European Parliament overwhelmingly backs Guy Verhofstadt's Brexit negotiation red lines

MEPs backed the vote by 516 votes to 133, with 50 abstentions

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Members of the European Parliament have overwhelmingly backed a document spelling out red lines for the EU’s negotiators in upcoming Brexit negotiations.

MEPs voted for the red lines, which were drawn up by the Parliament’s Brexit lead Guy Verhofstadt, by 516 votes to 133, with 50 abstentions.

The wide-ranging document insists that a transitional agreement between the EU and UK could not last longer than three years. It also says the EU should look to find a way to ensure Britons do not lose the rights they enjoyed as EU citizens.

The European Parliament will get a vote on any final Brexit deal reached by the UK and the EU after Article 50 negotiations are complete.

Addressing MEPs near the start of the debate, Mr Verhofstadt said he believed Britain might return to the EU in the future, when a younger generation recognises Brexit as “a loss of time, a waste of energy and a stupidity”. He described the Leave vote as “a catfight in the Conservative party that got out of hand”.

Later in the debate Michel Barnier, the European Commission’s chief negotiator, told MEPs that EU was not seeking to “punish the United Kingdom” in negotiations but instead “simply asking the United Kingdom to deliver on its commitments and undertakings as a member of the European Union”.

He also dismissed the idea that Brexit talks and trade talks could take place at the same time, arguing that to attempt to do both within a two-year time frame could cause problems and increase the chance of no deal being struck.

European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker addressed MEPs, dismissing the suggestion from Theresa May that “no deal” was “better than a bad deal”.

“No deal means no winners. Everybody will lose,” he told the Parliament. “That’s why we will proceed with negotiations with the UK to try to reduce the damage caused to people, to trade, and to societies.”

He added: “Will we miss the UK? Yes, but without naivety.”

Ukip MEP group leader Nigel Farage caused consternation during the session when he described European officials as “mafia” and “gangsters” who were taking Britain “hostage” in the EU. 

The day-to-day back-and-forth of the talks will be led by the European Commission and European Council, but representatives of the Parliament are expected to be in the room because any final deal must be signed off by the institution.

The Prime Minister began the two-year Brexit negotiation process last month by triggering Article 50.

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