3 December 2018

DUP joins Labour to demand release of Brexit legal advice

An alliance of the main opposition parties, including Labour and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), has demanded that the legal advice on the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal be published in full. MPs voted for the government to publish the advice of the Attorney-General, Geoffrey Cox, on November 13, but No 10 has said it will release only a “reasoned position statement.” Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said that the Government’s decision risked “triggering a historic constitutional row that puts Parliament in direct conflict with the executive,” while the DUP’s Westminster leader, Nigel Dodds, said that the Government “[has] to be held to account.” Leading figures from the parties involved will write a joint letter to Commons Speaker John Bercow, accusing the Government of being in contempt of Parliament.

Details of the legal advice were leaked to the Sunday Times yesterday, and suggest that the UK would be kept in a customs union with the EU “indefinitely” if the backstop was activated. A Cabinet source was quoted as saying, “The legal advice is very bad, which is why [Cabinet ministers] don’t want anyone to see it.”

Elsewhere, the Telegraph gives details of a leaked letter which was sent to the Prime Minister from her chief Brexit adviser, Oliver Robbins. The letter said, “We should not forget that the backstop world, even with a UK-EU customs union, is a bad outcome with regulatory controls needed somewhere between [Great Britain] and [Northern Ireland], serious and visible frictions and process between GB and the EU, and no security co-operation provided for.” Robbins added that there would be no legal “guarantee” that the UK would be able to exit the backstop and that this could potentially trap the UK inside a customs union with the European Union.

Source: The Telegraph The Times The Telegraph

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The Times: DUP could abandon Government in a vote of no confidence

The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) could abandon the Government in a parliamentary vote of no confidence, the Times reports. A DUP source yesterday rejected the suggestion that the confidence-and-supply arrangement it has with the Conservatives would bind them to support Theresa May’s government, according to the paper. The source suggested that the Conservatives were not upholding their side of the deal, given the possibility of regulatory barriers between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK under the proposed Brexit deal.

This comes after the Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, confirmed that his party would table a no confidence motion if the Government lost the meaningful vote on the Withdrawal Agreement on the 11 December. Starmer also said that he would back a second referendum if the vote did not lead to an election, saying this would be “far better” than the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal.

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May seeks support for Brexit deal from world leaders at G20

The Prime Minister, Theresa May, has sought to gain support for her Brexit deal among world leaders at the G20 summit in Argentina. In a press conference at the summit, May said, “For the first time in more than four decades, the UK will have an independent trade policy. That this deal sets a path for the UK to a brighter future has been affirmed by the discussions I’ve had on trade over the past two days with friends and partners making clear that they are keen to sign and implement ambitious free trade agreements as soon as possible.”

This comes as May appeared to distance herself from remarks made in the Commons Liaison Committee on Thursday, when she suggested that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement might be open for renegotiation if Article 50 was extended. Speaking to the BBC at the G20 summit, she stressed that the deal could not be renegotiated, saying, “The EU have made clear that this is the deal. This is the deal that is on the table.” European Council President Donald Tusk made similar remarks at the summit, saying that if the Commons rejected the deal, the remaining options were “No deal or no Brexit at all.”

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Michael Gove: voting down the deal risks parliamentary majority for a second referendum

Speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, the Environment Secretary Michael Gove said, “There’s a real risk if we don’t vote for this deal there may be a majority in the House of Commons for a second referendum.” Gove, formerly a leading figure in the Vote Leave campaign, added that although the Brexit deal was not perfect, “We have got to recognise that if we don’t vote for this, the alternatives are no deal or no Brexit.”

In an op-ed earlier for the Mail on Sunday, in which he defended the Brexit deal, Gove wrote that the backstop “creates major problems for the EU… The longer the backstop lasts, the more difficult it will be for Europe. Far from it suiting their interests to keep the backstop going, they will be keen to avoid it and conclude a durable free-trade deal.” He also rejected a No Deal Brexit, which he said “would cause difficulties for farmers and food producers, manufacturing industry and small businesses.”

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Universities Minister resigns over Brexit deal

The Science and Universities Minister, Sam Gyimah, resigned on Friday over May’s Brexit deal. In a statement, he described his frustration that the UK would have limited access to the EU’s Galileo satellite project as a result of Brexit, adding, “What has happened with Galileo is a foretaste of the brutal negotiations we will go through that will weaken our national interests, make us poorer and less secure.” He added, “We have given up our voice, our veto and our vote. Our interests will be hammered because we will have no leverage.” Gyimah has said that he will vote against the Brexit deal and campaign for a second referendum.

