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The Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, has said that the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal will be “dead” if the Withdrawal Agreement Bill is not approved by MPs in June. Speaking before the Lords EU select committee, Barclay also said, “There is an under-appreciation that No Deal can still happen,” adding, “If the House has not passed the Withdrawal Agreement Bill then there are growing voices in Europe, not least the French, who want to move on to other issues. So there is no automatic right of an extension and in that scenario it would then be a question for the House whether it voted for a No Deal and none of can sit here and definitively answer that question.” This comes as a spokesman for 10 Downing Street also said yesterday that if the deal is defeated, the UK will face a choice between a No Deal Brexit and revoking Article 50, on the basis that the EU would not grant a further extension after October. However, a senior EU official reportedly told BuzzFeed News that this suggestion was “not credible.”
A Labour spokesman yesterday ruled out the party voting for the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in its current form in the vote in June, but did not rule out abstaining. However, speaking on ITV’s Peston show last night, the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry said, “I’m the elected politician… unless they make changes, which they haven’t… we are going to oppose it.”
Meanwhile, speaking on BBC Newsnight yesterday, Chief Secretary to the Treasury Liz Truss said, “if we face a straight choice between revoking Brexit and No Deal… I would rather have No Deal. We have done preparations for No Deal, I agree there’ll be an impact, we’re trying to minimise that impact as much as possible.”
Elsewhere, Prime Minister Theresa May will today meet with the executive of the 1922 Committee of Conservative backbenchers, to discuss the timetable for her departure.
Separately, Change UK’s lead candidate in Scotland for the European Parliament election, David Macdonald, has quit his candidacy and endorsed the Liberal Democrats. He said, “If things continue as they are the Remain vote will split in Scotland,” adding that the Liberal Democrats share Change UK’s platform of being both pro-EU and opposed to Scottish independence.
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The Secretary of State for International Trade, Liam Fox, has confirmed that the Government does not intend to reduce food safety standards post-Brexit. In an event with the Institute for Government yesterday, Fox said that the UK “can’t compete globally at the low-cost, low-quality end of the market,” adding that it would be “self-defeating to see us reduce our standards.”
Meanwhile, on the question of whether the UK could accept imports of chlorine-washed chicken as part of a future free trade agreement with the USA, Fox said there was “no argument about food safety” but “it’s been an argument about animal welfare…so that’s a slightly different debate and much more difficult to quantify.”
The Daily Telegraph reports that France is leading a group of member states seeking to impose stricter rules for third country participation in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO) initiative of joint defence integration, which would affect the UK’s ability to bid for PESCO projects after Brexit. President Macron is reportedly pushing for decisions about third country participation in a PESCO project to be made on a case-by-case basis and unanimously, with all 25 member states having a veto.
Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported on Tuesday that the US Under Secretary of Defence, Ellen Lord, and Under Secretary of State, Andrea Thompson, wrote to EU High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini to express concern about the rules for third country participation in the EU’s Permanent Structured Cooperation (PESCO). In the letter they warned, “It is vital . . . that independent EU initiatives like EDF [European Defence Fund] and PESCO do not detract from NATO activities and NATO-EU co-operation,” adding, “It is clear that similar reciprocally imposed US restrictions would not be welcomed by our European partners and allies, and we would not relish having to consider them in the future.”
Separately, the German and Dutch governments yesterday announced a temporary suspension of military training operations in Iraq as the US Government warned of increased threats from Iran.
The Daily Telegraph
The Financial Times
German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday said, “Germany, as a financial location, is benefiting from that but that doesn’t change the fact that ultimately Britain’s departure is a loss from my perspective”. She also said, “There is no doubt that Europe needs to reposition itself in a changed world,” adding, “They [China, Russia and the US] are forcing us, time and again, to find common positions. That is often difficult given our different interests. But we do get this done – think, for example, of our policy regarding the conflict in Ukraine… However, our political power is not yet commensurate with our economic strength.” She also added that she is “in a very similar wavelength” with French President Emmanuel Macron regarding core questions for the EU, but, “Of course, we wrestle with each other. There are differences in mentality between us as well as differences in how we understand our respective roles.”
Separately, two Dutch parties, the Christian Union (CU) and the Reformed Political Party (SGP) have announced that they will leave the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group in the European Parliament if a more Eurosceptic Dutch party, the Forum for Democracy (FvD), is permitted to join the ECR. The CU and SGP support reform of the EU from within, whereas the FvD has previously called for the Netherlands to leave the EU. The FvD is currently top of the polls for the European elections in the Netherlands.
The candidate for European Commission President from the Socialist and Democrat (S&D) group in the European Parliament, Frans Timmermans, yesterday called for a united front between his group and the Greens and European Left groups, against the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP). Speaking at the Eurovision debate between six candidates for the Commission presidency, Timmermans said, “My offer is let’s work together in the next five years so that we make sure that the next Commission puts the climate crisis on the top of its agenda and I am sure we will convince many, many people in the liberal family so that we create an alliance going from [Greek Prime Minister Alexis] Tspiras to [French President Emmanuel] Macron.” The debate covered a variety of topics including climate change, taxation, and the future of the EU.
Meanwhile, the candidate for the European Conservatives and Reformists (ECR) group, Jan Zahradil, called for an “EU which is scaled back, which is flexible, which is decentralised,” adding, “I would like to have a European Commission which respects all its members, regardless of whether they are big or small, or whether they are from the West or from the East… I would like to have a European Union which is doing less, better.”
This comes as the EPP candidate, Manfred Weber, and Timmermans will take part in another televised debate on German TV tonight.
Writing in the Daily Telegraph, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze argues that the predicted success of Eurosceptic parties in this month’s European Parliament elections will have a limited impact on the functioning of EU institutions, or the overall direction of the EU. She concludes, “It is more useful to look at the significant Eurosceptic presence in the governments of member states and its meaning for decision-making in the European Council.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe have recently published a new briefing, “The 2019 European Parliamentary elections and the future of the European project.”