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Downing Street announced yesterday that the Government will bring forward the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill for a vote in the House of Commons during the first week of June. Following talks between Prime Minister Theresa May and Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn, a Government spokesman said, “This evening the Prime Minister met the Leader of the Opposition in the House of Commons to make clear our determination to bring the talks to a conclusion and deliver on the referendum result to leave the EU. We will therefore be bringing forward the Withdrawal Agreement Bill in the week beginning the 3rd June. It is imperative we do so then if the UK is to leave the EU before the summer Parliamentary recess [at the end of July],” adding that talks will continue today.
A Labour Party spokesperson said that during the meeting Corbyn “raised doubts over the credibility of Government commitments following statements by Conservative MPs and Cabinet ministers seeking to replace the Prime Minister” and “made clear the need for further movement from the Government, including on entrenchment of any commitments.”
Responding to May’s announcement, the Democratic Unionist Party’s (DUP) Parliamentary leader, Nigel Dodds, said, “Unless she can demonstrate something new that addresses the problem of the backstop, then it is highly likely her [Brexit] deal will go down to defeat once again.”
Meanwhile, asked about the progress of talks between Labour and the Government, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said, “We don’t think there is a deal there yet… We have been saying to our Conservative colleagues that to get something through Parliament you may well have to concede that there is a public vote of some sort.” He added, “The customs union is absolutely key to us. We are not near what we want.”
Separately, commenting on the cross-party talks, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said, “When you look at the fundamentals it is actually in both parties’ interests to resolve Brexit,” adding, “Because both of us will be crucified by our base if we went into a General Election having promised that we would respect the referendum result, not having respected it.”
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Figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday showed that unemployment in the UK fell to 3.8% in the first quarter of the year, the lowest rate since 1974. 1.3 million people were classed as unemployed. The ONS also showed a slight drop in annual wage growth from 3.4% to 3.3%. Speaking yesterday, Employment Minister Alok Sharma said the figures showed “the success of our balanced approach to managing the economy.”
Elsewhere, data released by Eurostat yesterday showed that industrial output in Eurozone countries fell by 0.3% in March, or by 0.6% year-on-year. Output in Germany rose by 0.4% in March, but fell by 1.0% in France and 0.9% in Italy.
The Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, has published an open letter to the Conservative MP Sir John Redwood, responding to criticisms previously made by Redwood of the Withdrawal Agreement. Extending to 10 pages, the letter covers concerns relating to the implementation period, the Northern Ireland Protocol, financial obligations and citizens’ rights. It also examines a number of points relating to legal interpretation of the Withdrawal Agreement. Barclay writes that the Agreement is “a certain, and by far the most orderly, means of our departure from [the EU’s] political and institutional structures.”
British Steel is seeking a loan of up to £75m from the Government to deal with “Brexit issues.” The company said, “Uncertainties around Brexit are posing challenges for all businesses including British Steel,” adding, “Discussions are continuing about a package of additional support to assist the company address broader Brexit-related issues, whilst continuing with [the company’s] investment plans.” This comes just two weeks after British Steel landed a £100m government loan to deal with its EU carbon bill.
Yesterday marked the 10th anniversary of the Eastern Partnership, which was accompanied by a conference in Brussels with representatives of the EU and its six Eastern partner countries: Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Moldova and Ukraine. The President of the European Commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, said, “125,000 loans have been provided to businesses in the Eastern Partnership, of which half are in local currency, and we have contributed to the creation of over 30,000 jobs in the region,” adding, “I would like us to continue to focus on the content of what we believe we should do together so that our Partnership can keep its promises.”
Spain has temporarily withdrawn a frigate from a US-led naval group in the Persian Gulf after American authorities changed the original mission, the Spanish government announced yesterday. On 5 May, the US announced it would send the fleet led by the aircraft carrier USS Abraham Lincoln to the Persian Gulf. Acting Spanish Defence Minister Margarita Robles said that Spain is a “serious and trustworthy partner,” but that its armed forces are only bound by agreements made with the European Union and NATO.
Elsewhere, the EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini yesterday said EU joint military initiatives would not have an impact on contracts with US defence companies, adding, “The EU is and remains open to US companies and equipment… At the moment, the EU is actually much more open than the US procurement market is for the European Union companies and equipment.”
In an article for CapX, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh argues that the upcoming elections will leave the European Parliament “increasingly fragmented and polarised.” He adds, “While it has the advantage of giving voters a wider range of choices, political fragmentation has already made several European countries much harder to govern. That problem now looks likely to be exported to the institutions of the EU, and – despite Brexit – to the UK as well.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe have recently published a new briefing, “The 2019 European Parliamentary elections and the future of the European project.”