11 June 2018

Michel Barnier: Time-limited “backstop” is unacceptable to the EU

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said on Friday that a time-limited “backstop” proposal was unacceptable to the EU27.  Speaking at a press conference in Brussels, Barnier said, “Backstop means backstop…The temporary backstop is not in line with what we want or what Ireland and Northern Ireland want and need.” He also explained the EU’s “backstop” proposal “cannot be extended to the whole UK…Because it has been designed for the specific situation of Northern Ireland.” While mentioning that the UK’s proposal for a temporary customs arrangement “raises more questions than answers,” Barnier said that this does not mean the proposal has been rejected by the European Commission.

A UK Government spokesperson replied to Barnier’s speech saying, “The Prime Minister has been clear that we will never accept a customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom. We are also committed to maintaining the integrity of our own internal market. That position will not change. The [European] Commission’s proposals did not achieve this, which is why we have put forward our own backstop solutions for customs…Michel Barnier has confirmed [on Friday] that discussions will now continue on our proposal.”

Elsewhere, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Friday that the UK’s time-limited “backstop” proposal was not acceptable, adding, “Just putting off a hard border for three years or four years or six years or 20 years isn’t enough – it has to be permanent.”

Source: Press Association European Commission Financial Times Michel Barnier Twitter

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Conservative backbenchers urge Tory MPs to support May in parliamentary votes

In an op-ed in the Sunday Telegraph, Conservative Party backbenchers Amber Rudd and Iain Duncan Smith call for other Tory MPs to support and “march in lockstep” with Prime Minister Theresa May ahead of the House of Commons votes on amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill this week. They write, “This week is about providing the legal certainty to deliver a smooth and orderly Brexit…So it behoves us all to demonstrate discipline and unity of purpose in support of the Prime Minister. We cannot allow ourselves to become divided and risk losing the precious chance to go on implementing policies that transform lives.”

This comes as  Prime Minister Theresa May will today address the 1922 Committee of backbench Conservative MPs saying, “The purpose of the EU Withdrawal Bill is simple – it is putting EU legislation into law to ensure a smooth and orderly transition as we leave. But the message we send to the country through our votes this week is important. We must be clear that we are united as a party in our determination to deliver on the decision made by the British people.”

Elsewhere, according to the Observer, rebel Tory MPs who want to keep the UK in the EU’s Customs Union and Single Market after Brexit are planning not to defeat the Prime Minister in this week’s votes, fearing a leadership crisis in the Conservative Party. A Conservative MP is quoted saying, “It is a political calculation. If we were to defeat her on that now, does that further weaken her and give the European Research Group [led by Jacob Rees-Mogg] more opportunities to stick their knife into her? That is not where we want to be.”

Separately, Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington today writes in The Daily Telegraph warning MPs that they “will have to decide whether to support the Government in restoring the Bill to its original purpose of delivering legal certainty, or whether to allow hostile amendments to frustrate those essential aims, restricting the Government’s ability to negotiate.” Lidington continues, “The Government has listened to those who have reasonable concerns about the Bill and have made sensible changes to build consensus,” adding, “The Bill respects the UK’s devolution settlements.”


Customs “backstop” arrangement could last until 2022, suggests David Lidington

Minister for the Cabinet Office David Lidington yesterday suggested that a customs “backstop” arrangement could still be in place in 2022, explaining that it was the Prime Minister’s “intention” to terminate the arrangement “by the next election [due in June 2022],” while adding, “Everybody is working towards getting this sorted as soon as we possibly can.” Meanwhile,

Elsewhere, Housing Minister Dominic Raab told the BBC’s Sunday Politics Show, “The backstop would end by December 2021. The key thing is, this is the worst case scenario. We are confident that… we will be in a better position well before then.”

Separately, Lidington also said he is expecting “the talks [between the UK and the EU] to move forward.” Meanwhile, writing in the Sunday Times, Brexit Secretary David Davis argued, “Amid the bluster and noise, the [UK-EU] negotiations are bearing fruit. With it, the basis for prosperity and security for decades to come is arriving into view.”  This comes as David Davis and Michel Barnier will today resume negotiations in Brussels.


