The collapse of UKIP leadership hopeful MEP Steven Woolfe in the European Parliament was a bizarre and a shocking end to this week's gathering of MEPs in Strasbourg.

With the wheels of Brexit now firmly in motion, all eyes were on the parliament's response to British Prime Minister Theresa May's announcement that she would trigger Article 50 next March, which would see the UK out of the EU by 2019, with or without access to the single market.

Parliament's chief Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt, also a former Belgian prime minister, sent a frosty message to Ms May welcoming the clarity, but rebuffing her call for "preparatory work" and insisting that the core EU values of free movement of people, goods, capital and services were not up for negotiation.

Along the sidelines, the UKIP party was quietly imploding, with MEP Diana James standing down as leader after only 18 days.

Former leader Nigel Farage, who became the face of the Brexit campaign, described the job as a "pretty rotten one".

But no one anticipated the outcome of the party's Thursday morning meeting behind closed doors which saw "an altercation" and which later ended with Mr Woolfe leaving the chamber and dramatically collapsing.

The dispute reportedly centred on Mr Woolfe's admission that he considered joining the Conservative Party.

He later issued a statement saying he was recovering in hospital, but it was an unseemly row for the UK's largest party in the parliament.

A week that had begun on a high note with UN General Secretary Ban Ki Moon witnessing parliament vote overwhelmingly in favour of the Paris Climate Change agreement ended with an MEP lying in a critical condition metres away from the voting chamber.


The mood in Strasbourg was anxious, particularly among Irish members, hoping for an orderly British exit.

But Minister Denis Naughten, in Strasbourg for the vote on the Paris agreement, insisted Ireland had support at European Council level for special status for the border.

Long-serving Ulster Unionist MEP Jim Nicholson also insisted there was no need to panic over Brexit, saying the only development to date was a slide in sterling which meant increased Single Farm Payments for Northern Ireland's farmers, adding there were "swings and roundabouts" to the current situation.

But even Mr Nicholson admitted he was "taken aback" by the tone of Ms May's speech to her party conference and that she appeared to be "setting her face against being part of the single market".

He urged co-operation, rather than hoping for the best.

On a lighter note, Violeta Bulc, the transport commissioner, gave the thumbs up to a proposal from German MEP Manfred Weber to give 18-year-olds a free inter-rail ticket to promote better understanding between European nations.

"We admire the boldness and the level of ambition, and we are ready to explore it further," Ms Bulc said.

However UK MEPs were quick to scoff at the €3bn price tag.

"This shows why Britain needs a high-speed train out of the EU," Conservative MEP David Campbell-Bannerman told her.

Fair Trade

The contents of the latest trade deal between the EU and Canada has seen citizens around Europe take to the streets in protest, but it has gone largely under the radar in Ireland.

The deal is known as CETA - the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement.

Unlike its American equivalent TTIP, which currently appears to be long fingered, CETA is actually due for approval by the European Parliament this month.

Opponents of CETA say we are sleep-walking into a deal which would allow big businesses sue the state, against the interests of citizens.

However, the deal is supported by the government, eager to reap the benefit of the thousands of jobs promised by a predicted boost in trade.

It sparked a lively debate on RTÉ’' European Parliament Report between Independent MEP Marian Harkin who told Fine Gael MEP Deirdre Clune she wanted a trade deal with Canada, but "not at any price".

Ms Harkin warned CETA moved beyond a simple trade deal and queried why big businesses needed the controversial "Investor State Dispute Settlement".

However, Ms Clune insisted this would not allow big businesses sue the state, but would actually facilitate independent arbitration which smaller enterprises would also benefit from.

Sinn Féin MEP Lynn Boylan also raised the environmental concerns around the deal, citing Canada’s voluntary animal welfare code.

The European Parliament's Rapporteur on the deal, Latvian MEP Artis Pabriks, said Ireland had nothing to fear from CETA, and he hoped populism would not prevent a real understanding of the deal.

"Small and medium-sized businesses are the ones that will benefit the most … I don’t see any danger of a state losing to some big corporation if the treaty is accepted."

European Parliament Report will be broadcast on RTÉ One at 12.30pm on Saturday.