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The former Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, has said that he would withhold payment of the financial settlement in the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and scrap the Irish backstop if he is elected as Conservative Party leader and Prime Minister. In an interview with the Sunday Times, Johnson said issues surrounding the Irish border should be consigned “to the discussion on the future partnership which is where it logically belongs and where it should have been all along.” On the financial settlement, Johnson said, “The money is going to be retained until such time as we have greater clarity about the way forward.” Johnson also promised to unilaterally guarantee the rights of EU nationals in the UK, accelerate preparations for No Deal, and have negotiations led by ministers rather than officials. This comes as three cabinet ministers endorsed Johnson for the leadership – the Transport Secretary Chris Grayling, the Wales Secretary Alun Cairns, and the Housing Secretary James Brokenshire. Johnson was also endorsed over the weekend by former leadership contender James Cleverly, who withdrew from the contest last week, as well as by Steve Baker and Priti Patel, both senior figures in the European Research Group (ERG).
Responding to Johnson’s comments about the financial settlement, a French official is quoted by Reuters saying, “Not honouring your payment obligations is a failure of international commitments equivalent to a sovereign debt default, whose consequences are well known.”
Elsewhere, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said yesterday that German Chancellor Angela Merkel had told him this week that the EU would be “willing to negotiate on the [Brexit deal] package” if the new Prime Minister had “the right approach.” Hunt was yesterday endorsed for the leadership last night by Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary and co-leader of the One Nation group of Conservative MPs. Meanwhile, the Home Secretary Sajid Javid told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday Show that if he was Prime Minister, the UK would pay the full cost of any “alternative arrangements” to replace the Irish backstop. Javid was endorsed for the leadership this weekend by Ruth Davidson, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives, as well as by three Home Office ministers.
Meanwhile, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show that if he becomes Prime Minister, the UK would leave the EU “at the earliest possible opportunity,” although he added that he was open to a further extension “if we’re on the cusp of a good deal.” Fellow leadership contender and former Chief Whip Mark Harper also said yesterday that a “short, focused” extension should not be ruled out.
Elsewhere, leadership candidate and former Work & Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, also speaking on the Andrew Marr Show, refused to rule out proroguing Parliament to push through a No Deal Brexit, saying such a course of action “wouldn’t be my priority” but that her government would “use all the tools at our disposal.”
This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May officially stepped down as party leader on Friday. She will remain in place as acting leader until the contest is concluded. The deadline for candidates to submit the required eight nominations to enter the first round of voting is today at 5pm.
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The UK and South Korea have reached an agreement in principle to rollover the EU-South Korea Free Trade Agreement (FTA), International Trade Secretary Liam Fox announced in Seoul this morning. Fox said that the FTA with South Korea would “ensure the continuity of our trade arrangements as the UK exits the European Union.” Fox added that when the deal comes into force, it will “allow British and Korean businesses to keep trading and investing on the same terms as we do today.”
The Shadow International Trade Secretary, Barry Gardiner, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that Labour policy is to prevent No Deal “either through a general election or through a second referendum,” and added that a general election is the more likely of the two. Gardiner said, “we have, as the opposition, no power to deliver a second referendum… [but] we could force their hand for a general election because we can introduce [a]… motion of no confidence.”
Elsewhere, the Scottish Labour Party announced on Saturday that it supports a second referendum, in which it would “wholeheartedly” campaign to remain in the EU. This comes as the Welsh Labour Party announced a similar policy last week.
Separately, nominations for the next leader of the Liberal Democrats closed on Friday. Deputy leader Jo Swinson and former Energy Secretary Ed Davey are the two candidates in the running to replace current leader Sir Vince Cable. On Saturday, Davey ruled out forming any pact or alliance with other Remain parties and MPs, but said he would be open to other MPs joining the Liberal Democrats, including those who recently left Change UK.
The Financial Times reports that a European Commission paper due to be published on Wednesday will warn businesses to “take advantage of the extra time” to prepare for a No Deal Brexit and will confirm that no new contingency measures are expected ahead of the withdrawal date. The Commission paper will say that existing contingency measures would only “mitigate the most serious disruptions” of No Deal and that such an outcome “would have a serious negative economic impact, and that this impact would be proportionately much greater in the United Kingdom than in the EU27 member states.”
A third consecutive opinion poll of voter intention in Germany has put the Green Party in first place, ahead of the ruling Christian Democrat Union (CDU). The poll, conducted by Forsa and published Saturday, puts the Greens on 27% and the CDU on 24%, with both the centre-left Social Democrats and the right-wing populist Alternative fur Deutschland on 12%. Another recent poll, by Emnid, puts the Greens and the CDU tied in first place on 27%.
Separately, 72 mayors and councillors from France’s centre-right Republican Party pledged their support for President Emmanuel Macron on Sunday. A recent opinion poll in the Journal du Dimanche newspaper found that 31% of Republican supporters favour an alliance with Macron’s centrist La Republique en Marche party, while 26% would prefer an alliance with the far-right National Rally.
One of Spain’s top diplomats in Scotland has been fired after saying that Spain would not block an independent Scotland from joining the EU, El Pais reports. Miguel Angel Vecino, the Consul General at the Spanish consul in Edinburgh, had written in a letter to Scottish newspaper The National that “Spain will not block Scotland’s entry into the European Union if independence is legally achieved and such has always been the intention of the Spanish Government.” Following the letter, the Spanish Ministry of Foreign Affairs dismissed Vecino, telling El País that he had “crossed the line” and that “it is not appropriate… for him to make a statement of this political nature.”
In a piece for The Article on Friday, following the Labour Party’s victory in the by-election in Peterborough, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh wrote, “Although the Brexit Party’s strong second place is an impressive achievement for a party registered just four months ago, silver medals do not tend to create political earthquakes… the result of the by-election slightly dampens the sense of political crisis engulfing the two main parties.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s David Shiels appeared on BBC Radio Ulster’s Inside Business programme yesterday.