MEPs will next week in Strasbourg set out their views on the post-Brexit framework for the future EU-UK relationship.
The draft resolution agreed by the European Parliament Conference of Presidents on Wednesday 8 March makes it clear that the United Kingdom will become a third country after leaving the EU and proposes a close relationship in the form of an “association agreement” between the EU and the UK.
The resolution highlights that a formal agreement can only be negotiated once the UK has left the EU and is a third country.
The European Parliament will have to approve any future EU-UK trade agreement.
No hardening of the Irish border
In December, a political agreement was reached on three important issues: citizens' rights, the need to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland and the financial settlement.
While negotiations have now moved to the second phase, outstanding issues with respect to the first phase remain. For example, both the UK and the EU made commitments in December on the maintenance of the Good Friday Agreement and the need to avoid any hardening of the Irish border.
In the resolution to be put to a vote next week, the European Parliament's commitment to Ireland remains steadfast.
We must ensure that the commitments made with respect to Northern Ireland are fully enforceable.
If no other solution is found, then a backstop will need to be put in place to maintain the free flow of goods and products on the island of Ireland.
Principles for a Future EU-UK Agreement
As regards the options for the future EU-UK relationship, the resolution notes that UK membership of the Internal Market and the Customs Union would not only be the best solution for both the UK and the EU27, but also the only one which can guarantee continued frictionless trade.
However, taking into consideration that the UK government excludes continued membership of both the Internal Market and the Customs Union, the European Parliament resolution suggests that the best option is that of a Free Trade Agreement (FTA) that would form the trade and economic pillar of an Association Agreement.
The resolution argues that such a future agreement has to follow certain principles.
First and foremost, a third country cannot have the same benefits as a Member State of the EU or an EFTA/EEA Member, no matter how closely it is aligned. A third country is a third country.
Second, the protection of the integrity and the correct functioning of the Internal Market, the Customs Union and the four freedoms, without allowing for a sector-by-sector approach.
Third, to avoid a race to the bottom, common ground must be found on rules that apply to standards on e.g. social, environmental, consumer protection and competition matters.
The depth of the commitments in these areas will be a major factor in determining the depth of the overall future EU-UK relationship.
Finally, a governance system will be necessary to supervise and manage the agreement, with both dispute settlement and enforcement mechanisms, and sanctions where necessary.
A governance system is also vital to safeguard the EU legal order and the role of the European Court of Justice.
No transition phase without withdrawal treaty
Additionally, the UK has requested a transition phase. The EP resolution argues that this will only be possible if we can agree a withdrawal treaty.
During such a phase, all EU laws will continue to apply to UK citizens, students, companies and universities.
They will all continue to have the same rights and the same obligations as they have today.
Any change to EU law which takes effect during the transitional period must apply automatically to the UK.
We cannot accept discrimination between EU citizens who arrive before the start of the transition and after.
In other words, the full EU acquis must apply during any transition, including for citizens, without any differentiation.
The resolution makes clear that, during a potential transition phase, the UK will no longer take part in the EU's decision-making process, as it will have left the EU in accordance with its own decision.
To conclude, the resolution to be voted by MEPs next week proposes a close future relationship between the EU and the UK.
However, it also highlights that the integrity of the Internal Market and the four freedoms are non-negotiable. In other words, there can be no cherry picking and no sector-by-sector approach.
A country outside the EU simply cannot have the same benefits as a Member State or an EFTA/EEA Member.