18 Sep, 2019

Verhofstadt delivers speech on Brexit

The speech by Guy Verhofstadt MEP was delivered on 18 September at the European Parliament in Strasbourg:

The British Parliament may be shut down, we are clearly showing today the European Parliament is not.

Eurosceptics like bashing Europe by saying that the European union is undemocratic. And they repeated that today. Well, Juncker or Tusk can do a lot but at least they cannot close the doors of this House. So, if the Eurosceptics here want to look again for a ridiculous comparison with the Soviet Union (as they often do), from now on they can point their finger to Westminster instead of Strasbourg or Brussels.

My hope is that with the vote today, we will reiterate our unity on Brexit: Parliament, Commission, Council, the 27 Member States. Brexit is bad, no discussion about that, but it got at least one positive effect: besides our refound unity, it has dramatically changed the opinion of the public on the European project. The people are still critical towards the European Union and for good reasons. But they want to reform Europe, not to destroy Europe. That was the message of the people during the European elections. And that was also the message of the people in Britain. Pro-Europeans won most of the seats. Nearly 40 of the elected 73 British MEPs are Remainers.

For us, whatever the outcome is, the deal has to meet three conditions:

1. Safeguard the rights of our citizens, European and British alike. Today, that is not achieved. There are more and more stories coming out, of people being turned down for settled status when they have been living in the UK for more than a decade. And in European countries, the situation for British citizens is not better. We need a fundamental shift in the way the UK government applies that part of the Withdrawal Agreement. No bureaucratic application as is the case now, but an automatic registration. We all know Boris Johnson likes to compare himself with movie characters. Well, concerning citizens’ rights: instead of playing the angry Hulk, he should be more inspired by another character, the caring nanny, Mrs. Doubtfire.

2. Secondly, the Irish backstop, or let’s call it ‘safety net’. We need such a safety net. More than for economic reasons, we need it to be sure that violence doesn’t return on the island of Ireland. I find it completely irresponsible from the hardline Tories not to accept this, to risk again violence. And I say that not light-heartedly. I say this because as we speak today, not one legally feasible and practical alternative have been put forward by the UK.

Clearly, a kind of backstop limited to agricultural products is not enough. It only represents 30 percent of all goods and services. And a backstop that can be unilaterally ended by ‘Stormont’, is not a ‘safety net’ but a source of permanent uncertainty for coming negotiations, if not an instrument for blackmail.

(And those who criticize the European Union for a lack of flexibility, should point the finger to the UK government for a lack of responsibility.)

3. Finally, the future relationship. It’s good to repeat that this Parliament will never accept an agreement with the UK where the Brits can have all the advantage of free trade and zero tariffs, and not aligning with our ecological, health and social standards. We are not stupid. We will not kill our own companies, our own economy, our single market. We will never accept ‘Singapore by the North Sea’.

Let me conclude, colleagues. We all know Mr. Cameron wanted to use Brexit to solve a division in the Conservative party. His little adventure ended with huge divisions in British society. We will never let it happen that this Brexit divides Europe and the European project.


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