1 July 2019

EU Council summit: leaders yet to agree on top jobs

A summit of EU28 leaders in Brussels to decide the next holders of top-level EU positions, including the next European Commission President, remains deadlocked as of this morning after overnight talks. Ahead of the summit, European Council President Donald Tusk had briefed senior MEPs on a proposal to appoint Frans Timmermans, the lead candidate for the centre-left Socialists and Democrats, as Commission President. The proposed plan, developed at the G20 summit in Osaka last week by the leaders of Germany, France, Spain and the Netherlands, would also include a liberal from the Renew Europe group as European Council President, and two conservatives from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) as the President of the European Parliament and the High Representative for Foreign Affairs. However, four EPP national leaders – Hungary’s Viktor Orban, Croatia’s Andrej Plenkovic, Bulgaria’s Boyko Borissov, and Ireland’s Leo Varadkar – spoke out against the proposal yesterday. Plenkovic said, “There’s no support from EPP leaders and EPP presidency for the proposed package.” Poland’s Prime Minister, Mateusz Morawiecki, also spoke out against Timmermans as Commission President, referring to him as “the candidate who is strongly dividing Europe.” Italy, the Czech Republic and Slovakia were also reported to oppose Timmermans. Talks will continue today.

The European Parliament is planning to elect its new President this Wednesday (3 July), independently of the result of the summit’s discussion, the Parliament’s current President, Antonio Tajani, announced yesterday.

Separately, Prime Minister Theresa May said at the summit, “I still think we negotiated a good [Brexit] deal. I wasn’t able to get a majority in parliament for that deal. It will be up to my successor to get that majority, deliver on the vote and take us forward.”

Meanwhile, Leo Varadkar told reporters ahead of the summit that the next Prime Minister would receive a “fair hearing” in the EU, but added, “we also need to make sure that everyone in the UK understands what we mean when we say that [the] Withdrawal Agreement with the backstop cannot be reopened.” This comes as RTE reported on Saturday that the European Commission has set five tests which “alternative arrangements” for the Irish border must meet to be acceptable to the EU. According to RTE, the five tests are that alternative arrangements must ensure no hard border; must comply with the Union Customs Code; must comply with World Trade Organisation rules; must not threaten Ireland’s place in the single market; and must preserve the all-island economy.

Source: Politico I Politico II Politico III Guardian I Guardian II Le Monde RTE

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Jeremy Hunt: I will pursue No Deal if there is no prospect of a deal by the start of October

The Foreign Secretary and Conservative Party leadership candidate, Jeremy Hunt, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday, “At the beginning of October if there is no prospect of a deal that can get through Parliament then I will leave at the end of October.” He also said that if there was a No Deal Brexit, some of his domestic policy spending commitments “would have to wait because you would need to divert that money to support businesses up and down the country, farms, [and] manufacturers.” Hunt also warned, “Parliament is trying to stop a No Deal Brexit. They succeeded before, they may succeed again. That is an issue that will face any prime minister whatever they’ve said about the 31st of October.” In a speech today, Hunt will further outline his contingency plans for a No Deal Brexit, including a temporary “No Deal relief programme” of £6bn in emergency funding for the agricultural and fishing industries.

In a separate interview with the Sunday Times, Hunt said that in a No Deal Brexit he would only pay the portion of the financial settlement which the UK is “legally required to pay.” He ruled out an agreement with the Labour Party on remaining in a post-Brexit customs union. Setting out his position on the future UK-EU trading relationship, Hunt said, “I’m going for Canada-plus, not Chequers,” and revealed that he planned to draft in former Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper to assist with the negotiations. Harper later said he “would be willing to assist whoever serves as the next leader of the UK Conservative Party on trade matters,” but that he was taking a neutral position in the leadership race. Hunt also announced that he would scrap the Department for Exiting the European Union once the UK has left, and instead coordinate negotiations with the EU via an enlarged Department for International Trade.

Elsewhere, in an interview with Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday, the other leadership candidate, Boris Johnson, did not rule out proroguing Parliament to force through a No Deal Brexit. Johnson said, “MPs have got to understand it’s their responsibility to get this thing done,” though he added, “I don’t want to prorogue Parliament nor do I expect to.” Johnson also dismissed statements by senior EU figures ruling out a reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement, saying, “You would expect them to say that kind of thing.” He added, “The way forward… is to have a standstill in the current [trading] arrangements” with the EU.”

