26 November 2018

EU27 leaders approve Brexit deal at Brussels summit

The leaders of the EU27 member states have approved the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement and Political Declaration on the future relationship, following a summit in Brussels yesterday. The leaders agreed a statement urging EU governments and institutions to “take the necessary steps to ensure that the agreement can enter into force on 30 March 2019, so as to provide for an orderly withdrawal.”

Jean Claude-Juncker, the President of the European Commission, said that the deal was “the best deal possible,” adding, “the European Union will not change its fundamental position when it comes to this issue.” Elsewhere, Mark Rutte, the Dutch Prime Minister, said that there was no “plan B” and that the deal was “the maximum” that negotiators could achieve. Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz said the deal “will certainly not be renegotiated and there is no leeway,” while Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said, “what’s on the table is the only deal that’s on the table.” UK Prime Minister Theresa May also told reporters, “If people think somehow there’s another negotiation to be done, that’s not the case.”

Speaking to CNN ahead of the summit, Open Europe’s Director Henry Newman said, “the real challenge for the Prime Minister comes back in London, when she tries to introduce this deal on the floor of the House of Commons, and it just seems overwhelmingly likely that MPs will not accept this.” Newman warned, “There is no point having a deal that you can agree in Brussels at a summit if it doesn’t work in Westminster,” adding, “EU leaders and the UK Government… are very reluctant to reopen the deal, but they may have to.”

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Theresa May appeals for the country to unite behind the Brexit deal

Speaking in Brussels, UK Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday that the Brexit deal “delivered for the British people” and set the UK “on course for a prosperous future.” This came after May earlier wrote an open letter addressed to the nation, arguing that the deal “is in our national interest – one that works for our whole country and all of our people, whether you voted ‘Leave’ or ‘Remain’. It will honour the result of the referendum.” At 3:30pm today, May will update the House of Commons on yesterday’s summit. She is expected to tell MPs that “division and uncertainty” will ensue if they do not back her deal in the ‘meaningful vote,’ which will reportedly take place on Wednesday 12 December.

Elsewhere, speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said that the UK was getting “between 70% and 80%” of what it wanted. He added, however, that the parliamentary arithmetic was “looking challenging,” and warned “nothing could be ruled out” if the vote was lost, including the government collapsing. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay also said this morning that getting the deal through Parliament would be “challenging,” adding that “it’s now the job of all of us in Cabinet to make the case to our colleagues, to make the case to the country.”

Meanwhile, a number of Cabinet ministers have publicly endorsed the Brexit deal. As well as Hunt, they include the Chancellor, Philip Hammond; the Home Secretary, Sajid Javid; the Cabinet Office Minister, David Lidington; the Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay; the Health Secretary, Matt Hancock; and the Conservative Party Chairman, Brandon Lewis. This comes ahead of a meeting of May’s Cabinet this morning.

Separately, the Sunday Telegraph reports that Theresa May is considering challenging Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to a head-to-head TV debate on the Brexit deal. A spokesman for Corbyn said he would “relish” such a debate.

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Dominic Raab: Brexit deal could pass Parliament with “modest and reasonable” changes

The former Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, said on Saturday that the Brexit deal could pass Parliament if “modest and reasonable” changes are made. Speaking to the Sunday Telegraph, Raab said, “There is still time to salvage this deal so it can be supported more widely in Parliament and the country. First, we need an exit mechanism that allows the UK to withdraw from the backstop… Second, the Political Declaration on the Future Relationship needs to be based on a free trade agreement.” This comes as Buzzfeed News reports that the number of Conservative MPs who have publicly indicated they will not vote for the Withdrawal Agreement has reached 94.

Elsewhere, the leading Eurosceptic MP and former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith told Sky’s Sophy Ridge show yesterday that he would find it “very, very difficult” to support the agreement as it stood. “I don’t believe that, so far, this deal delivers on what the British people really voted for,” he said.

Separately, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer said this morning that if the Brexit deal is voted down, “there are either the options of saying to the Prime Minister, you need to go back and negotiate a deal which actually could get a majority in Parliament – or there really ought to be a general election because you’ve failed so badly in this negotiation.” This comes after the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said yesterday, “This is a bad deal for the country and Labour will oppose it in Parliament.” Corbyn added that Labour would also work with others to block a no-deal outcome, and ensure that Labour’s alternative plan … is on the table.”

Meanwhile, the Labour backbench MP Lisa Nandy, who has previously indicated that she might be persuaded to vote for the deal, told Sky yesterday that it was now “inconceivable” she would support the Government.

Separately, Bloomberg reports that the prevailing view in the financial markets is that Parliament will pass the Withdrawal Agreement at the second time of asking.

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RTE: EU to restrict UK decision-making role in post-Brexit foreign and defence policy

The EU has promised to restrict the UK’s involvement in post-Brexit foreign and defence policy decision-making, RTE News reports. A letter to member states, seen by RTE, declared that there would be no “outside interference” in the EU’s decision-making process, and that any consultations between the UK and EU would be strictly informal. This comes after reported concerns raised by Cyprus and Greece that a privileged role for the UK would set a precedent for Turkey to seek similar access.

