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Responding to a House of Commons urgent question on the state of the Brexit negotiations, Brexit Secretary David Davis said, “The presumption of the discussion [ on regulatory alignment with the EU in key areas] was that everything we talked about applied to the whole United Kingdom. Alignment isn’t harmonisation. It isn’t having exactly the same rules. It is sometimes having mutually recognised rules, mutually recognised inspection – that is what we are aiming at.” He added, “There are areas where we want the same outcome but by different regulatory methods.” Following reports that the DUP refused to accept “continued regulatory alignment” with the EU as a solution to the Irish border issue, Davis stressed that the “suggestion that we might depart the European Union but leave one part of the United Kingdom behind, still inside the single market and customs union – that is emphatically not something that the UK Government is considering.”
The Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds, yesterday said “regulatory alignment” with the Republic of Ireland “may make sense…in certain, specific areas”, but ruled out “following the rules of the single market or the customs union for Northern Ireland as a generality.” DUP leader Arlene Foster said “once we saw the text [of the draft UK-EU agreement], we knew it was not going to be acceptable.” Foster also called for the DUP to be “directly involved” in the Brexit talks.” Separately, a spokesperson for Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “The view of the Irish Government is that the terms of the deal reached on Monday must stand. It’s up to the UK government to work out with the DUP how it now proposes to move forward.” Asked about the prospect of including additional elements to the deal to assuage the concerns of the DUP, the spokesperson said it “doesn’t seem unreasonable” and was “a possibility.”
Elsewhere, Adrian O’Neill, the Irish Ambassador to the UK, yesterday urged the DUP to “focus on the totality of the package on the table.” He suggested that the draft UK-EU document on withdrawal issues contained a range of assurances for Unionists, including that the constitutional status of Northern Ireland can only be altered by the provisions of the Good Friday Agreement.”
Meanwhile, leader of the Scottish Conservatives, Ruth Davidson, warned Prime Minister Theresa May yesterday not to negotiate separate deals for different parts of the UK, arguing, “If regulatory alignment in a number of specific areas is the requirement for a frictionless border, then the Prime Minister should conclude this must be on a UK-wide basis”.
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Speaking in the House of Commons, Home Secretary Amber Rudd said, the best way to continue to “keep our people and our people in Europe safe” is to continue to have the “sort of close relationship that we have with Europol and with other of the [EU security] instruments, such as the European Arrest Warrant” post-Brexit. Rudd proposed “a third-party treaty, which we hope can dock in to the EU,” and announced that she had received support for this in her conversations with her EU counterparts. She stressed, “We remain just as committed to making sure we keep Europe safe and that reflects our view from the Home Office point of view and also from the Government’s point of view.”
Writing in The Daily Telegraph, the President of the European Free Trade Association’s (EFTA) Court, Carl Laudenbacher, yesterday argued that his court “may provide a practical solution to Brexit’s legal conundrum.” He writes, “Britain could seek to join the EFTA side of the EEA and so remain in the Single Market. Conversely, should Britain choose to leave the Single Market, it could try to dock to the EFTA pillar’s institutions – the EFTA Surveillance Authority and the EFTA Court – for a transitional period, or otherwise as part of the UK’s intended ‘deep and special’ partnership with the EU. The wheel need not be re-invented. In both scenarios, Britain may have a judge on the bench.” Laudenbacher rejected
The Daily Telegraph
The IHS Markit/Cips survey has found that economic uncertainty “continued to permeate the business mood” last month, and that customers’ stretched budgets were limiting growth. The report said, “The survey data are so far consistent with the economy growing at a quarterly rate of 0.4 or 0.5 per cent in the closing months of 2017”.
According to a study carried out for the National Centre for Social Research’s (NatCen’s) website, 52% of the 2200 people asked think Britain will get a bad Brexit deal, up from 37% in February, while the proportion of Leave voters who think the UK will get a good Brexit deal has fallen from 51% to 28% in the same period. 61% of those asked said the government is handling negotiations badly, up from 41 per cent in February, while the proportion who think the EU is handling negotiations badly has also risen from 47% to 57%.
The EU yesterday published its first blacklist of tax havens which names 17 territories. It also issued “watch list” of 47 countries intending to align tax regulations with EU standards, and a “grey list” which includes some with UK links such as Jersey and Bermuda. The European Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, Pierre Moscovici said the blacklist represented “substantial progress”, and that, “Its very existence is an important step forward. But because it is the first EU list, it remains an insufficient response to the scale of tax evasion worldwide.”
Reuters reports that the EU and Mercosur would be close to agreeing a trade deal. After offers were exchanged in Brussels yesterday, the question of access for South American beef and ethanol to the EU market remains an obstacle on the way to an agreement. However, sources close to the negotiations are confident that the last divergences could be hammered and the deal announced next week on the side-lines of a WTO meeting of ministers in Buenos Aires. An official familiar with the talks is quoted saying, “There is more than a 70 percent chance of reaching a deal”, confirming that “Beef and ethanol will be tough issues for ministers next week but finding quotas for both is not beyond reach.” EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said yesterday, “We are committed to doing this as soon as possible because we are almost there and because there is a momentum and because next year, if it drags on too long, there will be election campaigns and we will risk losing that momentum.”
In a piece for Prospect Magazine, Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar writes, “This next week will be crucial in opening the door to the second phase of negotiations. After the recent meeting between May and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker failed to produce a jointly agreed text, the path to “sufficient progress” at next week’s summit is not secure.” She argues, “Importantly, if talks remain stalled next week, this will be perceived in the UK as a breakdown in negotiations. The UK and EU already failed to agree “sufficient progress” at the last Council summit it October. Further delays would erode the limited time left under the Article 50 two-year framework to agree both a transition and the heads of terms for a future bilateral arrangement. Above all, it would signal a lack of sufficient goodwill and trust between the UK and the EU. Under such circumstances, it would be very difficult to see how the UK could return to the table for a third attempt at breakthrough, and May would be under significant domestic pressure to walk away.” She concludes, “Critical UK-EU discussions this week failed to deliver a concrete breakthrough, although Juncker suggested he was still “confident” of an agreement this week. The question of the Irish border has emerged as the central obstacle to progress. Yesterday’s tense discussions have seen this grow from a technical point on ensuring no hard border, to a political and constitutional issue for the UK and Ireland. It remains unclear at this stage what common ground can be found between the Irish government’s position and the DUP. Crucial meetings in London and Brussels in coming days should signal whether or not next week’s summit will be the breakthrough moment both sides need it to be.”