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Leading MEP: Brexit transition is best chance to keep UK in EU

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Philippe Lamberts
Philippe Lamberts
MEP.

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  • The best chance anti-Brexit MPs have of reversing
    Britain’s exit is by accepting Theresa May’s deal and pushing
    for a referendum during transition, a leading MEP has told
    Business Insider.
  • Philippe Lamberts, who sits on the European
    Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, claimed there isn’t enough
    time left for pro-EU MPs in Westminster to stop Brexit before
    exit day in March 2019.
  • However, he said the two year transition period will
    allow enough time for a UK referendum to rejoin the EU.
    “Remainers should use a withdrawal agreement to their
    advantage,” Lamberts said.
  • Anti-Brexit MPs this week encouraged the EU’s chief
    negotiator, Michel Barnier, to prepare for a UK request to
    extend Article 50 talks in order to hold another
    referendum.

 

LONDON —Remain-supporting MPs should vote for Theresa May’s
Brexit deal and attempt to reverse the UK’s exit during the
transition period, according to a leading MEP on the European
Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group.

Philippe Lamberts, a Belgian Green MEP, told Business Insider
that Westminster MPs who want to stop Brexit should
support any deal the prime minister brings back from
Brussels, in order to avoid the chaos and disruption of a no deal
scenario and create a longer window in which they could push for
another referendum.

“Remainers should use a withdrawal agreement to their advantage
and convince the British public to remain in the European Union,”
he told BI this week.

“It is more likely to negotiate a reversal from Brexit in 36
months than 3 months,” Lamberts, who meets on a weekly basis with
the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, said in an
interview with BI.

Lamberts’ suggestion that there isn’t enough time to hold another
referendum time left before the UK leaves the EU in March comes
amid concern within the People’s Vote movement that time is
running out. Campaigners have started researching emergency
legislation that could be used to stage a nationwide referendum
in a matter of weeks.

Sir Vince Cable, leader of the Liberal Democrats, and leaders of
other anti-Brexit parties this week told Barnier to prepare
for a UK request to extend the Article 50 process, in order to
create more time for another referendum.

Lamberts told BI that “the safe bet is to negotiate a withdrawal
agreement, get it through Westminster, then enter a transition
period, which keeps many doors open” to hold a new
referendum. 

Anti-Brexit Conservative and Labour MPs face the question of
whether they should vote against any deal May brings back from
Brussels. Some fear that doing so could lead to a no deal Brexit
which would wreak havoc on the economy.

Downing Street, for its part, has indicated that the vote will
binary: A simple yes-no question where the alternative to voting
against the prime minister’s deal is leaving with EU no deal at
all.

Other Labour and Conservative MPs believe that voting against the
deal could allow them to table amendments which they could use to
push for a softer Brexit or force the government to legislate for
a fresh referendum.

But Lamberts — who is on the European Parliament’s Brexit
Steering Group with five other MEPs including its chair, Guy
Verhofstadt — claimed that this strategy was too risky as it
could not guarantee there wouldn’t be no deal.


People's Vote Brexit march
More than one hundred
thousand people march from Park Lane to Parliament Square in what
is said to be the largest public protest against Brexit so far.
The march is to demand a People’s Vote on the final Brexit deal
amid growing support from MPs from all the main political parties
for a final say referendum. October, 2018.

Alex McBride / Getty

‘Brexit hurts both ways’

Any attempt by the UK to rejoin the EU during the transition
period would, however, carry significant risks for those MPs
seeking a reversal of Brexit. For one thing, though the UK would
remain signed up to Brussels’ rules during the proposed 21-month
transition period, it will no longer be a member state.

That would mean it did not automatically have the right to
reclaim its current terms of membership, such as the generous
budget rebate negotiated by ex-UK prime minister Margaret
Thatcher in 1984, should it want to rejoin.

Countries like France which have taken a hardline approach to the
terms of the UK’s departure would likely make it difficult for a
rejoining UK to reclaim those terms of its previous EU
membership.

But Lamberts suggested that the 27 remaining EU member states
could be persuaded to offer the UK its current terms of
membership as a “price” for the UK of rejoining, despite likely
opposition from France.

“Brexit hurts both ways,” the MEP said. “Member states are not
stupid. If the UK, in another referendum, voted in favour of
remaining in the EU, the EU27 would also be willing to pay a
price to get the UK back.”

Our Brexit Insider Facebook group is the best place for up-to-date news and analysis about Britain’s departure from the EU, direct from Business Insider’s political reporters. Join here.

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