Separately, a document published yesterday by the EU27 states that they hope to “build on… existing reciprocal access and quota shares” regarding UK fishing waters after Brexit. This comes as French President Emmanuel Macron yesterday said a deal preserving access to UK territorial waters should be concluded before the end of the transition period. He added, “This is leverage…I believe it is not Theresa May’s desire, or that of those who support her, to remain long-term in a customs union [which would be the case if the backstop came into force].”

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Gibraltar Chief Minister: “Withdrawal Agreement works for us”

The Chief Minister of Gibraltar, Fabian Picardo, said on Saturday that the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement “works for us.” In a press release, the Gibraltar Government said, “The deep and unbreakable bonds that bind the United Kingdom and Gibraltar together have not in any way, and will not be in any way, be diluted as a result of our common departure from the EU.”

This came after Spain dropped its opposition to the Brexit deal ahead of Sunday’s summit, after last-minute negotiations about the future of Gibraltar. Spain’s Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez claimed that “Europe and the UK have accepted the Spanish demands.”

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DUP deputy leader: Withdrawal Agreement worse than either No Deal or staying in the EU

The deputy leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Nigel Dodds, said yesterday that the proposed Brexit Withdrawal Agreement is “worse than no deal and worse than staying in the EU.” Dodds added that his party’s “one red line” had been breached by the Government, and said the DUP would not be “bought off” by “side offers.” Writing in the Belfast Telegraph today, Dodds said that “We are heading, under this deal, for Brexit in name only, or the break-up of the United Kingdom.” This comes as senior DUP politicians are set to meet with a number of Northern Ireland business groups today to discuss the Brexit deal. Meanwhile, Theresa May is expected to travel to Northern Ireland within the next 48 hours.

Elsewhere, the DUP leader Arlene Foster told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that her party is engaged in talks “across government” to secure a “better deal” on Brexit. Foster said, “We’re talking to people on the Remain side, we’re talking to Brexiteers, we’re talking to everyone,” and did not rule out DUP backing for a so-called Norway-style deal.

Separately, speaking at the DUP’s party conference in Belfast on Saturday, the former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson urged the Northern Ireland party to maintain its confidence and supply arrangement with the Conservatives. This comes after Foster said on Friday that the DUP would have to “look again” at the confidence and supply deal if the current Brexit deal passes Parliament.

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Sunday Times: Chancellor and four other Cabinet ministers prepared to resign if Government recommends No Deal

The Sunday Times reports that the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, and 4 other cabinet ministers are prepared to resign if the Government loses the parliamentary vote on the Withdrawal Agreement and subsequently pursues a No Deal Brexit. The five cabinet ministers have agreed that if the vote is lost, they will attempt to persuade Theresa May to pursue a ‘softer’ Brexit, rather than leave the EU without a deal. As well as Hammond, the group includes Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington, Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Business Secretary Greg Clark, and Justice Secretary David Gauke. This comes as the Sun also reports that Cabinet ministers, led by Rudd and Environment Secretary Michael Gove, are considering a ‘Norway-style’ Brexit as a fallback option “when all else fails.”

Elsewhere, the Mail on Sunday reports that civil servants have warned ministers that a No Deal Brexit could cause the UK to run out of clean drinking water within days, as chemicals used in water purification rely on ‘just-in-time’ supply chains and are too volatile to stockpile. The warning, part of Whitehall contingency plans codenamed Operation Yellowhammer, reportedly convinced Michael Gove that a No Deal Brexit is not a plausible policy.

Separately, a study commissioned by grassroots campaign for a second referendum on Brexit, People’s Vote, found that the Government’s Brexit deal would cost the UK £100bn annually by 2030, a 3.9% reduction in GDP.

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Italy “confident” of EU budget deal

The Italian Prime Minister, Giuseppe Conte, said yesterday that he was “confident” that a deal on his country’s draft 2019 budget could be reached with the European Commission, adding that there was “mutual trust” between the two parties. As it stands, Rome’s draft budget breaches Eurozone rules for public spending.

Separately, in a referendum yesterday, voters in Switzerland rejected a proposal which would have asserted precedence for Swiss rules over international law.

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Henry Newman: The Gibraltar ‘capitulation’ is nothing of the sort

In an article for the Spectator, Open Europe’s Henry Newman argues that the recent stand-off between Spain and the UK over Gibraltar was “more about politics than substance… Spain’s PM, Pedro Sanchez, leads a minority government facing important elections next month… which makes a political row over… the status of Gibraltar the perfect distraction.” He adds, “Despite the headlines, many of which have reported the story as another example of Theresa May conceding ground, this is a minor and cosmetic change – as evidenced by the fact that the Gibraltar government received the news so calmly.” Newman further comments, “it isn’t clear that Gibraltar would want to be part of a future trade agreement between the EU and UK anyway… This whole confected Gibraltar drama has changed nothing. Spain still has veto over any future arrangement, as all countries do. Spain will try to push for more on Gibraltar, and the UK will have to resist that.” He concludes that parliamentarians and commentators should “keep calm and look at the text.”

Separately, Newman also commented on the Gibraltar issue in an interview with CNN. He also discussed the Brexit deal for both Channel 4 News’ ‘Politics: Where Next?’ podcast on Friday, and the BBC’s ‘The Week in Westminster’ on Saturday. Meanwhile, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze appeared on TRT World News and Al Jazeera News to discuss the Brexit deal and negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship.