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The two candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party, Jeremy Hunt and Boris Johnson, took part in a television debate on ITV last night. The candidates debated a number of aspects of Brexit, including the 31 October deadline, the question of the Irish backstop and the consequences of a No Deal Brexit. They also debated a number of domestic political issues and the future of the Conservative Party.
On the question of the 31 October deadline, Hunt said he was “just as keen” as Johnson to leave the EU by that date, but said it would be a “breach of trust” to pledge to do so and then seek a further delay. Johnson, however, said it was “vital” that the UK leaves by that date and it would be “totally defeatist not to set a hard deadline.” Johnson refused to say whether he would resign if the UK did not leave by the deadline on the grounds that he did not want to “hold out to the EU the prospect that they encourage my resignation by refusing to agree a deal.”
Meanwhile, Hunt ruled out the possibility of proroguing Parliament to facilitate a No Deal Brexit, saying, it would be “a rather curious thing to do, if [Brexit] is about taking back control for Parliament, to actually shut it down.” Johnson, however, said that he was “not going to take anything off the table” and it was “bizarre at this stage in the negotiations for the UK – yet again – to be weakening its own position.”
Johnson also said that in the event of leaving without a deal, the UK would have “£39 billion to spend, which would be very helpful in lubricating the consequences of a No Deal Brexit.”
The Irish Government yesterday released an update to its Brexit Contingency Action Plan. The document looks at the impact of a No Deal Brexit on the Irish economy, trade with the UK, the future of the Irish border, and the situation in Northern Ireland. The paper describes a No Deal Brexit as an “unprecedented event” which would have “severe negative economic impacts” for Ireland. It also notes that there is “likely to be significant job losses in the most exposed sectors in a No Deal scenario, with an estimated increase in unemployment of 50-55,000 after the UK leaves the EU.”
Meanwhile, in respect of North-South trade, the paper notes, “The impact of tariffs, and of the customs and SPS [Sanitary and Phytosanitary] requirements and associated checks necessary to preserve Ireland’s full participation in the Single Market and Customs Union, would be significant for the operation of the all-island economy.” It adds, “We continue to work closely with the [European] Commission with a view to minimising these negative consequences of No Deal, but any arrangement will clearly be sub-optimal.”
Speaking in Dublin yesterday, the Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said the Government was “as prepared as we can be” for a No Deal Brexit, “But there is still more work to do between now and the end of October.” The publication of the Government’s paper comes as a spokesman for Coveney said that the Government had no plans for checks close to the border. This came in response to an earlier report from Bloomberg which stated that the Government had accepted the need for checks on cross-border livestock movements in the event of a No Deal Brexit.
Elsewhere, the Irish Finance Minister Paschal Donohoe said, “We now believe that the prospect of a disorderly Brexit occurring is a significant risk,” adding, “We have very strong commitments to the European Union that we will maintain. I’m very confident that our new leaders of our key European institutions will continue to show the understanding and support that current leaders have shown.”
Meanwhile, the Brexit Secretary, Stephen Barclay, said yesterday that a No Deal Brexit “would be very damaging for Ireland,” adding, “If one looks, for example, 40% of their exports go through Dover. So when I read accounts saying that there will be queues at Dover there will not just be queues with UK goods in, they will also be queues with 40% of Irish exports in.” Barclay also said that a No Deal scenario would have “an asymmetric impact in Europe,” adding, “The impact is greater to the Irish economy than the UK, so [the EU] want to avoid No Deal just as the UK wants to avoid No Deal.”
An amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill which aimed to make a No Deal Brexit more difficult to pursue was passed by one vote (294-293) last night. The amendment, tabled by Conservative MP Dominic Grieve, requires the Government to report back to the House of Commons on its progress every fortnight from 9 October to 18 December, unless an Executive in Northern Ireland is formed before then. A separate amendment by Grieve, which would have required the Government to bring forward amendable motions to approve those reports, was defeated by 293 votes to 289. A third amendment by Grieve, which would require the Government to recall MPs if Parliament was prorogued, was not selected by the Commons Deputy Speaker. The package of amendments was designed to ensure Parliament sits in October, in order to prevent the Prime Minister from proroguing Parliament to force through a No Deal Brexit. The Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, described the vote as a “tight but important victory [which] makes it much harder for [the] incoming Prime Minister to suspend Parliament.”
In a letter to Labour members yesterday, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn wrote, “Whoever becomes the new Prime Minister should have the confidence to put their deal, or No Deal, back to the people in a public vote. In those circumstances, I want to make it clear that Labour would campaign for remain against either No Deal or a Tory deal that does not protect the economy and jobs.” However, he also said that Labour “continue to believe” that “a compromise [Brexit] plan… based around a customs union, a strong single market relationship and protection of environmental regulations and rights at work… is a sensible alternative.” In an interview with the BBC, Corbyn said that in the event of a general election, Labour would “decide very quickly at the start of that campaign exactly what our position [on Brexit] will be.”
