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Parliament yesterday passed the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill unamended, allowing the Prime Minister to meet her deadline of triggering Article 50 before the end of the month. Yet, despite speculation that the Prime Minister intended to trigger Article 50 today, government figures yesterday insisted that it would not be invoked until the last week of this month.
The bill returned to the House of Commons yesterday afternoon, where MPs voted by 335 to 287 to reject an amendment to guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK, and by 331 to 286 reject an amendment to give parliament a “meaningful vote” on the final deal with the EU. The bill then moved to the House of Lords last night where peers voted down both amendments with heavy majorities of 139 and 156 respectively. Speaking after the votes, Secretary for Exiting the EU David Davis said, “So we will trigger Article 50 by the end of this month as planned and deliver an outcome that works in the interests of the whole of the UK.”
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Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday announced her plan to hold a second Scottish independence referendum between autumn 2018 and spring 2019, confirming her intention to seek approval from the Scottish parliament next week to open discussions with the UK government. Explaining her decision, Sturgeon said, “All of our efforts at compromise [with the UK government] have been met with a brick wall of intransigence… if Scotland can be ignored on an issue as important as our membership of the EU and the single market, then it is clear that our voice and our interests can be ignored at any time and on any issue.” She argued that Scottish citizens should have “a real choice…of whether to follow the UK to a hard Brexit or to become an independent country, able to secure a real partnership of equals with the rest of the UK and our own relationship with Europe.”
Prime Minister Theresa May responded, “The tunnel vision that the SNP has shown today is deeply regrettable… It sets Scotland on a course for more uncertainty and division…Instead of playing politics with the future of our country, the Scottish government should focus on delivering good government and public services for the people of Scotland.”
Separately, a BMG poll for The Herald has found that 52% of respondents in Scotland oppose independence, against 48% in favour, when unsure responses were omitted.
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Secretary General of NATO, Jens Stoltenberg, has called for the Netherlands and Turkey “to show mutual respect, to be calm and to have a measured approach, to contribute to de-escalate the tensions.” This comes after Dutch authorities this weekend prevented Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlüt Çavuşoğlu from landing in Rotterdam to speak at a rally. In a joint statement, EU Enlargement Commissioner Johannes Hahn, and EU foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini also called on Turkey to “refrain from excessive statements and actions that risk further exacerbating the situation.” Meanwhile, German Chancellor Angela Merkel offered the Netherlands her “full support and solidarity.”
Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has compared the Netherlands to “a banana republic,” demanded international organisations impose sanctions on the Netherlands, and accused countries in the West of “Islamophobia.” He added, “I have said that I had thought that Nazism was over, but I was wrong.”
The Dutch foreign ministry yesterday issued a new travel warning to its citizens in Turkey urging them to take care due to the “diplomatic tensions” and warned them to “avoid gatherings and crowded places.”
According to an internal document seen by El País, the Spanish government is concerned that, while the impact of Brexit “will be greater for the UK”, the EU and Spain “will also suffer negative economic consequences.” The document estimates that Spain’s GDP growth could be 0.2-0.4% smaller after Brexit, while exports to the UK could fall by some €500m – or up to €1bn in the worst-case scenario. The Spanish government also foresees that it will have to make an extra contribution of €888m to the EU budget once the UK leaves the bloc.
Le Parisien reported yesterday that former socialist French Prime Minister Manuel Valls was preparing to endorse independent presidential candidate Emmanuel Macron, who served as Economy Minister in his government, against the official socialist candidate Benoît Hamon. However, a close ally of Valls has denied the story in a statement to the Agence France-Presse. Meanwhile, Valls has told French magazine Paris Match that he will not formally endorse Hamon either, arguing, “I couldn’t live with so many contradictions.”
France and Spain failed to meet the NATO commitment to spend 2% of GDP on defence last year. France spent 1.79%, while Spain spent 0.9% of GDP on defence. Jens Stoltenberg, the head of NATO, said yesterday, “We still do not have fair burden sharing within our alliance. Only five allies met the 2% guideline in 2016. We must redouble our efforts to speed up national efforts to keep our pledge.” Britain is one of the countries that achieves the 2% target.
The Mayor of London Sadiq Khan has called the government’s objective to secure a trade deal with the EU within the two years stipulated for Article 50 negotiations “unrealistic.” He said, “If neither an interim or final deal is in place at the end of the two years the government has allowed then the UK would crash out of Europe and we would suffer very significant economic detriment,” and called on the government to address “the unnecessary uncertainty caused by a real lack of clarity on the government’s negotiating position.” On the prospect of changing the UK’s economic model through deregulation and tax cuts in the event of no trade agreement being concluded, Khan said, “London and Britain’s global competitiveness and influence in the world have been built on our nation’s historic openness, rich culture, progressive values and flair for innovation. Starting a race to the bottom would inevitably bring about a decline in our country’s prosperity and world standing.”