[Check against delivery]. Today is the last day before the 12 April deadline, and the situation is still very unclear. The British Parliament has not approved the withdrawal agreement and there is no indication as to how Mrs May’s government plans to break the deadlock.
The discussions now taking place between the Conservatives and Labour are the only significant new development, and one that I hope will lead to a breakthrough.
People are confused and even the most attentive observers are struggling to follow events.
There is no doubt that we are in a difficult situation and the decision that you will have to make today will do much to determine future events.
This morning, we discussed these potential outcomes in detail at a meeting of the Conference of Presidents. The key conclusion to emerge is that the uncertainty that Brexit is generating must be ended as soon as possible, one way or another.
It is a source of anguish for our citizens, and their fate remains our primary concern.
It is also damaging for our firms, which - as we well know - need certainty so that they can conduct business and plan ahead.
It is also undeniable that this lengthy and complicated process has diverted attention away from our current challenges and future projects. To give just one example, over the last two years the debates on the future of Europe that we organised at Parliament, and in which many of you have taken part, have inextricably been linked to Brexit.
The European Parliament hopes, therefore, that an agreement can quickly be found between the government and opposition in Westminster. An agreement that goes in the right direction, however.
For our part, as you know, we have always been adamant that future relations with the United Kingdom must be as close as possible. We are therefore in favour of a more ambitious political declaration on future relations, which could perhaps make a provision for the United Kingdom’s participation in a customs union or the internal market.
As I have repeatedly stated at meetings with you, the European Parliament regards a disorderly Brexit as a calamity from which we have a duty to spare our citizens and companies. Therefore, like the House of Commons, we take the view that this outcome must be avoided. However, not at all costs, and certainly not by jeopardising the integrity of the internal market painstakingly built over the last thirty years.
The British Government is now asking for a further extension. That decision, naturally, is yours to take. If an extension were granted, it must first be clear the purpose it would serve.
It cannot simply allow more time to pass, because too much has been wasted already: we need cast-iron guarantees, lest we find ourselves in exactly the same position as we are in today, in a few months’ time.
As Mrs May acknowledged in her most recent letter, the purpose of the extension cannot be to reopen the withdrawal agreement, unless it is to make purely technical changes.
However, it is worth pointing out, once again, that it must also not be used to negotiate the agreement on future relations, which can be done only once the United Kingdom has become a third country.
I therefore hope that Mrs May will be able to clarify the framework within which the discussions between the Conservatives and Labour are taking place today.
We really need to know what exactly is being negotiated in London and what the terms of the agreement would be. Besides ensuring that no further time is lost unnecessarily, we have to be sure that the agreement between the government and opposition fits with our fundamental principles: the integrity of the internal market, the indivisibility of the four fundamental freedoms and our decision-making autonomy.
We must avoid creating an unfortunate and potentially dangerous situation in which the British ultimately agree to proposals that are unacceptable to us.
Given what has happened previously, this would mean guarantees, or potential future ones, of a solid majority in support of the agreement. If not, a then clear indication of how the UK Government would plan to resolve such an impasse would be required: a new referendum, a general election or the revocation of Article 50.
Parliament believes that the European Council should agree to an extension only if these conditions are met. Asking the United Kingdom to honour its obligation to cooperate sincerely and in good faith is necessary, but surely not enough in itself.
I feel that, we are entitled to clarity now, given that – as I have already said at previous European Council meetings – the choice is not between a long and short extension, but between one that serves a purpose and one that does not.
I must also underscore that any potential extension beyond the date of the European elections will mean the United Kingdom having to take part in the latter.
This is something that must be taken into account, as the integrity, efficiency and dignity of the European Parliament and, ultimately, the credibility of the EU as a democratic system depend on it.
The European elections are not a game, and they must not be made to look like one thanks to the casual attitude that some in the UK may choose to take towards them.
If there is an extension, it must be designed to resolve the issue meaningfully, comply with the democratic functioning of the Union and the public’s right to elect its representatives to the European Parliament.
Naturally, we fully understand what is at stake, must do everything we can to avoid a no-deal scenario and to pave the way towards adoption of the withdrawal agreement. We also have a duty, I believe, not to close the door completely on those who are fighting for the UK to remain in the EU.
Similarly, we cannot extend the withdrawal procedure indefinitely.
This lengthy and trying process has lasted more than two years, throughout which we have maintained the course set at the start. This collective effort by the Member States and institutions is something of which we must be proud.
However, now, more than ever, we need to hold our nerve, be clear, patient and, above all, remain united: our greatest strength thus far.
I am confident that in reaching your decision, you will take into account the considerations that I have put forward on behalf of the European Parliament.
Thank you for your attention.
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