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The House of Commons will today vote on whether to hold the government in contempt for failing to publish the final and full legal advice it received on its Brexit deal despite parliament having demanded full publication. The Speaker, John Bercow, yesterday said there was an “arguable case that a contempt has been committed.” This came after opposition parties, and the government’s confidence and supply partners, the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), called for a contempt motion.
The government yesterday published a summary of the legal position on the Withdrawal Agreement, including the Irish backstop and its exit mechanism. It confirms that the Withdrawal Agreement “does not contain any provision on its termination,” and “it is not possible under international law for a party to withdraw from the Agreement unilaterally.” It also states that the backstop will continue to apply “unless and until it is superseded, in whole in or part, by a subsequent agreement establishing alternative arrangements.”
Meanwhile, speaking in the House of Commons yesterday, the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, said that the position paper provided an “accurate examination of the provisions of the Agreement” but added that the question for MPs in deciding whether to support the Agreement was “a political decision that each of us must make.” He confirmed that “There is no unilateral right for either party to terminate this arrangement.” On the question of the Irish backstop, Cox said that “we are indefinitely committed to it if it entered into force.” However, he added that the backstop was a “calculated risk” and that the UK was unlikely to be “entrapped in it permanently” as it would be politically uncomfortable for the EU and could offer Northern Ireland businesses a competitive advantage.
Elsewhere, a legal note produced by House of Commons lawyers, which was leaked to the press yesterday, has warned that the backstop would place considerable restrictions on the UK’s ability to strike Free Trade Arrangements. The note states that a customs union with the EU under the backstop “would be a practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries.”
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The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, has submitted the UK’s proposed terms for its trade in services after Brexit to the World Trade Organization (WTO), as part of preparations for leaving the European Union. In a statement yesterday, Fox said, “We see this only as a technical exercise that will provide continuity for business and, in future, we will work with other members on an ambitious agenda to liberalize international trade in services even further.”
Elsewhere, speaking in the House of Commons after the G20 leaders summit yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May said that she went to the summit “with the clear message that Britain is open for business and that we are looking forward to future trade agreements,” adding, “Once we leave the EU we can and we will strike ambitious trade deals.”
Tom Enders, chief executive of the aerospace company Airbus, said yesterday that the UK’s decision to pull out of the secure parts of the EU’s Galileo satellite programme would be a “serious blow to the EU’s common security and defence ambition.” This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May said last week that the UK would not participate in the military aspects of Galileo after Brexit, as the European “Commission decided that we would be barred from having full aspects of the Galileo programme and so it is right for us to look for alternatives because it would be wrong to put our [armed] services relying on a system on which they couldn’t be sure of.”
Article 50 “allows the unilateral revocation of the notification of the intention to withdraw from the EU”, according to the opinion of the Advocate General (AG) at the European Court of Justice (ECJ), Manuel Campos Sánches-Bordona. The opinion, published today, states, “The Advocate General rejects the contention that Article 50 only allows the possibility…of a recovation following a unanimous decision by the European Council.” It adds that unilateral revocation from the UK would have to take the form of a formal notification to the European Council, and would require parliamentary approval. It notes that it can only take place during the two year period under Article 50, before the Withdrawal Agreement is concluded. It further specifies that in the event of revocation, “The principles of good faith and sincere cooperation must also be observed, in order to prevent abuse of the procedure laid down in Article 50.” The opinion of the Advocate General is not a formal ruling, and is not binding on the ECJ. The ECJ judgement will be given at a later date.
Court of Justice of the European Union
Finance ministers in the EU 27 have this week been discussing proposals to strengthen the Eurozone’s protection against any future financial crisis. France has proposed setting up a Eurozone-wide budget, which could be used to mitigate the effects of an economic shock. However, the implementation of any reforms has been delayed by the opposition of Germany and some smaller EU member states.
Separately, France and Germany have sought to salvage a proposed EU digital tax by narrowing its scope, and will put the proposal to other EU finance ministers in Brussels today. The new proposal would impose a 3% levy, but would only cover companies’ online advertising revenues; unlike more wide-ranging previous proposals, the tax would not apply to data sales and online platforms. EU officials told the Financial Times that this tax proposal would hit companies such as Facebook and Google which rely on online advertising, but would largely exclude other retailers such as Amazon, Apple and Spotify. The tax will require the support of all 28 EU states.
The Financial Times
The Central European University (CEU) has announced it will be moving its campus for US-accredited degrees to Vienna from Budapest after the Hungarian government did not sign an agreement allowing it to stay. This follows longstanding tensions between Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban and CEU founder George Soros. CEU President Michael Ignatieff said, “This is unprecedented. A U.S. institution has been driven out of a country that is a NATO ally. A European institution has been ousted from a member state of the EU.” He added: “Arbitrary eviction of a reputable university is a flagrant violation of academic freedom.”
The Italian government has agreed to revise its 2019 budget proposals in order to avoid disciplinary action from the European Commission over a breach of EU fiscal rules, Politico reports, citing two Italian officials. Instead of its previous proposal for a 2.4 percent deficit, Italy intends to propose a 2 percent deficit.
Elsewhere, following a meeting between Italian Economy Minister Giovanni Tria and European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis, the Italian Economy Ministry said in a statement, “Tria and Dombrovskis expressed the common will to find a solution to the dispute over the [Italian] budget as soon as possible.” Dombrovskis also said, “We are currently in intensive discussions with Italian authorities … So now I would say the ball is on Italy’s side whether Italy comes with substantial adjustments to the 2019 plan,” adding, “It is positive that the tone of discussion has changed but it is also necessary that there is a substantial adjustment to the 2019 budget.”