G7 Summit ends without joint declaration after President Trump’s withdrawal

The Summit of the G7 which took place in La Malbaie (Québec, Canada), ended on Saturday without a unanimously agreed common declaration as US President Trump retracted his endorsement of the joint communique shortly after having left the Summit. The document agreed on the need “for free, fair and mutually beneficial trade,” and reached common positions on topics such as Russia’s behaviour, Iran’s nuclear programme, climate change and female education.

Responding to Trump’s announcement, France and Germany pledged to support the communique nonetheless, with French President Emmanuel Macron’s office saying in a statement, “We spent two days to obtain a text and commitments. We will stand by them and anyone who would depart from them, once their back was turned, shows their incoherence and inconsistency,” adding, “International cooperation cannot depend on fits of anger or little words.” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas commented, “In a matter of seconds, you can destroy trust with 280 Twitter characters,” adding, “Europe united is the answer to America First.”

Elsewhere, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that Europe “needs to be able to act on its own,” adding, “We need to have a loyalty towards ourselves in Europe. The first loyalty always goes to the own country. But the second loyalty – if we talk about foreign policy – should lie with the European Union.” On the US proposal to re-invite Russia into the G7, Merkel said, “I can see Russia joining again. But for this we first need progress with the implementation of the Minsk Agreement [on peace in the Ukraine].”


The Sunday Times: EU to demand post-Brexit freedom of movement

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will demand continued freedom of movement of people after Brexit if the UK wants frictionless trade in goods with the EU, the Sunday Times reports. This comes as Home Secretary Sajid Javid is expected to announce rules on settled status for EU migrants living in the UK on Wednesday. An official from the Department of Exiting the European Union is quoted saying that Javid is in favour of a “proper, universal [post-Brexit immigration] system,” where there is no “favoured status for EU nationals.” This position contrasts with the stance taken by his predecessor, Amber Rudd, who had been planning to develop a “labour mobility partnership” with the EU which would have favoured EU nationals over other migrants.

Separately, Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that “It is very likely that we are going to need an immigration policy that does allow people to cross borders across the UK, across the EU, to work.” The Shadow Transport Secretary, Andy McDonald, also hinted at a softening of Labour’s position on free movement, saying, “I think we’ve got to have an agreement with the European Union that gives us the ability to see people come into the country in sectors where we need them.”


Italian government not planning to leave the Euro, says Economy Minister

Italy’s Economy Minister Giovanni Tria yesterday said, “The position of the [Italian coalition] government is clear and unanimous. There is no discussion about leaving the euro. The government is determined to prevent any emergence of market conditions that would lead to leaving the euro.” In an interview with the newspaper Corriere della Sera, Tria explained that the government’s goal is to “lift growth and employment,” adding, “But we are not aiming to re-launch growth through deficit spending. We have a program focusing on structural reforms and we want it to also act on the supply side, creating more favourable conditions for investment and employment.” Tria also mentioned that the government plans to decrease public debt, adding, “Our focus on keeping the budget in order and reducing the debt is not there because Europe tells us, but because we need to preserve the trust in our financial stability. That trust is the premise of our strategy.”

Separately, a rescue vessel carrying 629 migrants is stranded in the Mediterranean after the Italian interior minister and leader of the right-wing League Party, Matteo Salvini, refused it permission to dock in Italy. Salvini demanded that Malta take in the migrants instead, saying “It is not possible for Malta to say ‘no’ to every request for help” and insisting that Italy was saying “no to human trafficking, no to the business of illegal immigration.”


German Finance Minister: Euro clearing should move to Frankfurt after Brexit

Germany Finance Minister Olaf Scholz has on Friday called for relocating London’s Euro clearing business to Frankfurt after Brexit. Speaking at a Goldman Sachs conference, Scholz said, “To minimise risk for financial stability, it is indispensable that [the central clearing of Euro-derivatives clearing] is subject to strong regulation and supervision in full conformity with EU standards,” adding that it must be possible “to require the re-location of entities and services into the EU, if other measures do not sufficiently address risks.”