Separately, the International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, a supporter of Hunt for the leadership, told BBC Radio 5 Live yesterday that a time limit on the Northern Ireland backstop would help the Withdrawal Agreement to pass through Parliament.

Source: Sophy Ridge on Sunday Andrew Marr Show Sunday Times BBC Stephen Harper Bloomberg

Shadow Chancellor: “we need to move now” to back a second referendum

The Shadow Chancellor, John McDonnell, told Sky News’ Sophy Ridge on Sunday yesterday that Labour “need to move now” to unequivocally back a second referendum on Brexit, adding that he was “a little bit” frustrated at the continued delay to the decision.

Elsewhere, speaking to the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, the head of the Unite trade union, Len McCluskey, said that he would support a second referendum if Labour won a general election and negotiated their own Brexit deal. He also urged pro-referendum Labour MPs not to “panic” and to “stop putting pressure on [party leader] Jeremy Corbyn.”

Separately, voting begins today in the Liberal Democrat leadership contest. The party’s 107,000 members will choose between current deputy leader Jo Swinson, and former coalition Energy Secretary Ed Davey.

Source: Sky News Andrew Marr Show

UK Chief Brexit Negotiator to depart when new PM takes power

The Prime Minister’s Europe Adviser and Chief Brexit Negotiator, Olly Robbins, is set to resign shortly after the new Prime Minister takes power. The news was reported by multiple newspapers and later confirmed by Foreign Secretary and Conservative leadership contender Jeremy Hunt. Robbins has committed to a brief handover for the new Prime Minister, and will then leave the civil service for the private sector.

Separately, the Telegraph reports that the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, has decided to delay his departure until the end of this year. Bercow has previously been expected to leave this summer.

Source: Telegraph I Telegraph II

Brexit Party leader suggests electoral pact with Conservatives to deliver No Deal Brexit

The Brexit Party leader, Nigel Farage, yesterday hinted at a potential electoral pact with the Conservatives if there is a general election in October. Farage told a rally yesterday that if Boris Johnson became Prime Minister and challenged Parliament to vote no confidence in him over a No Deal Brexit, he would “be prepared to meet him” ahead of the ensuing election. This came as the Brexit Party unveiled 100 prospective MP candidates and a series of domestic policies in anticipation of an early election.

Elsewhere, a survey of Conservative Party members by ConservativeHome found that 50% think the next Conservative leader should seek an electoral pact with the Brexit Party, with 39% opposed and 11% unsure.

Source: BBC News ConservativeHome

Sunday Times survey: 49% of Scots now support independence from the UK

A new Panelbase survey of 1,024 Scottish voters for the Sunday Times found that 49% of Scots now support independence, with 51% opposed. The poll also found that 51% believe another independence referendum should be held before Brexit, while 38% think Scotland is likely to become independent within the next ten years.

Source: Sunday Times

EU signs trade deal with South American bloc Mercosur

The EU signed a trade deal with South American bloc Mercosur on Friday night, after 20 years of negotiations. Mercosur consists of Brazil, Argentina, Paraguay and Uruguay. The deal eliminates tariffs on 91% of EU exports to Mercosur and 93% of Mercosur exports to the EU. It creates a market for goods and services of around 800 million people, the largest free trade area in the world by population. EU trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom described the deal as a “landmark agreement” and a sign that both the EU and Mercosur are in favour of “open, sustainable and rules-based trade.”

Source: BBC News

Liberals in European Parliament demand transnational lists for EU elections

Renew Europe, the liberal-centrist group in the European Parliament, called on Saturday for a “clear commitment” to transnational lists for European Parliament elections. Dacian Ciolos, the Romanian MEP who leads the group, said, “Renew Europe asks for a clear commitment of the next Presidents of the Commission, Parliament and Council for European transnational lists. EU citizens should have the right to choose who they consider as the most suitable for leading the European Commission.”

Source: Politico

EU terminates Switzerland’s preferential stock market access

The EU has terminated the preferential access of Swiss stock exchanges to its market, after an equivalence deal on regulations expired at midnight. Swiss counter-measures, which would bar EU exchanges from trading in Swiss shares, also take effect today. EU investors will face punishments ranging from fines to imprisonment if they trade stocks in Swiss companies outside the Zurich exchange. Before today, around 30% of daily trading in Swiss stocks took place in the City of London. This comes after the stalling of Swiss-EU negotiations on the Institutional Framework Agreement, which would replace the current web of bilateral agreements between Switzerland and the EU.

Source: Die Welt Financial Times