Following a debate in Strasbourg, the European Parliament voted in favor of a tough line on Brexit negotiations. The EP's backing of the red lines resolution for Brexit has raised tension with Britain.
Brexit champion and the former leader of the U.K. Independence Party Nigel Farage blasted the EU over its demands to negotiate divorce terms before striking a post-Brexit trade deal, as well as its stance on Gibraltar and its multibillion-dollar exit bill.
Farage said Britain would not be held hostage by the EP. "You are behaving like the mafia, you think we're a hostage. We're not, we're free to go. We're free to go," Farage said to hoots from other legislators. In reaction, he said he was willing to change "mafia" to "gangsters" so not to rile Italian sensitivities.
Farage also accused the EU 27 of "hypocrisy" by claiming to negotiate with London as one and yet allowing Spain to have a "veto" over a future trade deal if it is unhappy over Gibraltar's fate. "Your aim and ambition is to destroy nation-state democracy," he said. "Gibraltar is clearly a deal-breaker on current terms." Spanish conservative Member of European Parliament Esteban Gonzalez Pons hit back, saying Britain could not be allowed to have its "tax haven" Gibraltar still operating under EU trade rules.
The parliament, which will have the final say on any Brexit deal, became the first EU body to take a formal stand on the talks, just a week after British Prime Minister Theresa May formally triggered the process for leaving the bloc. The vote was 516 for, 133 against and 50 abstentions.
The parliament's Brexit coordinator, 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."
The guidelines, which the EPP's German leader Manfred Weber calls "red lines," reinforce the draft guidelines unveiled last Friday by EU President Donald Tusk, who represents the member states. But the 27 countries will not formally approve the Tusk guidelines until a summit on April 29.
The resolution called for protecting the rights of the 3 million European citizens living in Britain, and the 1 million Britons residing in EU countries.
"People cannot end up being simply a negotiating chip," said European Commission Chief Jean-Claude Juncker.
Immigration helped fuel the Brexit campaign which culminated in the shock vote by Britons last June to leave the bloc. 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.
Tusk's guidelines call for "sufficient progress" on divorce terms before a new trade deal is struck, as well as protections of the rights of EU citizens and the border in Northern Ireland.