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Belgien Brüssel Theresa May und Jean-Claude Juncker
Image: Getty Images/D. Mouhtaropoulos

Has Brussels pushed Brexit talks to the brink?

Alan MacKenzie
March 6, 2019

With just weeks to go before the UK's planned exit from the EU, many issues remain unsolved. Is it time Brussels was more flexible over Brexit? An MEP from the European Parliament's Brexit Steering Group talks to DW.


Philippe Lamberts on Conflict Zone

An orderly departure for the UK from the EU cannot come at any cost, a member of the European Parliament's Brexit Steering Group has said.

With only a few weeks remaining before Britain leaves the European Union, MEP Philippe Lamberts told DW's Conflict Zone that proposed technological solutions to questions about the future of the border between the UK and the Republic of Ireland were "fantasy." He also said that supporters of a hard Brexit wanted a "backdoor into the single market, uncontrolled, unpoliced."

Wrangling and uncertainty over arrangements to avoid a hard border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland after Brexit have mired talks between the UK and Brussels.

Border disorder

Die britische Premierministerin Theresa May spricht vor Parlamentsabgeordneten in London
British MPs will vote again on Theresa May's Brexit deal before March 12, after it was defeated by a historic margin in JanuaryImage: picture-alliance/J. Taylor

In the event of a "no-deal" Brexit, where Theresa May's proposed deal is not approved by British lawmakers and there is no extension to the UK's departure date of March 29, Lamberts said there would be border controls but "elsewhere than on the intra-Irish border."

After decades of sectarian conflict in Northern Ireland and years of relative peace that followed the signing of the Good Friday Agreement in 1998, the possibility of checkpoints on the border again has raised fears of a return to violence.

The Irish government has committed to not supporting "the reemergence of border infrastructure on this island," its foreign minister has said. The country's tax authorities have said they will have 400 extra customs officers ready by the end of March in case of no-deal, but that they would not be deployed on the border.

If checkpoints were necessary, who would put them up? Lamberts told DW's Tim Sebastian: "Do you believe that we are going to let any good enter the European Union just unchecked? And so if the Irish don't do it, then of course people on the continent will need do it."

Grenze Irland - Nordirland
Northern Ireland's top police officer has said infrastructure or personnel put on the Irish border after Brexit would become a target for terroristsImage: Getty Images/AFP/P. Faith

On whether the Republic of Ireland was being forced to choose between the Good Friday Agreement and protecting the single market, Lamberts told DW's Tim Sebastian, "We will decide for what we are responsible."

"The Brits are responsible for the Good Friday Agreement. We are not. I mean, the two parties to the Good Friday Agreement are the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom. And, I mean, it is the responsibility of the United Kingdom to stand by its word."

"Extreme Brexiteers," such as the conservative European Research Group (ERG), were "reneging" on the agreement, Lamberts said.

Second vote

Tim Sebastian asked the MEP if he was dictating to the UK that, if it wanted an extension of the withdrawal process, it must hold a so-called "people's vote" with an option to remain in the EU. But Lamberts denied this, saying he was supporting the desire of allies in the UK to have a second vote.

Philippe Lamberts
Lamberts said "there must be a credible plan" before an extension to the UK's departure date from the EUImage: DW/A. MacKenzie

"I'm just speaking out my mind. I'm not instructing the Brits what to do. What I'm saying is that if they want an extension, they need to say for what and it can be a people's vote, it can be a new election."

More of the same from the EU?

As the conversation turned to human rights, Lamberts said he was not happy with the legitimacy the recent EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm El-Sheikh appeared to give to Egypt's President Abdel Fattah Al Sisi. The MEP also raised the issue of arms deals with Saudi Arabia

"I have taken risks in my own country saying that we should have an arms embargo against Saudi Arabia, depriving the main Belgian weapons producer of its main client. We have taken political risks to stand by our values," the green politician said.

But wasn't his plan for improving the EU really just more of the same? "We want more integration but not more of the same, because you can have an integration with different policies," said Lamberts.

"The only way for Europeans to carry any weight on the global scale, facing the Putins of this world, facing the Daesh of this world, facing climate change, facing the power of big corporates, is to act together. There's no way around this."

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