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Statement by Michel Barnier at the Plenary session of the European Parliament on the Article 50 negotiations with the United Kingdom

Thank you, Madame President,

Secretary of State,

Ladies and gentlemen, Members of the European Parliament,

Good morning to each and every one of you and thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak to you on behalf of the European Commission, with an apology on behalf of President Jean-Claude Juncker who is participating in the G20 right now.

Madame President, we are at an important and serious moment, 17 months after the beginning of the negotiation that I am honoured to conduct under the authority of President Juncker and with the support of all of the European Commission.

On Sunday, as you recalled Secretary of State, the European Council endorsed our draft Withdrawal Agreement. It also approved the Political Declaration, which sets out the framework of our future relationship. From my side, I would like to thank the European Council, its President Donald Tusk, all his teams, but also the successive Presidencies with whom I worked, and worked well – the Austrian Presidency today, but also the Bulgarian, Estonian and Maltese Presidencies – and we will continue with Romania in the coming months.

The time for negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration is over.It is now time for ratification by the British Parliament, and by the European Parliament and Council. Given the difficult circumstances of this negotiation, and given the extreme complexity of all the subjects related to the UK’s withdrawal, the deal that is on the table – the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration – this deal is the only and the best deal possible.

We succeeded together in this first major step, thanks to – from our side – the strong unity of the 27 Member States and all institutions.In particular, Madame President, the Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration owe much to your four resolutions and the careful attention you have shown since the beginning of the negotiation. Obviously, to protect the rights of the citizens you represent – it was your priority and my priority – to protect the EU’s interests, the integrity of the Single Market and the indivisibility of the four freedoms, and the autonomy of the European Union’s decision-making.

We have co-constructed these two documents throughout the process. And, Madame President, I would also like to thank President Tajani, and please allow me to say a personal word of thanks to Guy Verhofstadt, the Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, and to all the members of the Brexit Steering Group: Danuta Hübner, Elmar Brok, Roberto Gualtieri, Gabriele Zimmer, Philippe Lamberts who followed these negotiations, together with their teams, whom I thank, day after day in the Brexit Steering Group. Thanks also to the Presidents of the Groups, and to the President of the Conference of Presidents, Cecilia Wikström. I say thanks, knowing that we are not yet at the end of the road, which will remain difficult.

The agreement reached on Sunday is the result of a method that we decided together with you.We put things in order, starting – logically – by negotiating the Withdrawal Agreement, an orderly withdrawal, before discussing the framework of the future relationship with the United Kingdom. We insisted on first dealing with certain questions that are dear to this Parliament, such as citizens’ rights, peace and stability in Ireland, and the financial settlement.

And from the beginning, ladies and gentlemen, we worked in full transparency, meaning in full trust – and we will continue to do so. This method allowed us to explain the issues at stake in each subject. And to show what was possible and what was not possible, taking into account the EU’s fundamental principles.

Since the beginning, we explained how we could combine our principles, how we could respect them and at the same time, take into account the UK’s official red lines. And finally, we found common ground.

In short, the framework we put in place gave some stability and predictability to this negotiation. Objectively, nobody can be surprised by the contents of this agreement.

Ladies and gentlemen,

It is perhaps useful to recall at this stage that the European Union did not want Brexit to happen. To date, nobody has been able to show me the added value of Brexit, but we respect the democratic and sovereign vote of the British citizens and we, as requested by the government, are going to put in place this process for an orderly withdrawal.

Simply, these two documents agreed on Sunday limit the negative consequences of Brexit for both sides, particularly for the 27 Member States of the Union. The Withdrawal Agreement brings legal certainty to all those people, companies, and regions who are worried about the consequences of the British decision to leave the European Union.

  • Obviously, the 4.5 million people: EU citizens living in the United Kingdom or British citizens living in the EU.
  • The people and businesses of Ireland and Northern Ireland, Madame President, who take part in the numerous dimensions – human, social and economic – of North-South cooperation. We have agreed on a backstop to avoid the return of a physical border in Ireland, while protecting the Single Market. This backstop is an integral part of the Withdrawal Agreement. Without a backstop for Ireland, there will be no Withdrawal Agreement.
  • The public bodies, universities or companies who lead projects funded by European policies and funds, including with British partners. The UK’s universities and extremely dynamic laboratories.
  • Farmers who benefit from the Common Agricultural Policy and who legitimately want to protect their rights and intellectual property, but even more than that, their geographical indications.
  • All those whose personal data was exchanged with organisations or businesses based in the UK.
  • These are examples of sectors, and above all the people where we had a duty to create certainty where Brexit created uncertainty. That is the aim of this admittedly very dense Withdrawal Agreement, because it is a precise, comprehensive legal treaty.

The Political Declaration sets out the framework of our future relationship that we will negotiate as soon as possible. In these negotiations, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the European Parliament, the EU should continue to defend its interests and apply exactly the same principles.

In this upcoming negotiation, the European Union, and your negotiator, will adopt the same attitude. There will never be any aggressive attitude, and there never has been. There will never be any feeling of revenge, and there never has been. From my side, there never will be any feeling to punish, and there never has been. We will continue to work with the United Kingdom, never against it, to build our future partnership. We will continue to work with the respect that is due to a great country, which in all circumstances will remain our friend, partner and ally.

With regards to the future relationship, the truth is that – given the British decision to leave the European Union and the Single Market – it cannot be the status quo in the future. It cannot be business as usual and our duty is to say so, particularly to businesses who should be preparing themselves.

But our mutual interest lies in building an ambitious partnership on goods, services, digital, mobility, transport, public procurement, energy, internal security, and obviously for the stability of our continent, foreign policy – with a country that will remain an active member in the United Nations Security Council – defence and lots of other areas.

The more ambitious this partnership will be the more attentive and demanding we will be on our side regarding the level playing field between us. In total, if we finalise this Political Declaration in all its dimensions, allow me to say that this partnership with the United Kingdom will be unprecedented by the extent of the number of areas of cooperation.

As requested by President Juncker, the Member States and your Parliament, we are preparing and will be ready to launch these negotiations on the future relationship once the United Kingdom becomes a third country.

But before that, Madame President, there remains a decisive step: the ratification of our Withdrawal Agreement. Everyone must now take their responsibilities. In the coming weeks, British MPs will vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and the text of the Political Declaration. The future of their country is at stake with this vote. We must – and I will – respect this parliamentary and democratic debate in the United Kingdom. And, on our side, we should give the time to the European Parliament – which was closely associated to every step of the negotiation – to give its consent. You will have the final word.

Thank you for your trust, ladies and gentlemen, Members of the European Parliament. Thank you for your attention.

Compliments of the European Commission