European Parliament says Brexit could be reversed

Draft resolution outlines conditions for future trade deal between the UK and the EU

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani holds a news conference following the official triggering of article 50 by the UK, in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters

European Parliament president Antonio Tajani holds a news conference following the official triggering of article 50 by the UK, in Brussels, Belgium. Photograph: Yves Herman/Reuters


The European Parliament said on Wednesday that Brexit could be reversed, but if the UK was to leave the EU it should first settle its bill before a new trade deal with the bloc can be discussed.

In a draft resolution published on the day that the UK formally triggered the two-year process to leave the EU, senior EU politicians said there could be transitional arrangements to smooth the UK’s departure, but they should not last more than three years.

Two London-based EU agencies, the European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency, must also move as soon as is possible, said the draft resolution.

The draft sets the EU Parliament’s red lines on the conduct of EU divorce talks with the UK before a free trade pact between the two sides can be tackled.

The Strasbourg-based assembly will have a final say on any deal struck with the UK.

In casting the Brexit process as reversible, EU politicians were seen to be offering a concession to strengthen the hand of Britons who voted to stay in the EU in last year’s referendum, despite opposition from EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier to any such statement.

Conservative British prime minister Theresa May declared on Wednesday there was no turning back from Brexit, as she triggered article 50.

The UK voted by a margin of 52 to 48 per cent to leave the EU in the referendum last June.

The EU Parliament’s resolution, to be voted on by the entire chamber next week, stressed that even if Britons changed their mind on Brexit, they would not get a better deal than what they had enjoyed as members of the world’s largest political and trade bloc.

Parliament president Antonio Tajani told a news conference that if the UK decided to reverse course, “it cannot do it alone [as] all member states need to decide whether it is possible [too]”.

The EU Parliament’s Brexit team, led by Belgium’s former prime minister Guy Verhofstadt, accepted that in case of Brexit there should be transitional provisions to ease the split, but these should last no more than three years and be “strictly limited” in scope.

Withdrawal accord

Negotiations on such arrangements could start only after substantial progress is made on a withdrawal accord that should include a bill for Brexit, guarantees for EU citizens living in the UK and British nationals residing in EU countries, and legal certainties for companies, the document said.

“Not reaching a deal on citizens’ rights means not reaching a deal at all,” Mr Tajani said.

Three million EU citizens live in the UK and about one million British nationals live in EU countries.

The EU Parliament’s draft resolution said London’s Brexit bill should cover not just outstanding commitments to the bloc’s budget, but also “provision for off-balance sheet items, contingent liabilities and other financial costs that arise directly as a result of its withdrawal”.

That raised the prospect of a tab even higher than the €60 billion figure that had been bandied about - a figure rejected by prominent pro-Brexit politicians in the UK.

Mr Verhofstadt said it was possible to reach a withdrawal agreement and also one on the “general terms of the future relationship” between the two sides within the two-year timeframe of Brexit talks.

To that end, he said, the UK should recognise that the European Court of Justice (ECJ) will be the “competent authority for the interpretation and enforcement of the withdrawal agreement”.

That stance may not go down well in the UK, where many see a quick end to ECJ jurisdiction as critical to restoring complete national sovereignty after four decades in the EU.