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Speaking at a trade conference in Berlin yesterday, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said, “If the British Government says that free movement of people is no longer valid, that will have a price.” She reiterated that the UK could not expect to enjoy all good aspects of the EU single market, while imposing an immigration quota for EU citizens, saying, “That will not work, and then we would have to think about what obstacles we put in place from the European side to compensate.” She added that, outside the EU, Britain would be free to alter its regulatory environment, including the working-time directive and environmental regulation, and argued, “That has an impact on competitiveness, and then the EU must be free to react.”
This comes as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, yesterday told the European Parliament that the EU wants to conclude a [post-Brexit] deal “with the UK, not against the UK.” Barnier stressed that his intention is not to have “no agreement, no deal or a bad [Brexit] deal,” and added that he hopes to start Brexit negotiations as soon as possible, suggesting the day after the UK general election. On the subject of the UK’s financial settlement, which some have estimated could be as high as €100 billion, he said, “I have never quoted these figures. The figures will depend on the methodology. It’s not a punishment, it’s not an exit bill.” This comes as The Times quotes officials in Brussel who suggest the exit settlement could be €40 billion at most. A new study by the Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales suggests the UK’s bill could range from £5bn to a maximum of £30bn.
Die Welt Press Association
Reuters The Times Institute of Chartered Accountants in England and Wales
Prime Minister Theresa May will today launch the Conservative manifesto. The manifesto pledges to make firms who hire non-EU immigrants in skilled jobs pay £2,000 per employee per year, an increase from the current charge of £1000. It also rules out removing students from the immigration statistics. The manifesto commits to reducing and controlling immigration from Europe after Brexit, removing David Cameron’s promise not to raise income tax, VAT or national insurance, and clearing the deficit by 2025.
The Daily Telegraph
French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday nominated his government, which included key figures from both traditional parties. Former centre-right minister, Bruno Le Maire, has been selected as the new Economy Minister, while the outgoing Socialist Defence Minister, Jean-Yves Le Drian, was appointed Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs – a new title expanded to include Europe. Centrist MEP Sylvie Goulard is the new Minister for Armed Forces, formerly known as Defence Minister. François Bayrou, leader of the centrist Democratic Movement party, which formed an alliance with Macron during the campaign, has been named the new Justice Minister. Half of France’s new government are women, and only four have previously held ministerial roles.
In a meeting with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier, Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway secured a promise that they would be kept informed and be consulted about the Brexit negotiations. These EEA-EFTA states (members of the European Economic Area and the European Free Trade Association) asked the EU to protect their interests in the bloc’s negotiations with the UK, and reach a deal that would defend the rights they currently enjoy. In an interview with Norwegian press agency NTB, Norway’s EU minister Frank Bakke Jensen said, “Barnier sees EU members as his first priority. EEA countries are priority number two.”
The Liberal Democrats yesterday unveiled their manifesto, in which they promised to offer a vote on the final Brexit deal, with the alternative of continued EU membership. Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said, “You should have your say on the Brexit deal in a referendum. And if you don’t like the deal you should be able to reject it and choose to remain in Europe.” The manifesto also pledged support for retaining membership of the single market and freedom of movement, protecting the rights of EU citizens currently in the UK, and maintaining close cooperation with the EU on social, environmental and security issues.
Data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) shows that UK unemployment has dropped to its lowest level since 1975, falling by 53,000 to 1.54 million, or 4.6%, in the first quarter of 2017. Economic inactivity amongst 16 to 64-year-olds also reached a record low of 21.5%. In the same period, the number of non-UK nationals in employment rose by 207,000 to a record 3.5 million, while job vacancies also reached record levels with a 22,000 increase to 777,000. This comes as the number of EU-born workers has returned to level of six months ago, with the number of Bulgarian and Romanian workers reached a high of 311,000 between January and March this year.
ONS: Labour market economic commentary: May 2017
Spanish Foreign Minister, Alfonso Dastis, has said, “We’re under the impression that the British side is putting on the table too many requirements [for an agreement on citizens’ rights]. We want it to be easier. We want the agreement to be as broad as possible…and as similar as possible to the situation we have now.” This comes as Politico quotes from a briefing from the Spanish Secretary of State for EU Affairs that says, “Spain attaches particular importance to the question of the process to be applied by the British authorities to prove the periods of residence,” and urges for the creation of “transparent” and “agile” systems for recognising documentation originating in states other than the UK.
Meanwhile, Bloomberg reports that the Spanish Government is to create 13 new roles across its London and Edinburgh diplomatic presence as part of a Brexit task force that aims to assist Spanish citizens living in the UK. The Spanish government commented, “The requests for support are growing…The current resources aren’t sufficient to deal with those tasks.”
Irish Taoiseach Enda Kenny resigned as leader of Fine Gael as of midnight yesterday. He said, “I will continue to carry out my duties as party leader in an acting capacity, until my successor is elected through the Fine Gael leadership election process.” The new leader of the party, expected to be announced on Friday 2 June, will become Ireland’s new Taoiseach.