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Discussing an Irish parliament committee report titled ‘Brexit and the future of Ireland’, rapporteur Mark Daly of Fianna Fáil said, “I think a referendum [on unification] will be held in the next decade. The lesson from Brexit is that you shouldn’t ask a question unless you have prepared for every eventuality. Everything in Northern Ireland is contested.” The report recommends that a second ‘New Ireland Forum’ be established, building on the role played by the mechanism in the peace process during the 1980s, as a means “to achieve the constitutional aspiration of the peaceful reunification of Ireland and its peoples under the Good Friday Agreement.” Commenting on the report, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party Arlene Foster said, “From an economic point of view, it is a no-brainer when you see the benefits we gain from our membership of the UK, so that is a non-runner. It is not a matter for reports from the Dail. It is a matter for the people of Northern Ireland.”
Separately, discussing hopes expressed by the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar that the UK might remain in the customs union, the single market, or even the European Union as a whole, Foster said, “He may be hopeful but that is disrespecting the will of the British people. Brexit is going to happen. We are leaving the European Union. I just hope the Republic of Ireland will continue to work constructively with us in Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK because it is very much in their interest to have a Brexit that works for them as well.” Ahead of a meeting with Varadkar tomorrow on his first official visit to Northern Ireland, Foster said the Taoiseach’s apparent unwillingness to assist the UK in designing a post-Brexit border between the Republic and Northern Ireland was “not helpful,” and that the Irish government “should reflect on whether they are being helpful to the process here in Northern Ireland or not.” She continued, “They have made various interventions recently in relation to Northern Ireland politics. It would be better if we focused on finding solutions to what is in front of us. We know there are huge opportunities in relation to Brexit and we also accept there are short-term challenges. To overcome all of that we have to work together. The megaphone diplomacy that has been engaged in is not helpful. We have to work together to get a European exit that works for everybody.”
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Following US President Trump’s signature of the ‘Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act’ yesterday, which restricts American investment and business dealings with Russian energy schemes and companies, the Russian Prime Minister Dmitry Medvedev said the measures represented a “full-scale trade war.” While the Act also places restrictions on dealings with Iran and North Korea, in Russia’s case its measures are designed to form a punitive response to Russia’s alleged interference in the 2016 US elections and actions in Ukraine. Despite signing the Act, Trump appended a critical statement calling its measures “deeply flawed,” an action seized on by Medvedev as evidence of Trump’s lack of power. Nevertheless, Medvedev said, “The sanctions regime has been codified and will remain in effect for decades unless a miracle happens.” Separately, following reports that European commercial interests could have been harmed by US sanctions against Russia, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said, “The US Congress has now also committed to only apply sanctions after the country’s allies are consulted. And I do believe we are still allies of the US.”
European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has told Politico that he still expects Brexit to happen, despite the UK becoming more aware of the problems associated with withdrawal from the EU. He said, “People will become more and more conscious of the density of problems on a daily basis, without always being able to provide a coherent answer to these problems.” He added, “I don’t go as far as the Maltese Prime Minister who has not ruled out that it will not come to Brexit. My working hypothesis is that it will come to Brexit.”
Separately, Isabella de Monte, an Italian socialist MEP, has requested clarification in the European Parliament of the legal basis for the clause in the European Union’s Brexit negotiation mandate that grants Spain a veto on measures applying to Gibraltar. De Monte’s question focussed on the scope of powers that can be granted under Article 50.
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Andreas Georgiou, the former chief of Elstat, the Greek statistics agency, has been given a suspended sentence of two years due to accusations of manipulating 2009 budget deficit figures from 13.6% to 15.4% of GDP, along with failure to inform and discuss statistical issues with fellow board members between 2010-2015. In response to the unanimous decision of three appeal court judges, Georgiou said, “I would defend and apply the principle again today with no hesitation and so should every head of a statistical authority […] In Europe we do not put statistical results up for voting [by a board].” Georgiou’s lawyers later announced their plans to appeal the judgement to Greece’s supreme court.
Meanwhile the European Commission has expressed disapproval of the extended “persecution” of Georgiou and says it has “full confidence in the reliability and accuracy of Elstat data for the period 2010-2015 and beyond.” It added, “The independence of statistics offices in our member states is a key pillar of economic and monetary union.”
Michael O’Leary, Chief Executive of Ryanair, has warned that British holidaymakers will face widespread cancellation of flights unless the pace of negotiations over the UK’s future aviation relationship with the EU quickens. He warned that if no deal was agreed by the end of 2018, “[Ryanair] and other airlines will have to start cancelling flights or taking flights off sale” for the following summer. He criticised the government’s handling of the issue, saying, “The UK doesn’t have time to negotiate this…The discussions haven’t yet started,” adding, “The UK government doesn’t have a Plan B, other than we hope and trust a deal will get done by September 2018.” He also suggested that rival airlines in Europe were “opposed to the UK getting any favourable deal” and were “actively campaigning” on the issue.
Scottish Secretary David Mundell said, “Scotch whisky is a world-class product, globally recognised for its quality and heritage, and the industry employs thousands of people in Scotland and around the rest of the UK. […] We are determined to open up new markets around the world for the very best whisky our distillers have to offer – and to drive down any tariffs they face.” International Trade Secretary Liam Fox added, “Reducing the costs for companies to sell overseas will become one way of further opening up free trade routes and boosting sales, and that’s why I’ve tasked my international economic department to look at how we can support more businesses to build their brands abroad.” The Scottish government’s Brexit Minister Mike Russell criticised Mundell’s comments, saying, “Our whisky industry needs urgent assurances that the UK Government will not sell them out in order to secure a wider trade deal with the US. The EU’s protection of the whisky industry will be undermined and the industry will suffer if the looser US definition is forced on Scotland.”
Separately, a job advert has been posted for a role in a newly created body designed to deal with trade disputes post-Brexit. The creation of the organisation, an arms-length body of the Department of Trade, is in line with the government’s plans to leave the single market and the customs union, signalling that the UK is preparing to take over the enforcement of trade rules which are currently handled in Brussels. It is due to be operational by October 2018, in time for the March 2019 Brexit deadline.
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The Russell Group, representing 24 of Britain’s leading universities, has called for the government to urgently clarify the rights of EU nationals post-Brexit in order to allow the sector to plan with confidence. Jessica Cole, Head of Policy for the Russell Group, said, “Brexit is causing uncertainty and anxiety for EU staff, who need clarity over their future rights as soon as possible. There are around 25,000 members of staff from other EU countries at Russell Group universities delivering high-quality teaching and cutting-edge research. We value our EU colleagues and want them to stay.” Cole added, “EU staff and universities need to be able to plan for the future with confidence. We urge the Government to secure an agreement with the EU on citizens’ rights at the earliest possibility. We want to ensure that families will be able to stay together in the UK and that the system for processing applications will place minimal burdens on applicants at the lowest possible cost.” Prime Minister Theresa May has outlined plans which require EU citizens resident in the UK to apply for ‘settled status’ in order to remain in the UK post-Brexit. However, Cole argued, “There is no reason why individuals and families who have already secured permanent residency should not be granted the new ‘settled status’ automatically.”