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The president of the European Parliament struck a stern tone in his first press conference since Article 50 was triggered, drawing a number of red lines and insisting that the UK’s continued cooperation in security matters must not be used as a bargaining chip for a trade deal.
Antonio Tajani, president of the parliament, repeated his promise to put “citizens first”, and warned that any “unilateral decision affecting the rights of EU citizens” living in the UK before Brexit is complete would be “illegal.”
“Not reaching a deal on the rights of citizens means not reaching a deal at all,” he said.
The Italian politician also said that “close cooperation on defence and intelligence should continue with the UK whether there is a deal [on trade] or not.” This was a thinly veiled reference to Prime Minister Theresa May’s linking of the two points in her Brexit letter to the European Council.
Mr Tajani added that an “orderly exit” was an “absolute requirement” for any potential future UK-EU partnership. “This is not negotiable,” Mr Tajani said.
Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, also spoke at the press conference, echoing many of Mr Tajani’s points.
“Security is far too important that we start to bargain it against an economic agreement,” he said.
Mr Verhofstadt also sounded a stern warning over the issue of an Irish border.
“The Brexit agreement needs to fully respect the Good Friday agreement in all its aspects. We will never accept a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Irish republic,” he said.
Mr Verhofstadt also warned the UK and other countries against starting discussions on future trade deals until an EU-UK deal was concluded. “We will never accept that behind our back the UK is starting trade negotiations with other countries before the withdrawal,” he said. “Until the withdrawal, the UK is a full member of the EU with all the rights and the obligations.”
Both politicians repeatedly insisted that the UK must “fulfill its obligations” right up until the day of its departure – including the settling of a divorce bill.
And although Mr Tajani said today was “not a good day for Europe”, he said the EU would cope without the UK’s membership.
“We are moving on. The Rome declaration has given us a fresh start,” he said.