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European Parliamentarians Warn of Hard Brexit

Austrian Parliament, 19 November 2018

COSAC Plenary Currently Meeting in Vienna

Vienna (PK) – Now that an agreement between the European Union and the United Kingdom has been reached and London is in the midst of a domestic political crisis as a result, what will happen with Brexit? This was the issue on the agenda today at the Plenary Meeting of the Conference of Parliamentary Committees for Union Affairs of Parliaments of the European Union (COSAC), currently being held at the Austria Center Vienna as part of the Parliamentary Dimension of the Austrian EU Council Presidency.

Chair of the European Parliament's Constitutional Affairs Committee Danuta Hübner spoke out in favour of the agreement, which in her view assures legal certainty for everyone. However, Sir William Cash, a Member of the United Kingdom’s House of Commons, expressed serious democratic concerns about the agreement and said the UK has good reasons to leave the EU. Timothy Boswell of Aynho, his colleague from the House of Lords, however, warned that having no deal would be the worst outcome for all concerned. Among the parliamentarians, the debate was dominated by regret over the UK’s departure, but also by a desire to maintain the friendliest and closest relations possible across the English Channel.

Hübner: Agreement is the best option for everybody

Ms. Hübner expressed her regrets at the UK’s decision to leave the European Union, stressing that an agreement-based withdrawal would now be the best option for both sides. It is certain that last week's agreement marked decisive progress in the matter, especially in minimising disruptions to citizens and businesses and in preventing a hard border between the UK and Ireland.

The European Union and the United Kingdom must remain good neighbours and maintain as close a relationship as possible so that they can continue to promote their numerous common interests, said Ms. Hübner. She highlighted the underpinnings of the agreement, which she is convinced will guarantee legal certainty for everyone, thereby forming the basis for a new future relationship between the two former partners. However, it is clear that the British Parliament will have the final say; as a result we also need emergency measures aimed at mitigating the consequences of a “no deal” outcome, she said.

Cash: Agreement inacceptable to the United Kingdom

The United Kingdom has good reasons to leave the European Union, Sir William Cash reaffirmed, strongly criticising the agreement recently reached between Brussels and London. The parties have made it clear that this agreement would never make it through the House of Commons, as the numbers were insufficient for the government. For Mr. Cash, the many resignations from Prime Minister May's cabinet alone show that there is no support for the key pillars of the agreement, such as the border agreement with Ireland or the transitional provisions.

MP Cash described it as completely unthinkable for his country that the agreement would now impose laws on the British parliament from outside. This clearly contradicts a 1972 law to that effect and also runs counter to every one of the UK’s democratic principles, argued Mr. Cash, who also expressed his expectation that there would be no second referendum. As for future relations with the EU, he said the two former partners would longer be siblings, but would rather become cousins in Europe. The United Kingdom has always fought for freedom and democracy in Europe over the centuries and will continue to do so, he added.

Lord Boswell warns of “no deal”

Lord Timothy Boswell addressed the parliamentarians in his statement, stressing that as a committed pro-European, he is asking for understanding for his country. The referendum was the culmination of 40 years of discussion; now it has exacerbated the divisions in the UK and has led to a dangerous destabilisation, he said. Lord Boswell also expressed his opposition to a second referendum, which would only bring emotions closer to a boil, but said that it was impossible to support such a drastic step as withdrawal from the EU without a rethink. He appealed to Europe's patience, especially as developments are difficult to predict and the trauma is certain to continue. He stressed that neither side in the debate should, however, burn their bridges. A “no deal” withdrawal would be the worst result for everyone involved, not only for the United Kingdom, but also for Ireland and the citizens of the European Union.

Whatever the future holds, Lord Boswell warned that we must continue to nurture close relations. He spoke of a common heritage and common democratic values and recalled that the concrete interests of the citizens lie behind the façade of Brexit discussions.

Parliamentarians opposed to burning of bridges to the UK

In the subsequent discussion among the parliamentarians, regret over the Brexit decision predominated, with one participant from Germany stating that the best Brexit was “no Brexit”. Cyprus and the Czech Republic wished for the United Kingdom to maintain as close a relationship as possible with the EU despite its withdrawal. The British will continue to be citizens of Europe, said an Italian member of parliament. A Swiss parliamentarian attending the conference as an observer recalled that his country has shown that friendly cooperation with the EU is also possible without membership. A parliamentarian from Estonia stressed that the bridges should not be burned now; his colleague from Finland also reiterated the sentiment, expressing the hope that the two sides would remain friends even after Brexit. The main concern expressed by Bulgaria, Poland and Portugal is to protect EU citizens living in Great Britain from the effects of Brexit. A parliamentarian from Ireland stressed the importance of an open border between his country and Northern Ireland and called on the British Parliament to support the agreement. Solidarity for Ireland was also heard from France and Germany. (Continuation COSAC)

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