Pessimism and general fatigue characterise final stretch of Brexit

Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel (L) offers a Belgian National Soccer team jersey to British Prime Minister Theresa May (R) during an European Council summit in Brussels, Belgium, 28 June 2018. [© European Union]

Faced with a united and firm EU, the UK remains unclear on its plans for Brexit. Fundamental questions such as governance or the Northern Irish border are far from resolved. EURACTIV.fr reports.

Only nine months left before the UK’s official leave from the EU. However, major issues on the UK’s exit from the EU are still unsolved.

Negotiations are proceeding at a snail’s pace as European leaders all hope to finalise the process for the European Council in October. The agreement will then be voted on by both sides of the Channel, and in March 2019 in the European Parliament. The process will take place during the campaign for the European elections.

“Two years after the referendum, the British must understand that they are the ones leaving us, and not the other way around,” said Professor Klemens H. Fisher, head of department at the Permanent Representation of Austria to the UK, during a seminar on the future of the EU after Brexi, organised by the Association of European Journalists (AEJ) in the European Parliament.

“Brexit is a provocation which has helped develop and unite the European Union,” stated the German MEP, Elmar Brok (EPP).

One of the key topics that will be discussed on Thursday (28 June) at the European Council is the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Theresa May’s decision to leave the single market and the customs union would imply the establishment of customs controls at this border, which would become the de facto external border of the EU. A border which the EU is opposed to, as this would jeopardise the Good Friday peace agreement signed in 1998 that ended thirty years of bloody conflict.

“Nobody wants to see the return of borders of the past,” said Brian Hayes, Irish EPP MEP. “We want guarantees on this so that citizens are not affected in their daily lives. Northern Ireland must remain in the customs union. ”

This position is shared by the majority of MEPs, regardless of their political group.

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Common red lines

“In the European Parliament, we have common red lines,” said Ska Keller, German Greens MEP. “The rights of European citizens living in the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland.”

This position is shared by the group of Socialists and Democrats (S&D). British MEP, Jude Kirton-Darling, and her group want an agreement called Norway Plus, where the UK would stay in the single market and in the customs union.

Norway is part of the single market but does not belong to the customs union. While the United Kingdom argues for a “Norway minus”, but doubts remain vis-à-vis the Irish border.

Jude Kirton-Darling believes that other red lines are common to all the groups in the European Parliament. “Especially that of ensuring a fair situation, where the United Kingdom does not become a country of total deregulation competing with the EU. We will be paying close attention to what will be done in terms of tax policy, consumer rights, etc.”

The European unity does not seem to be mirrored across the Channel, where Theresa May finds herself hostage to the polarisation of her own party and where the government’s position is not always clear.

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Doubts linger

For the British MEP, the issue of ‘how’ to leave the EU is still relevant in Westminster. The President of the EP, Antonio Tajani, seems to be well aware of this.

“The UK is leaving the EU but not Europe, so we need good relations, we are ready for cooperation, but the problem is that we do not know what they want to do, what kind of agreement they want, “Tajani stressed several times on 27 June.

“Brexit is not a good solution for the British economy,” he added.

For Catherine Bearder, UK MEP (ALDE), time is short and “not on our side”. “It’s sometimes depressing to talk to British MPs and realise they do not know anything about Europe.”

General fatigue

One thing is certain, Brexit continues to cause divisions in the United Kingdom – within conservative ranks, but also within the population, which is getting increasingly tired with the debate on the subject.

“The Brexit debate deprives all the other debates of interest, nothing else is done. People are more and more bored by it, we feel a real fatigue, the population just wants the agreement to be finalised,” said Jude Kirton-Darling.

Catherine Bearder believes the window of opportunity to put an end to all this is diminishing by the day. “What started with a referendum must be completed with a referendum.”

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“The cost for European citizens is huge. [In the EP] we represent the citizens, not the leaders, so if the agreement is not good, the Parliament will not accept it, “she said, adding that she did not feel any more positive about the situation  in Ireland, or in general, going as far as qualifying Brexit as a disaster.

“In addition to the vote, we can make a motion of rejection, a resolution. The European Parliament is much more democratic than Westminster in terms of citizens’ rights, and we will also have more powers, “stated Jude Kirton-Darling. “The problem is that the vote will take place at the time of the campaign for the European elections and crazy things could happen. ”

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