Although we are yet to hear anything concrete regarding the impending Brexit negotiations, we have become familiar with the names of the UK politicians fighting to contradict each other over the timing, content and likely outcome of our final exit from the EU.
Less familiar is the name of the former Prime Minister of Belgium, Guy Verhofstadt, who has been appointed as the European Parliament’s Lead Negotiator for Brexit. He will be working with the European Commission’s negotiator Michel Barnier,
Whatever the final so-called ‘deal’ will entail, in line with the Treaties, the European Parliament will be called on to give its consent and as Mr Verhofstadt has warned, the European Parliament will have more power over the final agreement than any individual EU member country.
The European Council, consisting of the heads of state of the member countries, will be debating the negotiating mandate, or ‘guidelines’ of the UK’s withdrawal. The Council’s final agreement will be decided on the basis of Qualified Majority Voting (QMV) which allocates votes to member countries according to their population (with some adjustment for the smaller member states). Roughly, a majority must represent 65% of the EU population. So while member countries will have an important part in shaping the deal, when it comes to the final agreement no single country will have a veto.
The European Parliament however does have the ability to veto the final deal. This has happened twice in the past when the Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) and the SWIFT banking pact with the US, were shelved after the parliament voted them down.
Qualified Majority Voting is a fairly recent arrangement. Although slightly amended in 2014, the method operates on a system established in the Treaty of Lisbon that came into force in December 2009. The Lisbon Treaty also contains, in its now famous Article 50, the option and process for a member country to leave the EU. It also states that the European Parliament must be kept fully informed at all stages of the negotiating procedure.
The Four Freedoms of the single market go back a lot further. They are contained in the original 1957 Treaty of Rome that was approved by the British public in the 1975 referendum. These Four Freedoms are the free movement, across borders, of goods, capital, services and people. They form the cornerstone of the EU and it is no surprise that despite the cavalier claims of UK ‘brexiteers’ we have seen, and in my view will continue to see, not a hint of a possibility that the UK will retain its present access to the single market without all four of these freedoms remaining in place.
Given the importance of securing the European Parliament’s approval, it is likely that it will be closely involved in the negotiations process. At the moment however, as Theresa May and her ministers continue to dither and contradict each other I and my fellow MEPs remain as much in the dark as are bewildered members of the general public.