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Brexit sparks heated debate as EU leaders praise unity and UK’s Farage threatens swifter divorce

Brexit sparked yet another heated debate in the European Parliament, as the President of the European Council Donald Tusk on Wednesday presented to MEPs the Guidelines for Brexit negotiations agreed by the Member States at the summit on 29 April. Brexit negotiator for the EU Michel Barnier highlighted the need for a foundation of trust between the EU and the UK, while Jean-Claude Junker, the president of the European Commission, added that the negotiation is now in the hands of EU’s ‘divorce lawyers.’ On the other hand, UK’s Nigel Farage threatened the UK could leave the EU by the end of the year.

Most MEPs emphasised the unity between the EU institutions and the 27 Member States, who are determined to act together to reach a balanced agreement with the United Kingdom, as Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier stressed the need for agreement on guaranteeing the rights of citizens affected by the UK’s decision to leave the EU, the border issues, with an emphasis on the absence of physical border between Ireland and Northern Ireland, and financial commitments made by the UK.

“We have to create the foundations for the ongoing trust that we need to build the future relationship with the UK. I’d like to repeat that our aim is to achieve an agreement. I certainly don’t intend to have any agreement, no deal or a bad deal. We want to conclude a deal with the UK, not against the UK,” Barnier said in his closing statement.

Unity in Brexit, lack of enthusiasm for reform

Jean-Claude Junker, president of the European Commission, praised the record time in which leaders of the 27 EU Member States agreed on the Guidelines for Brexit negotiations and said it is a testimony of the work member states and EU institutions have done together since last June.

“The process shows how united and prepared the European Union will be. It underlines how deep our commitment to transparency is. This negotiation is now in the hands of our capable divorce lawyers,” Junker said.

Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s representative on Brexit matters, argued that there’s nothing more to say on Brexit and while the EU has to wait for the outcome of the British election, there’s something that member states have to do, and fast.

“I want to talk about something that is related to Brexit, and that is the future of the European Union and the reform of the EU, as it would be a mistake to put all our energy into Brexit in the coming years. At least the same energy, if not more, we have to put in the reform. People all over Europe have been shocked by the decision of Great Britain and people are today very critical of the EU, and for good reason, but they don’t want is want Britain did, to leave the EU,” Verhofstadt said.

As he welcomed victories of pro-European parties in France, Austria and the Netherlands, Verhofstad urged other MEPs to listen to citizens and respond to their expectations in defining the future of the EU.

“Populism and nationalism are not dead,” he stressed.

Agreeing with Verhofstad, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said EU’s unity is the most important condition for a positive outcome of the negotiations.

“Thanks to this unity we’ll also be able, together with the leaders, to deal, in the coming months, first and foremost, with the positive agenda for the Union of the 27. I agree with my friend Guy Guy Verhofstadt that this should be our priority, not Brexit,” Tusk said.

Farage threatens the EU

In an analogy to a dinner invitation, UK’s Nigel Farage from the Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy political group criticised Junker for his remarks after the meeting he had with the British prime minister Theresa May and the fact the president of the European Commission spoke in French at a conference, saying that “slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe.”

In addition, Farage said that the UK might leave the EU sooner if negotiation terms do not change.

“Your attempt to bully the Brits during this negotiation is not working, 68% now want Brexit to happen. All of that on top of a ludicrous ransom that Mr Barnier wants that I’m told now has doubled to 100 billion euros. Either we get some grown-up, reasonable demands from the European Union or the United Kingdom will be forced to walk away before the end of the year. We can’t spend two years with this farce, there is a big, big world out there,” Farage said.

The detailed negotiating mandate will be presented for adoption at a European Council summit on 22nd May.

The UK government triggered the withdrawal process on 29 March 2017, setting the date for the UK to leave by April 2019.

John Beckett