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According to leaked documents seen by The Times, Parliament may need to pass at least seven Bills to prepare for a post-Brexit Britain, covering topics such as immigration, tax, agriculture, trade and customs regimes, fisheries, data protection and sanctions. Other Bills may also be necessary, covering EU migrant benefits, reciprocal healthcare arrangements, road freight, nuclear safeguards, emissions trading and the transfer of spending from various EU funds to individual government departments. A government source is quoted as saying, “There is a degree of pushback about [the length of the list]. The list is still accurate, but efforts are being made to see what can be done to adopt the current position and replicate EU structures in Britain.”
Separately, speaking to the House of Commons yesterday following what may have been her final European Council summit meeting before the triggering of Article 50, Prime Minister Theresa May said, “We remain on track with the timetable I set out six months ago, and I will return to this House before the end of this month to notify when I have formally triggered Article 50 and begun the process through which the UK will leave the EU. This will be a defining moment for our whole country as we begin to forge a new relationship with Europe and a new role for ourselves in the world. We will be a strong, self-governing global Britain with control once again over our borders and our laws. We will use this moment of opportunity to build a stronger economy and a fairer society, so that we secure both the right deal for Britain abroad and a better deal for ordinary working people at home.” May confirmed that Royal Assent will be given to the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill “in the coming days.”
This comes as The Times quoted government sources who said that the contents of the Article 50 letter of notification remain undecided, with two versions currently under consideration, one setting out more detail of the UK’s negotiating objectives than the other.
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The Daily Telegraph today reports that Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon will abandon her policy of an independent Scotland rejoining the EU and instead argue for Scotland to be part of the European Free Trade Area (EFTA), which includes Norway, Switzerland, Iceland and Liechtenstein. This comes as a YouGov survey for The Times found that over a quarter of those who voted for independence in 2014 voted Leave in last year’s Brexit vote. The poll also showed 57% of Scottish voters want to remain in the UK, against 43% who want to leave, when excluding “don’t knows.”
This follows comments from Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis who told reporters yesterday, “If, under mutual agreement and in accordance with the applicable constitutional regime in the UK, Scotland ended up being independent, our thesis is that it cannot remain in the EU because it is only a member insofar it is part of the UK.” He added that Scotland “would have to join the queue, meet the requirements for [EU] accession and enter negotiations.” Open Europe’s Vincenzo Scarpetta appeared on BBC News discussing the Scottish government’s plans for a second independence referendum and how they are resonating in Catalonia and elsewhere in Europe. Separately, Margaritis Schinas, a European Commission spokesman, said that the Barroso doctrine would apply if Scotland was to become independent, which would mean “If a country becomes independent it is a new state and has to negotiate with the EU.”
This came as Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced plans for the Scottish Parliament to vote next Wednesday on whether the executive should seek a Section 30 order to allow Scotland to legislate for a referendum, arguing, “It should be up to the Scottish Parliament to determine the referendum’s timing, franchise and the question.” Separately, referring to Sturgeon’s calls for a second Scottish independence referendum, Theresa May said, “This is not a moment to play politics or create uncertainty. It is a moment to bring our country together, to honour the will of the British people and to shape for them a better, brighter future and a better Britain.”
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President of the European Council Donald Tusk told the European Parliament this morning that he will “do everything in my power to make sure that UK, EU are close friends after Brexit and stress that EU’s door will always remain open.” However, Tusk warned that the EU will “not be intimidated by threats that no Brexit deal is good for UK & bad for EU. No deal bad for everyone, above all for UK.”
The leader of Northern Ireland’s nationalist Sinn Fein party, Michelle O’Neill, has said, “Brexit will be a disaster for the economy, and a disaster for the people of Ireland. A referendum on Irish unity has to happen as soon as possible.” She argued that the UK government “are continuing to refuse to listen to the majority view [in Northern Ireland] and they are refusing to honour their commitments and agreements.” 56% of Northern Irish voters backed remaining in the EU in last years’ referendum. Separately, Leanne Wood, the leader of Welsh party Plaid Cymru, which advocates Welsh independence, also said, “If the UK Government’s Brexit negotiation also leads to the Welsh national interest being overlooked, support will grow for greater control of our own affairs in Wales.”
French presidential candidate François Fillon was yesterday placed under formal investigation for abuse of public funds, one day earlier than anticipated. He is accused of diverting public funds, complicity in and receipt of misappropriated public funds, and failure to properly declare assets. His wife, Penelope Fillon, is due to be placed under formal investigation on 28 March, accused of accepting public money for employment not undertaken.
Speaking ahead of a televised debate with the leader of the Dutch far-right Eurosceptic Party for Freedom (PVV), Geert Wilders, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, “There is a real risk that on March 16 we can wake up in this country and Geert Wilders is leading the biggest party and that will send a signal to the rest of the world…Remember the Brexit. We all thought that would never happen. Remember the US elections. So let’s not make that mistake again.” He has also warned elsewhere, “If you look below the surface, the English economy suffers potentially irreparable harm because of their Brexit,” adding, “I don’t see right away how they can negotiate a deal with Europe in the future. It will never be as good as what they have now.” Dutch parliamentary elections take place today. This comes amid escalating tensions between the Netherlands and Turkey, with Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan yesterday accusing the Netherlands of “massacring” Muslim civilians at Srebrenica during the Bosnian war in 1995.
Separately, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe commented in the International Business Times on what would happen in the unlikely event that Geert Wilders would rise to power in the Netherlands, noting that “the first concern wouldn’t be Dutch membership of the European Union (EU). It would be Dutch membership of the Eurozone.”
IB Times: Cleppe
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Speaking to the House of Commons Exiting the EU Committee, the Mayor of London Sadiq Khan said of companies in the financial services sector with presence in London, “If, in the next few weeks – post Article 50 being served – they have not got the reassurance that there is going to be an interim deal in two years and one day, they will start making plans to move some of their operations.” He continued, “They don’t want to leave. They love being in London, because of the technology, the talent, the finance, the legal services, our courts. They love that, but they will have no choice but to go, they have told me.” However, on the prospect of no trade deal being agreed with the European Union, he said, “The point I make to colleagues around Europe is – don’t assume hard Brexit benefits you, because if there is so-called hard Brexit, some of these banks and financial institutions won’t go to Paris, Madrid, Brussels, Frankfurt – love them as we do – but New York, Hong Kong, Singapore, Dubai. So a hard Brexit doesn’t benefit our European friends or London or the UK.” He also said that he saw no “downside to having an interim deal…It would be prudent,” adding, “If we can keep financial passporting it is a real boon to us and I think we should try to do that.”
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Open Europe Intelligence: How the UK’s financial services sector can continue thriving after Brexit
The European Court of Justice has ruled that G4S in Belgium did not discriminate directly when it dismissed an employee for insisting on wearing a headscarf at work. A press release summarising the judgement said that the company action was permissible as it “treats all employees of the undertaking in the same way, notably by requiring them, generally and without any differentiation, to dress neutrally,” adding that while such action may cause “indirect discrimination,” it could be “objectively justified by a legitimate aim.” The case will return to the Belgian court that originally asked for the ECJ opinion.
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ECJ Press Release
The Financial Times reports Dealogic data for 2017 showing the highest volume and value of UK domestic mergers and acquisitions for the first ten weeks of a year since 2008, with 15 deals worth a total of $24.3bn attempted. This came as Paul Polman, Unilever chief executive, argued for a review of the UK’s corporate takeover code following a recent failed bid from US company Kraft Heinz, saying, “We’re not talking about protection; we are saying that when you have a situation like this, with a national champion, there should be a level playing field.”
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