European Union legislators have adopted a resolution setting their red lines for the two-year divorce talks with Britain, backing a push for phased negotiations — against the wishes of London — and demanding Britain pay billions in commitments that the EU thinks it is owed.
The European Parliament has veto power at the end of the two-year negotiations. Legislators voted 516-133 for the resolution, with 50 abstentions.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier called parallel talks on Britain’s exit from the EU and a future trade relationship “a very risky approach” that he is bent on avoiding.
Mr Barnier told EU legislators in Strasbourg, France, that “to succeed, we need on the contrary to devote the first phase of negotiations exclusively to reaching agreement on the principle of the exit”.
British Prime Minister Theresa May last week sought hand-in-hand negotiations on exit and a future relationship, while the EU Council president and top legislators argued against it.
The Brexit talks are expected to start in late May once the negotiating guidelines of the 27 member nations have been agreed on.
Britain insisted again, though, that it wanted to move on to discuss the future as soon as possible.
“The best interests of both sides of this negotiation will be served by getting on to the technical discussion about the future relationship as quickly as possible in the two years that we have available,” said junior Brexit Minister Robin Walker.
The European parliament resolution also stressed that EU nations should not start bilateral deals with Britain before an exit agreement is finalised.
It said that Britain should pay its outstanding bills, which could be as high 60 billion euros ($85 billion).
‘We’re not hostages, we’re free to go’: Farage
Nigel Farage, one of the chief backers of Brexit, said Britain would not be held hostage by the Parliament.
“You are behaving like the mafia, you think we’re a hostage,” Mr Farage said to hoots from other legislators.
“We’re not, we’re free to go. We’re free to go.”
He later said he was willing to change “mafia” to “gangsters” so as not to rile Italian sensitivities.
Both sides have a general agreement that they want to tackle the fate of the 3 million EU citizens in Britain and some 1 million Britons residing in the other EU nations first of all.
“I really welcome the fact that the parliament and the [EU] Council have set that out as a first priority from the EU perspective as well,” Mr Walker said.
The parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said it was perhaps best that there was never much positive passion in the cross-Channel relationship.
“It never was a love affair,” he said, instead calling it “a marriage of convenience.”
– with agencies