Daily Express - 2 March 2017
By Nick Gutteridge, Brussels Correspondent
A MAJOR breakthrough was made in the Brexit impasse today as an influential group of Brussels politicians called on EU leaders to agree a "special relationship" with Britain for the future.
In a crucial development ahead of the divorce talks an alliance of powerful MEPs said the bloc's governments must secure a comprehensive trade deal with the UK as soon as possible.
The bombshell move by members of the European Parliament, who are overwhelmingly europhile and have been the most outspoken critics of Brexit, was hailed by British officials as a huge coup for Theresa May.
The prime minister has previously said that "no deal is better than a bad one" and has threatened to walk away from the talks if EU member states try to punish Britain for leaving.
But in a strongly worded statement MEPs have warned the other 27 heads of government they must not allow that to happen, significantly strengthening the PM's negotiating hand as she prepares to trigger Article 50.
They presented a 16-point action plan European leaders should follow for the divorce talks, which includes the creation of a "special relationship" entailing mutual market access for the UK and the EU.
An EU source said the document was a "significant development and a sign of the changing mood" in Brussels now the hard-nosed business of negotiating is imminent, whilst the Conservatives hailed the breakthrough as a "major step forward".
Tory MEP Vicky Ford said: "I have always said our future partnership needs to be much closer than the EU normally has with third countries.
"The recently agreed EU-Canada trade agreement, for example, does not give anything like the level of market access the UK is used to having across EU borders.
"By calling for a 'deep' partnership the committee is advocating significantly more co-operation than the EU has with other third countries, especially on single market issues.
"This is very significant. If these action points are endorsed by the full Parliament for inclusion in the final text, it will be a major step forward."
The proposal has been made by MEPs from the six largest political groups sitting on the influential Internal Market and Consumer Protection Committee, which is responsible for the single market.
It is being backed by politicians from Germany, Italy, the Netherlands and the Czech Republic and looks set to be included in the EU parliament's Brexit strategy, to be published immediately after the triggering of Article 50.
The proposal says that the committee "believes it to be in the mutual interest of the EU and the UK to pursue a special relationship...which should include arrangements regarding deep mutual market access in goods and services".
It also supports the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, continued market access for products where UK and EU standards mirror each other and specifies that there should no lessening of consumer standards by either side following Brexit.
But in addition it acknowledges that any agreement between the EU and the UK ought to be "mutually beneficial", leaving open the tricky issue of how to square economic ties with Mrs May putting an end to free movement.
The EU parliament is set to play second fiddle in the Brexit negotiations behind the Commission and the Council of 27 member states, but eurocrats will still have to give strong consideration to its preferences.
That is because MEPs will ultimately wield a veto over any deal agreed between Brussels and Britain, meaning they can torpedo the talks if they think EU leaders are not listening to their concerns.
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