The US President, Donald Trump, yesterday announced he would no longer deal with the UK Ambassador, Sir Kim Darroch, adding, “He should speak to his country, and Prime Minister [Theresa] May, about their failed Brexit negotiation, and not be upset with my criticism of how badly it was handled.” Trump also said, “I told [May] how to do that [Brexit] deal, but she went her own foolish way – was unable to get it done.” May’s spokesman yesterday said that Sir Kim Darroch continues “carry out his duties with the full support of the Prime Minister.”
Elsewhere, the Conservative Party leadership contender, Boris Johnson, said, “I think it’s very important that we have a strong relationship with [the US],” adding, “Myself, I have said some pretty critical things about the Brexit negotiations so far and that’s one of the reasons… I am putting myself forward. I think there is a chance to do things differently, a chance to break away from the failed old can-kicking approach.” The other leadership candidate, and Foreign Secretary, Jeremy Hunt, said that Trump’s comments were “disrespectful and wrong to our Prime Minister and my country.” He also said that if he became Prime Minister he would keep Darroch in post.
Meanwhile, the foreign ministers of Germany, France, the UK and the EU yesterday expressed concern over Iran’s breach of the 2015 nuclear deal. In a joint statement they said, “We express deep concern that Iran is not meeting several of its commitments under the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action [JCPoA],” adding, “Iran has stated that it wants to remain within the JCPoA. It must act accordingly by reversing these activities and returning to full JCPoA compliance without delay.”
According to a survey of 380 businesses employing non-UK citizens, conducted by the British Chambers of Commerce and the job search website Indeed, 53% of businesses said that they would be negatively affected by the Government’s proposal to require all skilled migrant workers to earn minimum £30,000 per year to work in the UK after Brexit. 57% said that the Government’s plan for a twelve-month limit for work and residency permits for lower skilled migrants would harm their businesses. 34% said they would negatively impacted by the need to pay the Immigration Skills Charge for employing EU nationals, a fee that is currently paid by businesses from each migrant they recruit from outside the EU. BCC Head of People Policy Jane Gratton said, “The survey results reflect the extent of business concerns about future restrictions, charges and thresholds, as these will exacerbate recruitment costs and barriers… Business communities will be calling on the next Prime Minister to ensure the UK’s future immigration policy has the right balance of flexibility and controls to alleviate their concerns.”
The European Council yesterday adopted contingency plans for the implementation and financing of the 2019 EU budget in a No Deal Brexit scenario. The Council said in a statement, “Under the agreed contingency framework, the UK would have to confirm in writing that it will contribute to the financing of the 2019 EU budget as adopted. It would also have to accept the necessary controls and audits for the EU programmes and actions, and make the first payment to the EU budget for the period after its withdrawal,” adding, “Only if these conditions are met would the eligibility for financing by the EU budget in 2019 of the UK and UK-entities be maintained.” The contingency measures will cease to apply “if the UK discontinues the payments or where significant deficiencies have been observed in the execution of the controls and audits.” Finance Minister of Finland Mika Lintilä said, “A No Deal scenario does not affect the basic principle that the EU27 and the UK should honour the financial commitments they have both made together. The measures agreed today will help ensure this. They will benefit UK individuals and entities, and avoid possible disruptions to other beneficiaries of EU funding.”
Elsewhere, EU finance ministers yesterday supported the nomination of former International Monetary Fund (IMF) Managing Director, Christine Lagarde, as the head of the European Central Bank.
In a new report, the House of Commons Public Accounts select committee urges the Government to prepare new contracts with ferry companies in order to ensure extra capacity to carry vital supplies in case of a No Deal Brexit scenario. The report says, “The compressed procurement timetable for getting ferry capacity in place for 29 March resulted in a flawed process and exposed the Department [for Transport] to a risk of being challenged,” adding, “The Department recognises that it needs to learn from this flawed procurement. However, there is a real risk that the short time left before 31 October will force the Department into further high risk procurements, which it wants to avoid. Given the lead time needed to put ferry capacity in place, which the Department says can take a minimum of three months, any new procurement process would need to begin very soon.” The committee’s chair, Labour MP Meg Hillier, said, “In just four months’ time, on 31 October, the UK is expected to leave the EU yet momentum appears to have slowed in Whitehall. Departments must urgently step up their preparations and ensure that the country is ready,” adding, “The taxpayer has been landed with a £85m bill with very little to show for it following the rushed procurement of ferry freight capacity. This £33m Eurotunnel settlement comes on top of the money paid to cancel the ill-fated ferries deal.”
In a new blog, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze looks at the election of the chairs of the new European Parliament’s committees, due to be held today. She writes that while far-right and populist parties have traditionally been excluded by mainstream groups from influential positions in the EP, the formation of the Identity and Democracy (ID) group after May’s elections makes it difficult to sustain.