Donald Tusk have been calling for, is fading. What seems to be looming instead is a “no deal” scenario as lately both David Davis and Philip Hammond have spoken of plan B measures to prepare for this option.

We should have avoided the British withdrawal in the first place, as Brexit is a historic mistake. And it will have severe negative consequences. But as it has been decided by the British people and government, we have to respect this and live with it. So now our goal should be to follow the withdrawal process in an orderly manner to reduce its negative impact.

Having said that, I must admit that I don’t understand British politicians and this current ‘no deal’ rhetoric. We call a “no deal” scenario a “cliff edge” Brexit for a reason. Falling off this cliff is the worst that can happen to the UK. It would submit itself to unchartered territory, never entered before.

On the other hand, in Germany where your mother comes from, the situation is not easy either. There is a crisis in coalition talks. How can it influence the Brexit talks? Recently, first due to the campaign, and now due to the coalition-building struggle, the Chancellor has seemed absent from the debate.

Still, Chancellor Angela Merkel was very clear from the first day after the UK referendum that Germany is interested in having good future relations with the UK, as it is also our trade ally, NATO ally, as well as a partner in the G7, G20, UN, OECD and other groups. What she was also very clear about is that a third country cannot have better conditions for cooperation with the EU than its member states. This German position has never been about punishing the UK but about taking a fair attitude excluding favourable treatment for non-members. On this, the EU27 have been united and constructive as a block.

The collapse of German coalition talks doesn’t change anything, as it’s not a crisis but a challenge. The current caretaker government has delivered on decisions like the EU budget and PESCO, and now on the Eastern Partnership summit, and it is ready to participate in deciding on 14-15 December Council whether to proceed to the second round of negotiations with the UK or not.

51% of Germans prefer new elections to the minority government. How do you see it?

There are three possible options in Germany now. First is another form of majority government.

You mean the Grand Coalition, despite the SPD declaring that it’s impossible?

President Frank-Walter Steinmeier spoke wisely that all the political parties in Germany should serve the people in the first place. It is their role in the democratic system. Democracy needs a strong opposition but also a strong government. So, I hope for a renewed discussion within the SPD, especially as the president comes from this party himself.

The second scenario is a minority government, which we haven’t had for the last 68 years. It is not known to our system. I am sceptical it can be a sustainable solution, Germany needs a stable government and a reliable parliamentary majority.

The third option of last resort is to have new elections, which should be avoided at all costs. People already spoke their mind on 24 September. Now it is up to the political parties to make the best out of the citizens’ democratic choice.