EU interests should come before UK privileges in Brexit talks, say citizens

EPP group chairman Manfred Weber presented the poll. [European Parliament]

The vast majority of EU citizens want the Brexit negotiations to focus on protecting the interests of the remaining 27 member states, not on securing privileges for the UK, according to a new study carried out on behalf of the European People’s Party (EPP).

78% of Union citizens want Michel Barnier’s negotiating team to put their interests first in the Brexit talks, while just 22% think the bloc’s main goal should be to build a privileged economic relationship with the UK.

Pollsters RED C questioned a random sample of 1,000 adults in nine EU member states (France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Poland, Romania, Spain and Sweden). The survey was presented by European Parliament EPP group chairman Manfred Weber in Ireland on Tuesday (16 May).

While respondents in all nine countries overwhelmingly said the EU should concentrate on the well-being of the remaining 27 member states, some were more sympathetic to the idea of building a special economic relationship with the UK than others.

French (31%), Swedish (29%) and Irish (28%) respondents were the most likely to say this future relationship should be the EU’s priority. At just 11%, Spain was the country least taken with the idea.

Tensions erupted between the UK and Spain earlier this year as Madrid, backed by the EU, suggested it should have the right to authorise any deal covering the disputed territory of Gibraltar. A diplomatic row ensued and the British government said it would “not negotiate on the sovereignty of Gibraltar”, which voted overwhelmingly to remain in the EU in last June’s referendum.

EU-27 hands Spain veto over Gibraltar’s Brexit deal

Spain is likely to wield a veto over any Brexit deal for Gibraltar after the EU-27 backed Madrid in its draft negotiating guidelines for forthcoming divorce talks between the UK and the bloc.

Protecting EU economies

Weber said, “The EPP group has always made it clear that our priority in the negotiations with the UK on Brexit was to defend the interests of EU citizens. The results of the opinion poll show that a large majority of EU citizens support this approach.”

Chief among these interests, according to the poll, is the protection of the EU-27’s economies. Across the nine countries, 92% of respondents said this was an important or very important issue. 88% also said it was important or very important that the UK be made to pay its outstanding financial commitments in full before leaving the bloc.

Just 55% of respondents said the future wellbeing of the UK economy should be an important concern in the Brexit negotiations.

“In early 2019, the European Parliament will have the huge responsibility of saying Yes or No to the divorce agreement with the UK.  We are the only institution directly elected by the European citizens. When examining the conditions of Brexit, our first priority will always be to secure a good future for them,” Weber added.

Guaranteeing the Good Friday Agreement

93% of Irish citizens said protecting the rights of EU citizens living in the UK was an important issue. Around 400,000 Irish citizens live in the United Kingdom, making them the second-largest EU migrant group after Polish citizens (800,000).

EU says united Ireland would be automatic full member

European Union leaders promised on Saturday (29 April) to welcome Northern Ireland into the EU if a referendum in the future were to unite it with the Republic of Ireland.

But the standout issue for Ireland was the Good Friday Agreement. Signed in 1998, the agreement was a major step in securing the Northern Ireland peace process.

Some 89% of Irish respondents said that it was important or very important to ensure the peace agreement is not undermined by any future Brexit deal. Among Irish citizens over the age of 55 – those old enough to remember the Troubles – 79% said this issue was very important.