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The government yesterday published the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, which would repeal the 1972 European Communities Act and transpose existing EU laws onto the UK statute book at the point of withdrawal. The Act would also confer powers on Ministers to use secondary legislation to amend provisions as they are transposed, for instance to ensure laws operate effectively and prevent any “deficiencies.” But Ministers would be prevented from using secondary legislation to impose or increase taxes, to amend or repeal the Human Rights Act 1998, or to amend or repeal the Northern Ireland Act 1998. The Act will not incorporate the European Charter of Fundamental Rights into UK law.
Brexit Secretary David Davis said the “milestone” Bill would provide “maximum certainty, continuity and control” as the UK leaves the EU, and added, “The eyes of the country are on us and I will work with anyone to achieve this goal and shape a new future for our country.” Prior to the Bill’s publication, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer said that Labour would not support the Bill unless six concessions were made, including the incorporation of the European Charter of Fundamental Rights. Outgoing Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron said, “This will be hell.”
Separately, the government yesterday published three Brexit-related position papers covering nuclear material and safeguard issues; ongoing judicial and administrative proceedings; and privileges and immunities. Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar is quoted in Politico discussing the divergence in UK and EU positions on the post-Brexit role of the ECJ in the adjudication of pre-Brexit matters, saying, “Given the EU’s position and UK’s position are entirely divergent, that is where we will have to see most compromise. Someone or something will have to give way, it is not clear which side.”
The Press Association
BBC News Politico
In a joint statement, Nicola Sturgeon and Carwyn Jones, first ministers of Scotland and Wales respectively, said “the Scottish and Welsh governments cannot recommend that legislative consent is given to the [Repeal] Bill as it currently stands.” They added, “Today’s publication of the European Union Bill is the first test as to whether the UK Government is serious about such a [constructive and collaborative] approach. It is a test it has failed utterly.” The statement continued, “We have repeatedly tried to engage with the UK Government on these matters and have put forward constructive proposals about how we can deliver an outcome which will protect the interests of all the nations in the UK… The European Union Bill does not return powers from the EU to the devolved administrations, as promised. It returns them solely to the UK Government and Parliament.” Responding to the statement, UK Scottish Secretary David Mundell said, “This is not a power grab, it is a power bonanza for the Scottish Parliament because after this Bill has been implemented the Scottish Parliament will have more powers and responsibilities than it has today.” He added that he was confident legislative consent would be forthcoming and insisted that the repatriation of EU power to the UK was a “transitional arrangement” that would allow for further onward devolution “as soon as is practical” in accordance with UK-wide frameworks and the Sewel Convention. Mundell added, “I think it’s clear now that there’s an acceptance in Scotland that we are leaving the EU.”
The Press Association
In a written statement to parliament yesterday on the UK’s “financial settlement” with the EU, Brexit Minister Joyce Anelay said, “The government recognizes that the UK has obligations to the EU, and the EU obligations to the UK, that will survive the UK’s withdrawal — and that these need to be resolved.” A Whitehall source told The Times, “We have not been as explicit as this or put it in those terms before.” The Financial Times quotes an EU diplomat saying, “This [UK] statement goes further than before…That stops an electric shock next week. It would have been a real problem if we had made zero progress on the financial settlement.”
Yesterday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn met with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiatior Michel Barnier in Brussels. During their two-hour discussion, Corbyn told Barnier that Labour respected the referendum result and reiterated his commitment to a unilateral offer for the protection of the rights of EU citizens resident in the UK. Corbyn said that the party wanted a Brexit which would protect jobs and would not agree to a “sweetheart deal” with the US undermining the Paris climate agreement and harming living standards in the UK. On the financial settlement, he added that Labour would pay “what we are legally required.”
German Chancellor Angela Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday met for the first joint session of the French and German cabinets to “activate Franco-German relations with a new impetus.” Speaking on Macron’s vision of a Eurozone finance minister and Eurozone budget, Merkel said, “Personally I was always in favour; it’s about how [to create a Eurozone finance minister]. In general I’m not against a euro budget. In 2012 I proposed a small Eurozone budget but I failed big time back then but I’m very glad this idea is now back on the table.” Macron had earlier told Ouest France newspaper that he wants the Eurozone “to have more coherence and convergence.” He argued that Germany’s competitiveness is due to the “malfunctioning of the Eurozone and the weakness of its other economies,” adding, “France must reform its economy to give it more vigour but Germany must support a revival of public and private investment in Europe.” Open Europe’s director Henry Newman discussed Eurozone reform in The Spectator, arguing, “If France and Germany do ultimately green-light major institutional change in the Eurozone, this will be a very significant development for the EU, another turn of the ratchet towards the creation of a common state-like structure. If the Eurozone has a shared finance minister, even if his or her powers are initially limited, it will be easier for further powers to accrete in due course. Creating the shared architecture of an ‘economic’ government is probably the only way to secure the future of the Eurozone. But voters across Europe will surely wonder whether these constitutional changes are ones they can support.”
