BRUSSELS â€” European Union lawmakers on Wednesday passed a resolution calling for phased negotiations in divorce proceedings with Britain, going against the wishes of London, which would like exit talks and discussions of a future trade arrangement to happen in parallel.
The lawmakers voted 516-133 for the resolution, with 50 abstentions, highlighting the tough task ahead for British Prime Minister Theresa May as she enters two years of negotiations with 27 EU nations.
EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier called parallel talks on Britain’s exit from the EU and a future trade relationship “a very risky approach” that he is bent on avoiding.
Barnier told EU legislators in Strasbourg, France, that “to succeed, we need on the contrary to devote the first phase of negotiations exclusively to reaching agreement on the principle of the exit.”
May last week sought hand-in-hand negotiations on exit and a future relationship, while the EU Council president and EU top legislators argued against it.
The Brexit talks are expected to start in late May once the negotiating guidelines of the 27 member nations have been sealed in a mandate for Barnier.
Britain insisted again, though, that it wanted to move on to discuss the future as soon as possible.
“The best interests of both sides of this negotiation will be served by getting on to the technical discussion about the future relationship as quickly as possible in the two years that we have available,” said junior Brexit Minister Robin Walker.
Both sides have a general agreement that they want to tackle the fate of the 3 million EU citizens in Britain and some 1 million Britons residing in the other EU nations first of all.
“I really welcome the fact that the parliament and the (EU) Council have set that out as a first priority from the EU perspective as well,” Walker said.
The parliament’s Brexit co-ordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, said it was perhaps best that there was never much positive passion in the cross-Channel relationship. “It never was a love affair,” he said, instead calling it “a marriage of convenience.”
Raf Casert, The Associated Press