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Writing in The Times today, Prime Minister Theresa May has said, “Leaving the EU is not an end in itself. It is this generation’s opportunity to shape a brighter future for our country… by getting the right deal for Britain abroad and a better deal for ordinary working people at home.” On the launch of the government’s new ‘Plan for Britain,’ she said, “It recognises a fundamental truth: that the referendum last summer was not just a vote to leave the EU but an instruction to change the way our whole country works — and the people for whom it works — for ever.” She added, “These negotiations are not a game — they are of huge importance for the future of everyone across our whole United Kingdom. I believe we should be optimistic about that future but our success will not just happen.”
This comes as the European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill yesterday received Royal Assent, providing the government with the power to trigger Article 50, the formal process for leaving the EU. This is not expected until the end of the month. Yesterday’s Times Brexit Briefing suggests that by postponing Article 50 notification for two weeks, the Prime Minister risks shortening the overall negotiating period by six to eight weeks. They report the EU-27’s schedule to formulate their negotiating mandate will be set back by the Easter period and the French elections as a result, suggesting talks are now unlikely to formally begin until June.
The Times Times Brexit Briefing
Prime Minister Theresa May has told the Scottish National Party (SNP) that “now is not the time” to hold a second Scottish independence referendum, adding it would “make it more difficult for us to be able to get the right deal for Scotland, and the right deal for the UK [in Brexit negotiations].” She continued, “I think it wouldn’t be fair to the people of Scotland because they’d be asked to make a crucial decision without the necessary information, without knowing what the future partnership will be or what the alternative for an independent Scotland would look like.”
Meanwhile, Scottish Secretary David Mundell confirmed the UK Government “will not be entering into discussions or negotiations about a section 30 agreement and any request at this time will be declined.” Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson added, “We reject conclusively the [SNP’s] timetable for a referendum.”
Responding to May’s comments, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “If the Prime Minister refuses to engage on the terms of a referendum before Brexit takes place then she is effectively trying to block the people of Scotland having a choice over their future. That would be a democratic outrage. It is for the Scottish Parliament not Downing Street to determine the timing of a referendum, and the decision of the Scottish Parliament must be respected.”
Following Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte’s election victory in the Netherlands, a German government spokesman said Chancellor Angela Merkel was “looking forward to continued good co-operation as friends, neighbours, Europeans” with Rutte. Martin Schulz, leader of the German Social Democrats, said, “Wilders failed to win the Dutch elections. I am relieved, but we need to continue to fight for an open and free Europe.”
Meanwhile, French President François Hollande has said Rutte’s election represents “a clear victory against extremism.” Republican French presidential candidate François Fillon has also commented, saying, “This success shows once again that when the centre-right have a clear programme and defend their values without giving in, they are the best defence against populism and extremism.”
Elsewhere, European Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker, wrote in a letter to Rutte, “The people of the Netherlands voted overwhelmingly for the values Europe stands for: free and tolerant societies in a prosperous Europe.”
However, amid threats to suspend a deal on removing illegal migrants from the EU, the Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan addressed Rutte directly, saying, “Oh Rutte, you may have come out [in the elections] as the first party, but you should know that you have lost a friend like Turkey.”
Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe discussed the results of the Dutch elections and what this might mean for the EU in an article for CNN.
The Press Association
Speaking at a conference in Frankfurt, German Finance Minister Wolfgang Schäuble has said, “I am convinced that for Europe as a whole, and I’m not sure this will be very beloved in Paris, it’s in our own interests to have a strong financial centre in London.” While he did highlight Frankfurt as an alternative EU financial hub post-Brexit, he stressed that a UK-EU deal should include a key role for the City of London.
Former director-general of the World Trade Organisation (WTO), Pascal Lamy, has said, “I am pitching for the best deal [between the UK and EU post-Brexit], the most open, the most pragmatic…[But] the greatest deal we can have is going to be complex and costly.” He added that he did not believe a UK-EU trade agreement would be concluded within the two-year Article 50 period, saying, “Issues like regulation of safety standards, and the Erasmus programme, and fisheries, and whether intellectual property is protected in the UK the way it is in the continent or the other way around, will inevitably take a lot of time.” On the possibility of ‘no deal’ he said, “Trade will be less open and then more costly.”
Lamy also commented on what effect Brexit will have on the EU, saying, “We keep trying to integrate in the name that we do better together than alone. If a UK exit is proof a country does it better alone, that will probably trigger reflection on the continent. But it won’t be clear before ten years.”
The Financial Times
Toyota has announced it will invest £240 million in its Derbyshire plant. Business Secretary Greg Clark said Toyota’s investment “underlines the company’s faith in its employees and will help ensure the plant is well positioned for future Toyota models to be made in the UK.” However, Dr Johan van Zyl, president and chief executive of Toyota Motor Europe, warned, “Continued tariff- and barrier-free market access between the UK and Europe that is predictable and uncomplicated will be vital for future success.”