Guaranteeing rights of European citizens will be an absolute priority from start of negotiations underlined Michel Barnier, European Chief Negotiator for Brexit during the debate at the European Committee of the Regions’ plenary session today. With a motto “Citizens first” he called for all interested parties to agree on the principles of orderly withdrawal, to allow more time for trade negotiations.

The first condition is the unity of the 27, which goes hand in hand with transparency and public debate“- stressed Michel Barnier – “These negotiations cannot take place in secret.”

Speaking on behalf of the EPP Group, Michael Murphy (IE) warned that a deal must take into consideration a specific position of Ireland towards its Northern neighbour – “While Northern Ireland is part of the UK, it includes a population of up to 1.8m people who are entitled to Irish and European citizenship. The unique position of the island demonstrates the manner in which a bad deal, which rolls back the progress of the last twenty years, could penalise citizens on both sides of these negotiations.” – underlined Tipperary County Councillor.

Murphy further pointed that as Brexit negotiations will dominate much of the EU agenda over the coming years, it will be important to ensure that the remaining EU 27 presents a positive vision of the EU’s future to the European citizens, focusing on priorities including jobs and growth, security and the challenges of migration.

The President of the European Committee of the Regions, Markku Markkula added: “Whilst remembering that some regional parliaments will have a vote on the deal, we must work to protect well-established ties between regional and local authorities in the EU and the UK.”

The EPP Group debated Brexit before the plenary session with MEP Elmar Brok (EPP/DE) who underlined that no cherry picking would be tolerated: “A country leaving the EU can’t expect to have the same conditions as a Member State“.

MEP Brok further suggested that access to the Single Market should only be granted in UK agrees to contribute to the EU’s structural funds, the way that Norway or Switzerland do. He also noted that UK’s empty seats in the European Parliament should not be filled, but rather reserved for the future EU enlargements.

See the video from the debate

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