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At the European Council summit yesterday, EU leaders agreed to nominate German Defence Minister Ursula von der Leyen as the new European Commission President. Her nomination will have to be approved by a majority the Members of the European Parliament. Leaders have also appointed Belgian Acting Prime Minister Charles Michel as the new President of the European Council for 2019-2022, and have considered [Spanish Foreign Minister] Josep Borrell Fontelles to be “the appropriate candidate” for the post of High Representative of the Union for Foreign Affairs and Security Policy. For the role of President of the European Central Bank, the Council has nominated the Managing Director of the International Monetary Fund (IMF), Christine Lagarde, who has decided to “temporarily relinquish [her] responsibilities as IMF Managing Director during the nomination period.” Germany abstained during the vote, and no member state voted against the proposal.
Elsewhere, the European Parliament is currently voting to elect its new President for a two and a half year term. The four candidates are Ska Keller from the Greens, Sira Rego from the European Left (GUE/NGL), David-Maria Sassoli from the Socialists and Democrats (S&D), and Jan Zahradil from the European Conservatives and Reformist (ECR).
Separately, Politico reports that pro-European political groups in the European Parliament are planning to block MEPs from the right-wing Identity and Democracy (ID) group from chairing the Parliament’s committees on agriculture and legal affairs in order to avoid Eurosceptics in influential committee jobs. A spokesperson from the centre-right European People’s Party (EPP) group is quoted as saying that the key posts would be shared “among EPP, S&D, liberals and greens.”
Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze told Al Jazeera English yesterday, “There was much opposition from certain groups [in the European Parliament] against the process of nominating the Commission President [Ursula von der Leyen] as she did not campaign for elections and they see this as an undemocratic process,” adding, “It is not certain that they will accept her nomination.”
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The two candidates for the Conservative Party leadership, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt, took part in hustings organised by the party in Northern Ireland yesterday. Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, told party members, “We are never going to have a deal to leave the EU with the [Northern Irish] backstop. So it has to change or it has to go.” He said, “The fundamental issue with the backstop is not the principle that we shouldn’t have border infrastructure on the island of Ireland – that’s accepted by all sides,” adding, “The principle is the backstop which traps us into following EU customs tariffs until the EU gives us permission to leave the customs union… we have to find a different solution.”
Meanwhile, Johnson, the former Foreign Secretary, described the current Withdrawal Agreement as a “dead letter.” He said the backstop puts a “terrible moral blackmail” on the UK Government and added, “The way to protect the Union is to come out the EU whole and entire. Solve the border issues where they belong in the FTA [Free Trade Agreement] we are going to do.” Both Johnson and Hunt ruled out “permanent” membership of the EU’s Customs Union. Hunt also ruled out the possibility of holding a referendum in Northern Ireland on the backstop.
Following the hustings, Johnson met the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, at Stormont. This comes as the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, said the party was “very pleased” about the Brexit position of the two leadership candidates, saying, “They have said that the current [Withdrawal Agreement] is not going to work. They have both said that they are committed to the union. And thirdly, they’re both saying that we will leave on 31 October.” Foster added they had a “useful discussion about restoring devolution [and] delivering on the EU referendum result.”
The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, told the House of Commons yesterday, “The Government’s analysis suggests that in a disruptive No Deal exit there will be a hit to the exchequer of about £90bn.” He also said, “We’ve built up around £26-27bn of fiscal headroom… to protect the UK economy from the immediate effects of a possible No Deal exit. But I have no doubt whatsoever that in a No Deal exit we will need all of that money and more to respond to the immediate impacts of the disruption…and that will mean there is no money available for longer-term either tax cuts or spending increases.” Hammond also suggested he might vote against the Government in order to oppose a No Deal Brexit, saying, “It would be wrong for a British Government to seek to pursue No Deal as a policy, and I believe that it will be for the House of Commons – of which I will continue proudly to be a member – to ensure that that doesn’t happen.”
The Prime Minister, Theresa May, will make a speech in Scotland tomorrow when she is expected to announce a review of devolution. The review, which will report back after May leaves office, will be chaired by the former Scotland Office Minister, Lord Dunlop. It will look at ways to improve inter-governmental relations between Westminster and the devolved administrations, and the question of whether Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should continue to be represented in Cabinet by separate Ministers. May is also expected to use her speech in Scotland to warn of the risks to the Union of a No Deal Brexit.
The First Minister of Scotland, and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, described the review as “a desperate act by a Prime Minister who has shown zero respect for the Scottish Parliament during her time in office.”
The UK Warehousing Association (UKWA) has warned that “there is no available space” for the additional stockpiling of goods in preparation for a possible No Deal Brexit in October. Data seen by BBC Newsnight shows that the estimated vacancy rate for warehouses of over 100,000 square feet is just 6.8% nationwide. Peter Ward of the UKWA warned, “The biggest concern at the moment is that the October deadline comes right bang in the middle of peak season. From a timing point of view it couldn’t be worse.” He added, “You can’t just turn on supply. Putting real estate in the system takes five to seven years. I can’t see any increase in supply in October relative to March.”
The Canadian Government has decided to wait for the terms of the UK’s withdrawal before ‘rolling over’ its free trade agreement with the EU to a bilateral agreement with the UK after Brexit, BuzzFeed News reports. A Canadian Government official is quoted as saying, “In case of a No Deal Brexit, Canada and the UK had been discussing a transitional agreement based on CETA [Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement] while recognising the UK’s lack of jurisdiction to negotiate a free trade agreement as long as it remains an EU member state,” adding, “Post-Brexit, any future trade arrangement between Canada and the UK would be influenced by the terms of the withdrawal agreed between the UK and the EU, as well as any unilateral UK approaches.” A spokesperson for the Canadian Government also said that if the UK leaves the EU with a deal, “Depending on an agreement being reached between the UK and the EU concerning a transition period, Canada would consent to the UK remaining party to [CETA] … and all other Canada–EU agreements during that transition period.”
According to the Sun, more than 12 Labour MPs would now support a Brexit deal similar to the one brought to Parliament by Prime Minister Theresa May. Labour MP Lisa Nandy told BBC Two’s Politics Live yesterday, “If that deal were put on the table through the Withdrawal Agreement Bill I would do – as I said we should just before Theresa May resigned – and vote for it at second reading in order to thrash out the details at a later date because there are still outstanding concerns.”
Meanwhile, Labour leader in the House of Lords, Angela Smith, is leading a cross-party effort to force the Government to establish a new committee of MPs and peers to report on the risks of a No Deal Brexit. A motion to do so has been tabled and will be voted on this Wednesday.
The performance of the UK’s construction sector decreased to 43.1 on IHS Markit’s construction Purchasing Managers’ Index (PMI), falling to the lowest level since April 2009. A PMI below 50 means the sector is contracted. According to IHS Market, businesses that took part in the survey “often cited Brexit uncertainty and subsequent delays to project starts” among the reasons for the decrease in activity.
Ahead of crucial months for Brexit, Open Europe and Prosperity UK will hold a debate in Brussels to discuss the Alternative Arrangements Commission (AAC) Interim Report, which identifies potential alternatives to the Irish backstop. The event will take place on Thursday, 11 July from 12PM to 1:30 PM Brussels time.
For more information and to register, please click here.