MEPs say Brexit talks should not proceed to next phase

‘Northern Ireland Brexit solution will be part of the UK solution,’ insists Dodds

Michel Barnier, the European chief negotiator on Brexit, and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker attend a session at the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France, on October 3rd. Photograph: Patrick Seeger/EPA

MEPs have agreed with EU negotiators that insufficient progress has been made in the Brexit divorce talks to pass to the second phase of talks on the future EU/UK relationship at the October summit in three weeks.

The European Parliament also offered strong support for the idea of Northern Ireland remaining part of the single market.

Addressing the parliament’s plenary debate in Strasbourg, both commission president Jean Claude Juncker and the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier insisted that although the British prime minister Theresa May’s Florence speech had brought a new dynamic to the talks, there remained a lack of clarity on the British position.

That was particularly so on the financial settlement, Mr Barnier said, where there remains “serious divergences”. There had been progress, he said, on the other two priority issues in the divorce talks – citizens’ rights and Ireland – on which there was “convergence”,  but the EU could not yet move on to the discussion on transition. “We need far more clarity than provided so far,” he said.


Echoing his remarks, the leader of the European People’s Party (EPP) group, Manfred Weber,  spoke of chaos and mixed messages in and from the Tory party and called for the firing of Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.

Non-attached member, Diane Dodds of the DUP, denounced the idea Northern Ireland could alone remain part of the single market. “The Northern Ireland Brexit solution will be part of the UK solution,” she said, insisting there could be no question of erecting internal barriers within the UK.

Her views were echoed by James Nicholson  of the Ulster Unionist Party, a member of the European Conservative and Reformist Group, who said the parliament's resolution, in calling for Northern Ireland to remain in the single market, was for the first time taking sides in the North's conflict. "The Belfast Agreement," he said , was clear, "that Northern Ireland remains part of the United Kingdom. "

The parliament’s Brexit representative, Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE group), said he had been deeply moved by his recent visit to Northern Ireland. “To ensure that violence does not return remains an absolute priority,” he said, suggesting that the Belfast Agreement should be attached as a declaration to the agreement they were negotiating.   Martina Anderson (Sinn Féin, member of the GUE / Nordic Green group)  endorsed the call, and said that MEPs should be aware that the agreement has provision for a poll on a united Ireland. That was one way the North could remain part of the single market.

Mairead McGuinness (EPP, Fine Gael) said she had listened to the unionist Northern Ireland MEPs insisting that things could remain the same as they were now on the island, but that was precisely why the argument was being made for the North remaining in the single market. If there was another way to achieve what all agreed was necessary she would welcome “with open arms” suggestions that would achieve that end.   Luke Ming Flanagan (Independent member of the GUE/Nordic Green group) deplored the tone of the day’s debate. Comments like the call for the resignation of Boris Johnson were counterproductive. “It is time to stop insulting people you want to work with you ultimately,” he said.

Speaking for the Europe of Freedom and Democracy Group, Nigel Farage said that in the talks the EU is “holding the UK hostage” and denounced the EU’s “turning of a blind eye” to the actions of the Spanish police in Catalonia on Sunday. And he said there was “not a dicky bird” on the issue today from Mr Juncker – all the evidence he needed for the undemocratic nature of the union. “Thank God we’re leaving”, he said.

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth

Patrick Smyth is former Europe editor of The Irish Times