EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier has raised the stakes on next month’s Commons vote over the Brexit deal, telling MPs that the future of the UK rests on their decision.
In a speech to the European parliament, Barnier insisted the withdrawal agreement signed-off on Sunday is the “only possible deal” after an “arduous” 17 months of negotiations.
The French politician vowed to “respect the debate” taking place over the deal in the UK ahead of the vote on 11 December.
But with the deal set to fall short by up to 180 votes, he sent this message to MPs: “The time has now come for everybody to shoulder their responsibilities.
“British MPs will have an opportunity to take up a position on that withdrawal agreement and political declaration in the forthcoming weeks. This is a text where the future of their country is at stake.”
Securing the deal would “make it possible to limit the negative consequences of Brexit,” he told a mostly empty parliament chamber in Brussels.
Barnier was though urged by UKIP MEP Nigel Farage to prepare for MPs to vote down the deal. “This is going to fail in parliament and probably fail by a very big margin,” said Farage.
Speaking directly to Barnier, Farage added: “You say this is the only possible deal but this deal isn’t going to be accepted … Are you prepared for that? Because you seem to assume that the British parliament is going to ratify this. It isn’t.”
Barnier said he had “no intention of engaging in polemics” with Farage and said he remains “convinced that we will be able to work together for a real, unprecedented partnership.”
Farage was accused during the debate of orchestrating the criticism levelled at the deal by US president Donald Trump earlier this week.
Trump said it was a “great deal for the EU” which meant the UK “may not be able to trade with us.”
MEP Elmar Brok, an ally of German chancellor Angela Merkel, branded Farage “president Trump’s speech writer” and accused him of helping the US to divide Europe.
“We need a European Union which is united, which can help us and defend us against the Trump’s and all the rest,” said Brok. So, we’re not going to allow that to be destroyed by presidents Trump’s speech writer here in the parliament.”
In stark contrast to the UK parliament, almost all the European parliament’s political groups signalled their intention to vote in favour of the deal.
That includes the European allies of Labour, the Liberal Democrats, the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Greens – parties opposed to the current deal.
Liberal MEP Guy Verhofstadt said the deal is the “only and best possible” in the circumstances but expressed his belief that “in the near future a new generation in Britain will decide to come back into the great European political family.”
Socialist MEP Roberto Gaultieri also said there is “no alternative deal to the one agreed on Sunday” before adding: “If the UK changes its mind, our arms are and will remain open.”
Green co-leader Philippe Lamberts said the UK would be viewed as a “rogue state” if it left the EU next March without a deal.
The paltry turnout for the debate with Barnier sparked speculation that the EU is suffering Brexit fatigue. A more likely reason is that the debate was limited to one speaker per political group.
Labour’s leader in the European parliament, Richard Corbett, complained at the beginning of proceedings that the rule meant there would not be a “single British voice from those who oppose Brexit , which according to the latest polls represent the majority view of the British population.”