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Speaking at a debate hosted by The Sun last night, both Conservative Party leadership candidates ruled out any Brexit deal with the EU that contained the Irish backstop – even if a time limit or unilateral exit clause were added. Asked if one of these changes would make the backstop acceptable, leadership candidate Boris Johnson said, “No… I’m not attracted to time limits, or unilateral escape hatches, or all these kind of elaborate devices, glosses, codicils and so on that you could apply to the backstop. I think the problem is very fundamental.” The other leadership candidate, Jeremy Hunt, added, “The backstop, as it is, is dead… I don’t think tweaking it with a time limit will do the trick, we’ve got to find a new way.”
Johnson also he would “absolutely” rule out an early election, adding, “I think the people of this country are utterly fed up with politicians coming back to them offering referendums or elections.”
On immigration, the candidates were asked whether they would keep Theresa May’s pledge to reduce net immigration below 100,000. Johnson said, “What I want to see with immigration is control. I’m not going to get into numbers with you.” Hunt, however, said that people “voted with an expectation that net migration will come down… I think that people will think we are betraying the spirit of that referendum if we didn’t find a way of bringing down the numbers.”
On a post-Brexit trade deal with the US, Johnson said, “I’m not in favour of importing anything from the United States that involves lower animal welfare standards or lower hygiene standards,” adding, “[US President] Donald Trump is very clear he wants to do a free trade deal… We should use that as an incentive to get them to lift their standards to match ours.”
Elsewhere, the Sun reports that 7 Conservative MPs are today set to add their names to the ‘StandUp4Brexit’ campaign, which advocates abandoning the existing Withdrawal Agreement and leaving the EU on 31 October. The 7 additional signatories will bring the total number of MP supporters to 43, including former Brexit Secretary David Davis, former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith, and Democratic Unionist Party Brexit spokesman Sammy Wilson.
Reuters The Sun I Politico The Sun II
The European Commission President candidate, Ursula von der Leyen, yesterday sent letters to leaders of the Socialists and Democrats (S&D) and liberal Renew Europe political groups in the European Parliament to gain the support of their MEPs ahead of today’s vote on her nomination. In the letters, she outlined commitments for her presidency, which include an EU gender equality strategy, achieving carbon neutrality by 2050, as well as a “legal instrument to ensure that every worker in our Union has a fair minimum wage that allows them a decent living.” Von der Leyen also wrote that rule of law is central to her vision “for a Union of equality and social fairness,” adding that she would support creating a “comprehensive European Rule of Law Mechanism.” She would support a new pact on asylum rules, reforming the EU’s trade policy and changing voting rules to qualified majority in the areas of taxation and social policy. On Brexit, she said she is committed to an “ambitious and strategic partnership” with the UK, and she would support another Article 50 extension “if good reasons are provided.”
Speaking to the European Parliament this morning, von der Leyen said, “The EU has worked hard to organise the orderly departure of the UK. The Withdrawal Agreement concluded with the Government of the UK provides certainty, where Brexit provided uncertainty,” adding that her priorities remain preserving citizens’ rights and stability on the island of Ireland. She also said, “I stand ready for further extension of the withdrawal date should more time be required for a good reason… In any case, the UK will remain our ally, partner, and friend.” She also said she supports the right of legislative initiative for the European Parliament, improving the Spitzenkandidat (lead candidate) system, and organising a conference on the future of Europe starting from 2020.
The vote will take place today at 5PM BST. Von der Leyen needs the support of 374 MEPs in order for her nomination to be approved.
Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze told CNN International that if von der Leyen commands a majority by relying on Eurosceptic and nationalist MEPs, her presidency “might be compromised” from the start, adding, “If [nationalists] support her and the Greens don’t, that’s going to be very strange to see… The Greens are an important group – they’re the fourth largest, they’re pro-EU, they’ve been growing in the last years and I just don’t see [the presidency] lasting so long without their support in Parliament, especially if Eurosceptic parties and even the far-right support her.”
Arriving at the meeting of EU foreign ministers yesterday, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said he would work with German and French partners to “preserve” the 2015 deal which limits Iran’s nuclear activities, adding, “Iran is still a good year away from developing a nuclear weapon. We think there is still a closing, but small, window to keep the deal alive.”
Meanwhile, the US ambassador to the EU, Gordon Sondland, told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that European states “should join the US in unequivocally condemning Iran’s actions with respect to their malign activities… and bring them back to the table to discuss a comprehensive negotiation over all of their activities including currently being the world’s lead state sponsor of terror, plotting attacks in Europe, their missile development programme and their general Middle East aggression.”
This came after the foreign ministries of the UK, France and Germany issued a joint statement on Sunday re-iterating their “commitment to the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) that was agreed upon 4 years ago with Iran,” adding, “We are concerned by the risk that the JCPoA further unravels under the strain of sanctions imposed by the United States and following Iran’s decision to no longer implement several of the central provisions of the agreement.”
Discussing the possibility that the Government could prorogue Parliament to force through a No Deal Brexit, the Conservative MP Oliver Letwin told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme yesterday, “I hope the Government won’t even try. If it takes it into its head to do so at any stage… there will be a Supreme Court challenge.” Asked about recent parliamentary attempts to prevent prorogation via amendments to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, Letwin said, “If you have got a law saying that ministers have got to do things in Parliament on certain dates, then it is at least arguable that ministers cannot prorogue Parliament, thereby preventing themselves from obeying that law.” Letwin further said, “Can we actually get a parliamentary majority for some action in the autumn if needed to prevent No Deal? The answer is we don’t know yet.”
Elsewhere, speaking at a UK in a Changing Europe event yesterday, the Conservative MP Dominic Grieve said that parliamentary clerks have told the House of Lords that attempts by peers to further amend the Northern Ireland Bill to rule out prorogation are “not in scope.”
UK in a Changing Europe
A consultancy contract awarded by the Ministry of Justice (MoJ), seen by Politico, reveals that the MoJ is concerned that a failure to carry out No Deal contingency plans could lead to “unrest in prison because of undersupply of foods or medicines.” The contract, awarded to consultancy firm EY, adds that “A clear understanding of the ‘real’ operational impact of a No Deal is necessary to prioritise mitigation actions.” A spokesperson for the MoJ said, “The Government has responsibly been preparing for No Deal for the last three years, including to ensure the continued supply of food and medicines in such an event.”
The Department for International Trade’s Chief Trade Negotiator, Crawford Falconer, suggested yesterday that Brexit could be an opportunity to increase the UK’s influence over the international trade system. Falconer, formerly New Zealand’s ambassador to the World Trade Organisation, told Sky News, “I always found it anomalous from the outside that the world’s fifth largest economy, as the UK has always been, really had… very little influence on the international trade system… that is changing rapidly now and will change ever more rapidly.”
In an article for the New Statesman, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh assesses the possibility that MPs might pass a vote of no confidence in the Government to prevent a No Deal Brexit. He writes, “To win, a successful no confidence motion will need to do two things. First, it needs to persuade enough Tory MPs that it is their last, and only, chance to stop No Deal. And second, a confidence motion will only win if the idea of bringing down a no-deal government is sufficiently distanced from the prospect of a Corbyn government, not just to ensure buy-in from Tory rebels, but also to keep anti-Corbyn independent MPs on board.”
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