Merkel and Macron also announced plans to build a joint fighter jet. Macron said, “The aim of this fighter jet for a new generation is first to launch a common research and development programme to be able to plan it together, and then for our two armies to be able to use it together. I confirm to you, it’s a profound revolution, but we are not afraid of revolutions.”
The Spectator: Newman
Speaking as US president Donald Trump arrived in Paris yesterday, Christophe Castaner, a spokesman for the French government, said that French president Emmanuel Macron wanted to avoid American “isolation,” saying, “either you condemn and reject, saying ‘he’s not a nice guy, we don’t like him and won’t talk to him any more’, or you do the opposite.” He added, “What Emmanuel Macron wants to do is bring Trump back into the circle so that the United States, which remains the world’s number one power, is not excluded.”
Speaking in Brussels following calls from the Irish Business and Employers Confederation (IBEC) for Irish exporters to be given financial support should the UK leave the Customs Union, IBEC’s chief executive Danny McCoy said, “In the case of a fraught exit, funds amounting to up to €1bn over three years may be needed from domestic and EU sources to help Irish companies innovate, diversify into new markets, train staff and invest for the future.” He added, “If the UK insists on such a policy of self-harm, a long transition period would be needed to allow companies time to adapt.”
A report by the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) has warned that the UK’s public finances are “much more sensitive to interest rate and inflation surprises than they were,” adding, “the new Government must also manage the risks posed by Brexit. These do not supplant the possible shocks and likely pressures that we have already discussed, but they could affect the likelihood and impact of many of them.” Discussing the costs of Brexit, the report continued, “A lot of attention focuses on the possible ‘divorce bill’, but, while some numbers mooted for it are very large, a one-off hit of this sort would not pose a big threat to fiscal sustainability. More important are the implications of whatever agreements are reached with the EU and other trading partners for the long-term growth of the UK economy, which we do not attempt to predict here.”
Eight pharmaceutical trade bodies have signed a letter warning the UK and the EU that a disorderly Brexit poses a risk to public health, calling for an immediate start to negotiations on medicines regulation. The letter warns of the “significant time pressure” to reach a deal which will provide the pharmaceutical industry enough time to make plans for Brexit. It added, “In the case of an unorderly withdrawal there is a risk that all goods due to be moved between the UK and EU could be held either at border checks, in warehouses or manufacturing and/or subject to extensive retesting requirements. In fact, this would lead to a severe disruption of most companies’ supply chains, which would lead to potential supply disruptions of life-saving medicines.”
Separately, UK airports have also warned the government of potentially damaging effects of a Brexit cliff-edge, with the representative body of the UK’s largest airports suggesting that flights to Europe could be suspended if the UK fails to reach a deal over the EU Open Skies agreement. The agreement provides uniform rules across member states for airlines and airports, and allows UK airlines to fly to destinations across the continent. Olivier Jankovec, director of Airports Council International Europe, said, “The clock has been ticking since March and negotiations already began last month, yet we remain completely in the dark as to what will happen on April 1, 2019 and we have no idea how long this uncertainty will persist. The fact that the UK has yet to define a clear and detailed position as to what it wants – not just in terms of its new relationship with the EU, but also about how to transition there – is not helping. This only results in precious time being lost and potentially increases the risk of a no-deal scenario – which should be avoided at all cost, as it could ultimately result in flights between the UK and the EU being suspended.”
The Daily Telegraph
The Daily Telegraph 2
The UK’s financial watchdog yesterday announced plans to make it easier for publically owned companies to list their shares, as part of wider plans to keep the UK open for business post-Brexit. The Financial Conduct Authority said it is planning to create a category of premium listing for state-owned companies who wish to privatise, in a move which some hope will attract Saudi Aramco to choose London as the venue for its initial public offering, as Saudi Arabia seek to sell 5 per cent of its national oil company. The London Stock Exchange welcomed the move, saying, “Providing discretionary access for investors to a broad range of UK and global companies is fundamental to the effectiveness and competitiveness of UK Primary Markets and to London’s role as the most international financial centre.”