9 July 2018

David Davis resigns following Cabinet agreement on Brexit plan

Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned yesterday, explaining in a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May that “the national interest requires a Secretary of State in the [Department for Exiting the EU] that is an enthusiastic believer in [May’s] approach, and not merely a reluctant conscript.” Davis also wrote that “the general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one,” arguing that the UK’s plans for a “common rule book” on EU regulation “hands control of large swathes of our economy to the EU and is certainly not returning control of our laws in any real sense.”

This comes as in a statement following last week’s cabinet meeting at Chequers, the UK government confirmed its proposal for a future UK-EU relationship that would establish “a free trade area for goods.” Under this plan, the UK and EU would “maintain a common rulebook for all goods, including agri-food,” and the UK would “commit by treaty to ongoing harmonisation with EU rules on goods, covering only those necessary to provide frictionless trade at the border.” The government’s proposal calls for the UK and EU to “strike different arrangements in services, where it is [the UK’s] interest to have regulatory flexibility,” recognising this would entail diminished market access. The UK would also “commit to apply a common rulebook on state aid, and establish cooperative arrangements between regulators on competition,” as well agreeing not to reduce current environmental, social and employment, and consumer protection standards. The government has also proposal a “joint institutional framework” to govern the agreement, and has suggested working on the “phased introduction of a new Facilitated Customs Arrangement.” On immigration, this model pledges to end free movement, but establish a “labur mobility framework…similar to what the UK may offer other close trading partners in the future.” On the Irish border, the statement notes that this proposal would ensure that the backstop solution to the border “would not need to be brought into effect,” adding, “In this context…this proposal should allow both parties to resolve the remaining Withdrawal Agreement issues, including the ‘backstop’.”

In an interview with The Sunday Times, Prime Minister Theresa May said, “Our message now is to the other side, to Europe, that it’s time to get serious and sit down and talk about it.” She added that while the European Commission is “holding fast to a rigid approach” in negotiations, member state leaders showed “a willingness to be constructive.” Responding to Davis in a letter, May wrote, “I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at cabinet. Parliament will decide whether or not to back the deal the government negotiates, but that deal will undoubtedly mean the returning of powers from Brussels to the United Kingdom,” adding, “The direct effect of EU law will end when we leave the EU. Where the UK chooses to apply a common rulebook, each rule will have to be agreed by Parliament.”

Elsewhere, speaking on The Andrew Marr Show, Environment Secretary Michael Gove said of the government’s plan, “In all the important areas where an independent country chooses to exercise sovereignty, the UK will be able to do so.” He also said, “We are being generous to the EU, we are showing flexibility…If the EU is not generous and flexible, we may have to contemplate walking away without a deal.” Writing in The Sun, Home Secretary Sajid Javid and International Trade Secretary Liam Fox also said, “It is a generous offer and, from one Union to another, we expect the EU to now show movement in their position too.”

Source: BBC News Bloomberg Statement from HM Government: Chequers The Sunday Times BBC News The Sun

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Irish Deputy PM welcomes UK statement as "the base of a real negotiation"

Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, has said he hopes the government’s Chequers agreement “can be the base of a real negotiation.” In an interview with RTE, he said, “From an EU perspective we have to ensure that the integrity of the single market and customs union remains intact and that Ireland is very much part of that. But what we’re seeing here is certainly a move in the right direction from Britain and I think that will be taken seriously on the EU side.” He added however that it was “far from a done deal” and the UK was unlikely to get everything it was asking for.

Elsewhere, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said the Chequers discussion on the future relationship was “to be welcomed,” adding that the EU will “assess proposals [in the upcoming White Paper] to see if they are workable and realistic.” Belgian Deputy Prime Minister Kris Peeters also said the Chequers statement was “a step in the right direction for Belgian businesses,” but added, “Many things still need to be cleared up.”

Europe ministers from the EU27 are expected to consider the UK’s formal proposal at a meeting on 20 July.

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UK services sector concerned about a "goods-only" proposal for future UK-EU trade deal

The chief executive of the UK’s technology trade association TechUK, Julian David, has said, “A goods-only approach [to the future UK-EU economic relationship] would risk UK-based tech firms selling into Europe having to comply with two competing regulatory regimes.” He added, “The UK tech sector does not see clear benefits of divergence with the EU. Indeed, there has been a strong consensus to maintain alignment on crucial issues such as data protection.” This comes as the head of policy at the City of London Corporation, Catherine McGuinness, has said, “We are very concerned [the government’s proposed deal] should cover services as well as goods, and include mutual market access and mutual recognition.” However, the director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, Adam Marshall, has said, “There will be real relief among the business community that some of the infighting at Westminster is coming to an end. With the amount of time left, we need to focus on getting a deal with the EU.”

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Conservative MPs reportedly increase letters for vote of no confidence in PM

Conservative MPs are reportedly sending letters demanding a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister following the Chequers proposal on Friday. Former ministerial aide Andrea Jenkyns MP told BBC Sunday Politics she was “100 percent ready” to sign a letter of no confidence, adding, “I’m standing up for the 17.4 million people who wanted these red lines and who wanted to ensure we did not have a half in, half out Brexit.”

This comes as a letter written by lawyer Martin Howe QC and circulated by Eurosceptic Conservative MPs has warned the goverment’s Chequers proposals “lead directily to a worst-of-all-worlds ‘black hole’ Brexit where the UK is stuck permanently as a vassal state in the EU’s legal and regulatory tar pit, still has to obey EU laws and European Court of Justice rulings across vast areas, cannot develop an effective international trade policy or adapt our economy to take advantage of the freedom of Brexit, and has lost its vote and treaty veto rights as an EU member state.”

