Countdown to Brexit: 62 days – European Parliament confirms that it's Theresa May’s deal or a no-deal Brexit - and prepares to assist EU fishing industry if it’s no-deal.

The European Parliament's Brexit Steering Group - under the chairmanship of its coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt - has discussed the state of play of Brexit in light of last week's 'meaningful vote' followed by Prime Minister Theresa May's statement last Monday, 21 January 2019.

MEPs made clear that the European Parliament would not give its consent to a UK Withdrawal Agreement which did not include the backstop-insurance against a hard border in Ireland.

MEPs welcome the British Government's decision to waive the fee for EU citizens applying for the UK's settled status scheme – saying that this had been something the European Parliament had consistently pushed for.

It called on the EU Member States to follow this example with respect to all UK citizens residing on their territory.

They stressed that following the rejection by the House of Commons of the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration, the UK Government must work together with all political parties in the House of Commons to overcome this deadlock.  It said it expects the UK side to come back as quickly as possible with a positive and viable proposal on the way forward.  The earliest opportunity will be following the re-submission of a proposal for a deal to UK Parliament - with a debate and vote to be held next week.

Their main point is that the openly negotiated and freely agreed Withdrawal Agreement "is fair and cannot be re-negotiated".  It said this applies especially to the backstop - since it is the only guarantee that under no circumstances will there be a hardening of the border on the island of Ireland while at the same time safeguarding the integrity of the Single Market.

The MEPs reiterated that the EU remained "clear, firm and united" on this even if the negotiated backstop is not meant to be used.  Therefore, the BSG insists that, without such an "all-weather" backstop-insurance, the European Parliament will not give its consent to the Withdrawal Agreement.

The BSG also reiterated UK Parliament's long standing position that it is open negotiating a much more ambitious future relationship - should the UK be prepared to consider this – it would not only allow for a closer EU-UK future partnership but could also avoid deployment of the backstop.  Again, MEPs expect greater clarity next week from the UK on its position on the EU-UK relationship for the future.

The BSG recognised that the rejection of the Agreement has increased the chances of a disorderly exit of the UK - which cannot be mitigated by any form of specific arrangements between the EU and the UK.  They stressed that while a no-deal Brexit would not be in anybody's interests, the only responsible course of action remains to continue and to intensify work on no deal planning.  

They reiterated the European Parliament's determination to ensure in such a case that there would be no disruption for EU citizens in the UK or for UK citizens in the EU.

The BSG will reconvene immediately after the vote in the House of Commons on the 29 January to discuss the way forward, and the European Parliament will hold a full debate at its 30-31 January sitting.

Meanwhile, as part of the European Commission's contingency planning, they today adopted two legislative proposals to help mitigate the significant impact that a “no-deal” Brexit would have on EU fisheries.

Fishermen from EU Members States will receive compensation under the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund for any temporary cessation of fishing activities - this will help off-set some of the impact of a sudden closure of UK waters to EU fishing vessels in a no-deal scenario.

The second proposal amends the Regulation on the Sustainable Management of the External Fleets – and aims to ensure that the EU can grant UK vessels access to EU waters until the end of 2019 - on the condition that EU vessels are also granted reciprocal access to UK waters.

The press release says that: “These contingency measures cannot mitigate the overall impact of a "no-deal" scenario, nor do they in any way replicate the full benefits of EU membership.”

The Commission has so far published 88 sector-specific preparedness notices to inform the public and business about the consequences of the UK's withdrawal in the absence of any Withdrawal Agreement.

John ShuttleworthComment