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Cabinet ministers have been invited to read a near-complete draft of the Withdrawal Agreement, reports revealed yesterday. However, the text will not contain an Irish backstop proposal, Bloomberg reports. Environment Secretary Michael Gove was seen leaving the Cabinet Office yesterday afternoon after reading the draft and described it as “a great document.”
Elsewhere, Prime Minister Theresa May is under pressure to share legal advice with the Cabinet and Parliament on how the Irish backstop mechanism will work. Gove has called for senior ministers to be permitted to see the full legal advice. The Democratic Unionist Party’s chief whip, Sir Jeffery Donaldson, has argued that MPs “are entitled to know what the legal advice is” in order to have a meaningful vote on the deal. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer also said, “It’s essential MPs are given the opportunity to scrutinise the Attorney General’s legal advice before voting on the final deal.”
Separately, appearing on ITV’s Peston show yesterday, Health Secretary Matt Hancock said, “We’ve got a brilliant attorney general who sets out the legal position… He can answer questions in the Commons, but it’s not normal to publish the legal advice. That’s a decision in exceptional circumstances for the prime minister.”
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Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar, speaking yesterday on the likelihood of concluding the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement at a special summit this month, said “I think it’s possible for us to come to an agreement in November with a view to having a summit in November, but I do think with every day that passes the possibility of having a special summit in November becomes less likely.” He added, “Not getting it done in November doesn’t mean we can’t get it done in the first two weeks in December.” This comes as Finish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said, “It’s doable in November… In our December meeting there is a possibility to find a solution. All the issues are in the landing zone.”
Elsewhere, EU officials have said an informal Brexit summit on 17-18 November is no longer likely, due to a lack of “decisive progress” in negotiations. The EU has also reportedly delayed a meeting of EU27 ambassadors, which had been scheduled today, until the end of this week, Reuters reports. The meeting was intended to update the EU27 on progress in Brexit talks.
Separately, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab yesterday said, that the UK’s trade in goods is “particularly reliant on the Dover-Calais crossing,” adding, “And that is one of the reasons why we have wanted to make sure we have a specific and very proximate relationship with the EU, to ensure frictionless trade at the border. I don’t think it is a question so much of the risk of major shortages, but I think probably the average consumer might not be aware of the full extent to which the choice of goods that we have in the stores are dependent on one or two very specific trade routes.”
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Former French Prime Minister Bernard Cazeneuve, and the former British Defence Secretary and head of NATO, Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, have warned that UK-France defence cooperation “has never been so precarious.” They stressed, “A fragile or fractured relationship between the United Kingdom and France would jeopardise our security as much as that of other countries in Europe and around the world.” A new report led by Cazeneuve and Lord Robertson also recommends that the UK and EU keep negotiations on the future security relationship “isolated and insulated” from trade talks. Lord Robertson said, “Any EU operation will need UK forces. [The EU’s defence cooperation arm] will only work in operational terms if the UK is involved in it and that is the dilemma we are highlighting.”
Meanwhile, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt will today make a speech at the UK Embassy in Paris, speaking of the “solidarity” between the UK and France, as well as how they must “remain tied by bonds of friendship and commerce for decades to come.”
This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May held talks with German Chancellor Angela Merkel and European Council President Donald Tusk yesterday and will meet Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte as well as NATO leaders in Brussels today.
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Commissioner of the Irish police force, Drew Harris, and Deputy Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland, Stephen Martin, yesterday said that cross-border police cooperation would continue in any Brexit scenario. The pair stressed the importance of finding new legislative instruments that would allow them “to share information”, which facilitate “vehicles like the European Arrest Warrant, all of those are important on the island of Ireland in terms of keeping people safe and the policing service that we provide.” However, Harris said, “It’s inconceivable to me that our cooperation is going to end in March, it’s not going to happen.” Martin added, “Whatever happens after Brexit at the end of March we want the capacity and capability to do the same thing,” while also warning that a potential No Deal Brexit scenario “would pose a whole range of complexities and difficulties for us, we would have to work through that.”
Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer has said that the Labour party would vote against a “vague or blind Brexit.” Speaking on Radio 4’s Today programme, he added, “What we can’t be expected to do now… is to back the Prime Minister whatever she brings back, however good or bad the deal is, without the detail around it. That’s not opposition, that’s surrender.” Starmer also said that Labour backed staying in a customs union indefinitely to protect UK manufacturing. Fellow Labour MP Caroline Flint criticised Starmer, saying he “talks ‘blind’ or ‘vague’ [Brexit] yet he argues against a ‘cliff edge’ Brexit.” She added, “Keir couldn’t confirm how voting down [a] deal would result in [a] General Election.”
In an interview with the Financial Times, French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire has said Europe needs to secure its “economic sovereignty.” Le Maire said the recent reintroduction of US sanctions on businesses trading with Iran demonstrated the need for the EU to “affirm our independence,” adding, “Europe refuses to allow the US to be the trade policeman of the world.” He noted that the EU is developing a mechanism, known as the ‘special-purpose vehicle’, to “allow us to trade in any product, with any country, so long as it is in line with international law and Europe’s commitments.”
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European finance ministers met earlier this week to discuss a bloc wide GAFA (Google, Apple, Facebook, and Amazon) turnover tax, a 3% levy on the revenue rather than the profit of the mentioned tech giants. However, a diplomat involved in the negotiations said, “There are political, technical and legal problems. We aren’t ready to agree this yet.” The proposals have been opposed by the Nordic countries and Ireland. As changes to EU tax law require unanimous support from member states, the proposal could be delayed until summer of 2020.
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JPMorgan Chase CEO Jamie Dimon, regarding preparations for a hard Brexit, said “Of course we are preparing for this… We have no other choice than to prepare, but this does not mean that we anticipate this [hard Brexit],” adding, “We have all the necessary licenses to operate in France, Germany, Ireland and other locations.” Dimon also warned that such a hard Brexit “could deliver a tough blow for the City [of London] over time.” On moving staff to other countries, Dimon said, “For the first day after Brexit, JPMorgan will move several hundred people to continental Europe.”
Open Europe published a new report yesterday, “Resetting the backstop”, examining how the UK and EU arrived at the current impasse over the Irish backstop issue, and considers possible compromise solutions to reach an agreement and successfully conclude the withdrawal phase of the Brexit negotiations. “The future of the Irish border was always going to be one of the most difficult aspects of the Brexit negotiations,” says Open Europe’s David Shiels. “Without clarity on what is agreed, the backstop is bound to return in the next round of negotiations, and could make it more difficult to reach agreement on the future relationship. This would be bad for Northern Ireland, since it is only in the context of the future relationship that the border issue can be resolved satisfactorily. Ultimately, the UK should not accept any backstop arrangement which it has no real option of leaving while keeping the constitutional status of the United Kingdom intact,” Shiels adds.
In an article for ConservativeHome, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh writes that “while a strict time-limit would be neither negotiable nor desirable, any backstop arrangement must be temporary… a mutual review mechanism… may offer a way forward. The UK would be able to say that it has some control over the process, rather than requiring the EU’s permission. Ireland, meanwhile, will be able to say that it has avoided a situation in which the UK can unilaterally exit the backstop and trigger a hard border.” He adds, “the backstop can only work as a ‘bridge’ to the future UK-EU relationship. The EU and Ireland like to refer to it as ‘all-weather’… But the idea that a Northern Ireland-only backstop could be practicable or enforceable in the absence of a wider UK-EU deal is implausible.” He concludes, “The backstop cannot be a bridge to nowhere. If negotiations over the future relationship break down, the UK must retain the option for all four nations to leave the backstop as one.”