Donald Tusk countered by saying the agreement was legally binding and irreversible, that it was in conformity with the EU Treaties and cannot be annulled by the ECJ.
The myth that a 2nd “better” deal could be re-negotiated after a vote to leave was also dispelled. Manfred Weber (EPP/DE), EPP leader, stated categorically that this was it and there was no chance of a better agreement later. UKIP asked him to repeat this just to ram home the point. Guy Verhofstadt (ALDE/BE) one of the EP sherpas deeply involved in the negotiations, also warned against any Brits trying to spin the line that the EU always came back to re-negotiate after a No vote (as in Ireland, Denmark, France and NL). Finally Donald Tusk stated quite clearly that if the UK voted to leave, that was exactly what would happen.
Significantly, Ashley Fox (ECR/GB), the Tory leader in the EP, came out in favour of his PM and the Stay campaign. He argued that the UK’s economic recovery was still fragile and should not be put at risk by fear of moving away from the single market. He resisted answering the question from Richard Corbett (S&D/GB) of how many of his 20 Tory MEPs would also campaign to stay and Guy Verhofstadt mischievously asked if his group leader Syed Kamall’s absence was because he was still undecided. The Liberal leader also said that while the outcome of the referendum was unclear, one result was certain – “this will not help reunite the Tory party”. He also took a sideswipe at Boris Johnson – “a politician even more ambitious than me” – who as Mayor of London was willing to act against the clear interests of London for his own personal ambition. “Totally bonkers” he claimed.
Gianni Pittella (S&D/IT) was one of many MEPs to voice their frustration that the European Council had been “taken hostage”’ by the Tory party over this issue, meaning that far more important issues like migration were not given adequate time.
Weber and Verhofstadt were keen to stress that Putin would be the big winner of a Brexit and a divided, weaker Europe. They pointed out that the US and India wanted the UK to stay and that the US had shown they were not keen on a separate FTA with the UK. Tusk added that this was not the time to divide the West.
The role of the EP in the process, and in particular the work of President Schulz and the 3 sherpas, Brok (EPP/DE), Gualtieri (S&D/IT) and Verhofstadt (ALDE/BE), was praised by both Presidents Tusk and Juncker. The Sherpas all welcomed the deal and while acknowledging the EP’s democratic right to look at the secondary legislation that would follow a Stay vote, they gave the impression politically that the EP leaders would respect the deal.
The peculiarly British question came from Paul Brannen (S&D/GB) who asked how the Democratic Ulster Unionists could support the Leave campaign when it could lead to a 2nd Scottish referendum, the likelihood of Scotland leaving the UK and so the end of the Union Jack (no Union Jack he claimed without the cross of St Andrew).
The final word goes to David Casa (EPP/MT) who said he had spent 11 years listening to Nigel Farage calling for the UK to leave. If the vote was to stay, would he respect that and retire – or would he still come back as an MEP? Farage accepted this was a “once in a lifetime opportunity” and they would be unlikely to get another chance. As to his own political future? For once he was silent.