Meanwhile, writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the Chair of the Eurosceptic European Research Group of Conservative MPs Jacob Rees-Mogg claims, “The Chequers paper says that EU rules will flow down to this country and will either be accepted by Parliament or, if rejected, would lead to punishment… That means no sense of equality between the UK and the EU.” He criticises the agreement as “driven by those who never thought that leaving the EU was a good idea,” adding, “It focuses on avoiding risk, not on the world of opportunity outside the EU. Pragmatism has come to mean defeatism.” Rees-Mogg concludes, “Although I await further details, if the proposals are as they currently appear I will vote against them, and others may well do the same. I note that any government that wins major votes on the back of opposition support against the known will of its electors and members never succeeds.”

Elsewhere, Labour’s shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer criticised the government’s proposals as being “unworkable,” “a bureaucratic nightmare,” and “a fudge.” He said, “[The Prime Minister is] going to have to think again…There’s an unreality about the position she’s landed in.”

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The Sunday Telegraph: Concerns that US could remove troops from Ukraine if Europe does not increase defence spending

Military and diplomatic figures have told The Sunday Telegraph they are concerned that US President Donald Trump could threaten to remove US troops from Ukraine and refuse to take part in joint NATO execises if European nations fail to increase defence spending. They also expressed concerns that the upcoming meeting between Trump and Russian President Vladimir Putin could begin talks about “re-drawing the security landscape.”

Separately, Defence Minister Tobias Ellwood has said, “As we make the case for further UK defence spending so should our NATO allies. The world is becoming more dangerous, the threats more complex and growing on multiple fronts. So it’s understandable for the US to air frustration and ask European nations to do more. He added, “It’s in Europe’s direct interest to upgrade our defence posture, as our economies, heavily reliant on access to international markets, will be affected if we can’t guarantee security for that access as well as put out potential fires in future markets.”

Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel has said, “The challenges for NATO have changed drastically in recent years,” adding that in light of recent Russian agression it is important “to focus more on defending the alliance.” She said, “To do that we [must] make necessary arrangements, for example through a presence in Central and Eastern European countries.” This comes as France and Germany pledged to increase their defence spending to meet the NATO target of 2% of GDP.

Meanwhile, the US Ambassador to NATO, Kay Bailey, has stressed that “disagreements” between the US, EU and other G7 nations on trade tariffs have not spilled over into NATO discussions.

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Politico: German goverment disaccociates itself from Seehofer's Brexit letter

According to Politico, the German government has sought to distance itself from a letter written by its Interior Minister Horst Seehofer to the European Commssion, which warned the EU against “weakening the European security architecture” in Brexit negotiations. In a letter to the European Commission, Thomas Eckert, a senior diplomat at Germany’s permanent representation to the EU, wrote, “I would like to make it clear that [Seehofer’s] is not a letter agreed in the federal government.” He added, “Parts of the letter are in contradiction with the guidelines of March 2018, issued by the European Council in its Article 50 format, and with the position in this regard agreed by the federal government.”

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Italian Interior Minister calls for Italy to close its ports to international mission boats

The leader of the right-wing League and Italian Interior Minister, Matteo Salvini, yesterday called for his country to close its ports to “European military boats” patrolling the Mediterranean, following an earlier announcement that Italy will close its ports to NGO boats involved in migrant rescue missions. Salvini’s comments come after an Irish boat participating in the European Eunavformed mission brought 106 rescued migrants to the Italian port of Messina on Saturday. Salvini pledged to take the issue to the next meeting of EU interior ministers, but was shortly after rebuked by sources of the Italian Defense ministry, who reminded Salvini that decisions on missions such as Eunavformed are not of his competence.

Elsewhere, Fabrice Leggeri, the director of the EU’s border and coast guard agency Frontex, has warned that Spain could become the most significant route for immigration to the EU “if numbers there [continue to] increase as they did recently.” This comes after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said on Friday that the EU would bring forward plans to deploy 10,000 border guards on the EU’s external border. This is now expected from 2020, rather than 2027.

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Henry Newman: Britain has put a sensible and fair proposal on the table. EU capitals should take this Chequers plan seriously

In a piece for The Sunday Telegraph, Open Europe’s Henry Newman writes, “Britain has put a sensible and fair proposal on the table. Our failure to do so until now, caused by the Government’s decision-making paralysis, has meant that we have been unable to shine a spotlight on Brussels, and to ask them clearly what their plan is.” He notes, “The two options currently on offer from Michel Barnier’s team are a Canada-style free trade deal with the coda that Northern Ireland will be separated from Great Britain by the EU; or a relationship even closer than Norway’s – with Single Market and Customs Union membership – meaning no control over trade policy, broad-spectrum rule taking, and no real ability to end free movement. Neither would be acceptable or sustainable for the UK.” Henry argues, “Brussels will claim that the Single Market can never be divided, but their agreements with Switzerland, Norway, and the Ukraine show how it can be. Europe will argue that the UK wants to “have its cake and eat it” – but this deal would give the UK fewer obligations but also fewer rights…The most likely answer from Brussels will be a call for more concessions. But there’s little further than Britain could reasonably compromise on. If this doesn’t fly in Europe the alternative will have to be a looser deal. EU capitals should take this Chequers plan seriously.”