Elsewhere, the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid, has confirmed that it is “very unlikely” that the Government’s white paper on immigration will be published before the “meaningful vote” on the Brexit deal in the House of Commons. The news follows reports of a row between Javid and No 10 on the contents of the white paper.

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G20 leaders call for reform of WTO in post-summit statement

Following the summit in Argentina, G20 leaders adopted a joint statement reaffirming their commitment to “a rules-based international order” and recognising the contributions of the multilateral trading system for growth and innovation, while pointing out, “The system is currently falling short of its objectives and there is room for improvement. We therefore support the necessary reform of the WTO [World Trade Organisation] to improve its functioning.”

Elsewhere, US President Donald Trump has decided on Saturday to delay the rising of tariffs on Chinese imports to 25% for 90 days, after China “has agreed to start purchasing agricultural product from [US] farmers immediately,” according to a White House Statement.

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Germany and France to present proposal for EU financial transaction tax

Germany and France will today present a joint proposal for an EU financial transaction tax, German newspaper Sueddeutsche Zeitung reports. The tax, modelled on a system already implemented in France, would help fund a Eurozone budget and allow participating member states to balance their contributions to the EU budget if they are not expected to generate much revenue from the tax. This comes as Eurozone finance ministers are meeting today in Brussels.

Elsewhere, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte suggested that his government would soon reach an agreement with the European Commission over its budget proposal, saying, “We trust that in coming days we will be able to discuss a technical solution.” This comes as Politico reported last week that EU finance ministers would approve of the Commission’s proposal to launch disciplinary measures against Italy over the breach of EU fiscal rules.

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Far right makes gains in Andalusian elections

In elections held in Andalusia yesterday, the Spanish far-right Vox Party won 12 of 109 seats in the regional parliament, marking the first substantial electoral success of the far right in post-Francoist Spain. The Socialist Party, which has been in power in the region for 36 years, came first, but lost fourteen seats, and could lose its control of the regional government if parties on the right form a coalition against it.

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New Open Europe briefing – The Proposed UK-EU Brexit Deal: An Explainer

Open Europe has published a new briefing, entitled “The Proposed UK-EU Brexit Deal: An Explainer.” In the introduction, the authors write, “There is clearly no path to a negotiated agreement without some form of a backstop. Both a Canada (or indeed “Super Canada”) deal and a “Norway plus” relationship would require a backstop.” They note that the UK faces two broad choices: “accept the Deal (in its current form or with minor tweaks),” or “reject the Deal – leading to No Deal and no transition.” They add, “Neither a General Election nor a Referendum would fundamentally alter these choices.” The briefing outlines the implications of the Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration in detail, with a particular focus on the contentious issue of the backstop.

Elsewhere, in an op-ed for the Daily Mail, the Chair of Open Europe, Lord Wolfson, argues that, while the Brexit deal is “far from perfect… we must take the deal on offer. The alternatives are chaos and disorder or, worse still, the collapse of Brexit itself.” He argues that “we should welcome the backstop as a step in the right direction,” adding that it “allows us to retain privileged access to EU markets without compulsory financial contributions.” Accepting the deal would also provide “unprecedented freedoms from EU law-making” and the ability to “determine our own immigration policy.” He concludes, “In simple terms, Mrs May’s deal hands back our sovereignty. The chance to cross that all-important dividing line is within our grasp.”

Meanwhile, writing on Conservative Home, Open Europe’s Stephen Booth has argued that the backstop is problematic for the EU as well as the UK. He notes that, under the backstop, “The UK’s commitments to maintain EU standards are far weaker than many member states would want and there is real concern in some capitals that the UK can use the backstop to secure privileged access to the Single Market in goods with very few obligations and, over time, at a competitive advantage.” Booth argues that “no one can predict what would happen” if Parliament rejects the Withdrawal Agreement as it stands, but a softer form of Brexit such as Norway-plus might be a more likely outcome that a No Deal Brexit. He concludes that “both sides of the debate should consider carefully the merits of the compromise on offer before risking a much worse outcome in search of their ideal.”