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Speaking in Ireland yesterday, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said that in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland, and to respect Ireland’s place in the EU Single Market, all “goods entering Northern Ireland must comply with the rules of the Single Market and the Union Customs Code.” Although he said “regulatory alignment would be strictly limited to what is needed,” he also noted that “there are already special rules and checks” on goods moving between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, saying, “There are all-island phytosanitary and veterinary rules, or rules where food safety and consumer protection is at stake. And everybody is fine with that.” Barnier stressed, “We have no intention of questioning the UK’s constitutional order. That is none of our business…The backstop is not there to change the UK’s red lines. It is there because of the UK’s red lines.” On the timetable for finding an agreement, he said, “I think we have to use the time from now to June and from June to October to find this operational solution for Northern Ireland.”
Speaking at the same press conference, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “There is absolutely no question of Ireland or the EU being interested in a land grab for Northern Ireland. That is not on our agenda.” He added that there has to be “real, substantial and meaningful progress” on the question of the Irish border before the June summit of EU27 leaders.
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that the UK is proposing a new method for resolving the Irish border issue. Under new plans, the UK would seek to combine its preferred solution of a comprehensive UK-EU free trade and customs agreement, with technological solutions and “trusted trader” schemes to minimise the need for checks at the border. This comes as Brexit Secretary David Davis yesterday tweeted, “Our solutions must respect the EU single market and the integrity of the UK.”
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The House of Lords yesterday voted by 335 to 244 in support of an amendment to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill that would give parliament the right to decide what happens if MPs vote against the final deal. This could reduce the chance of a “no deal” scenario, as it would give parliament the power to send the government back to the negotiating table. Labour’s shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, said the vote was “a hugely significant moment” in preventing a no deal situation. Elsewhere, the Lords’ Brexit Minister, Lord Callanan, said the amendment would “weaken the UK’s hand in our negotiations with the EU by giving parliament unprecedented powers to instruct the government to do anything with regard to the negotiations, including trying to keep the UK in the EU indefinitely.” MPs will have a chance to vote on the amendment when the Bill returns to the House of Commons.
Former Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, Sajid Javid, has been appointed as Home Secretary yesterday, following the resignation of Amber Rudd on Sunday. Former Northern Ireland Secretary James Brokenshire will take up the role of Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, while International Development Secretary Penny Mordaunt would take over Amber Rudd’s role as Minister for Women and Equalities.
Elsewhere, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, yesterday urged Home Secretary Javid “to go to all lengths to dispel any fears that what was visited on the Windrush generation will not be repeated in respect of EU citizens living in the UK.” Verhofstadt said that the UK Government’s plans for registering EU citizens must be “appropriately resourced and funded” and should “not create unnecessary anxiety.” He urged the Home Office to reply to the concerns within two days, adding, “the absence of response should be taken as tacit acceptance of the registration.”
The US yesterday announced that it would extend the temporary exemption from steel and aluminium imports tariffs granted to the EU, Canada and Mexico, until 1 June. It has also reached agreements for permanent exemptions with Argentina, Australia and Brazil. The White House said in a statement, “In all of these negotiations, the administration is focused on quotas that will restrain imports, prevent trans-shipment, and protect the national security.”
The European Commission today replied to the announcement saying, “The US decision prolongs market uncertainty, which is already affecting business decisions. The EU should be fully and permanently exempted from these measures, as they cannot be justified on the grounds of national security.” The Commission’s statement added, “The EU has also consistently indicated its willingness to discuss current market access issues of interest to both sides, but has also made clear that, as a longstanding partner and friend of the US, we will not negotiate under threat.”
In an interview with Bloomberg, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that Brexit will be “on the top of the [Austrian European Council presidency’s] agenda,” adding, “This year, 2018, is the year that Brexit has to be agreed to so that in 2019, it can take place.” Kurz said that other priorities on Austria’s presidency agenda include the EU budget and security, particularly “fighting illegal immigration and the fight against radicalisation.”
On strengthening the EU’s external border controls, he explained, “Every country in the EU should make a personnel and a financial contribution in that area,” adding, “We shouldn’t leave alone countries like Italy and Greece that have external borders, rather we must make the external borders safe together. That is what creates the basis for a Europe without internal borders. A goal of our presidency is to make progress in this area.”
The leader of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, yesterday called for new elections in Italy to be held as early as June, arguing that “At this point, for me there is no other solution.” The demand comes after prospects of opening coalition talks between the Five Star Movement and the centre-left Democratic Party were jeopardised by former Prime Minister Matteo Renzi, who ruled out his support for a government deal.
Elsewhere, the centre-right coalition has emerged as the winning force in regional elections held in Italy’s north-east region Friuli Venezia Giulia. Massimiliano Fedriga, the candidate of the centre-right coalition, won 57.1 percent of the votes. The results also registered an increase in votes for the centre-left compared to the general elections results, while support for the Five Star Movement fell.
A narrow majority (54%) of Swiss citizens are in favour of adopting a new arbitration framework with the EU, a survey by GfS Bern suggests, with just 35% backing the current system of joint Swiss-EU committees. Under the new framework, these committees would be complemented by arbitration courts comprising representatives from the EU, Switzerland and a neutral third party. Merely 4% were in favour of making the European Court of Justice the final arbiter of disputes.
In a new blog , Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze notes that while immigration was the main focus of last month’s Hungarian parliamentary election, it also remains the top concern of citizens across Europe. She writes, “An increasing amount of Europeans are demanding a reform of migration policies,” but “the continent remains divided on the possible ways forward…On the one hand, some [member states] insist on prioritising their national sovereignty… On the other hand, others are calling for greater action at the EU level in order to regulate and redistribute the flows of asylum seekers.” She notes, “These divisions are already visible within EU institutions and will further prevent efforts to strike a deal at the European Council in June.” Anna concludes, “One area in which some form of agreement is possible is strengthening external borders control, which many member states advocate. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said that making progress in external borders security will be a goal of the Austrian EU presidency later this year. However, the persistent divisions over approaches towards reforms reduce the chances of a major breakthrough in this area.”