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The Brexit Secretary, Dominic Raab, suggested in a letter to the Commons Brexit Select Committee yesterday that he expects a Brexit deal to be finalised by 21 November, but has since affirmed that there is “no set date for negotiations to conclude.” Raab said that “a great deal of progress” has been made over the past few weeks, including on the Irish border issue. However, the EU’s current position remains that a potential deal would be finalised at the European Council summit in December.
Elsewhere, a note from yesterday’s private meeting of EU diplomats, seen by BuzzFeed, mentions that a compromise offer on the EU side has been made which the UK must now consider. A response is anticipated early next week. The offer reportedly includes a customs union for the UK, covering quota-free trade, duties and a common external tariff, and still requires a Northern Ireland-specific backstop.
Meanwhile, Portuguese Foreign Minister Augusto Santos Silva said yesterday that Barnier should not wait for a “perfect agreement”, adding that “No agreement is the worst option — any agreement is better than that.” Additionally, several EU27 diplomats have told the Telegraph that it is now time for Brussels to be pragmatic and strike a deal.
Separately, The Irish Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, has said it may be “possible to get a deal in November,” but suggested that the negotiating teams would need to be given a signal “next week” in order to put in place the machinery for a Summit on 20 or 21 November. He added that agreement still had to be reached on the Irish backstop as “committed to last December and last March.” Speaking in Paris yesterday, Coveney revealed that he had held “very frank and long discussions” with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab on Tuesday evening. Meanwhile, RTE reports that “Ireland believes support from France on [the] backstop is solid.”
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The Government can legally ignore any non-statutory vote by MPs for an alternative Brexit plan, according to the most senior official of the House of Commons. Sir David Natzler, the clerk of the House Commons, told the Commons Exiting the EU Committee that no such vote would be binding on the Government, unless they were amendments to existing legislation. Natzler said, “The House may come out in favour of, I don’t know, of Canada plus plus, or Norway minus… Does the government then have to go and renegotiate? No. It then tries to get its principal motion through, with whatever it is proposing to the House.” He added, however, that such majority votes, particularly for a second referendum, would still have “considerable political force.”
Separately, the Shadow Chancellor John McDonnell said yesterday that the Labour Party could back a Brexit deal if it “protects jobs and the economy,” though he added that he thought such a deal was unlikely. McDonnell said, “We’ve got to secure a deal, based on membership of the customs union and a close and collaborative relationship with the single market. I think there’s a deal to be had, and that the Europeans will offer a deal that will be acceptable to us on that basis.”
Meanwhile, Chairman of the Commons Brexit committee Hilary Benn yesterday said that MPs should be able to vote on a range of options on the terms of the UK’s withdrawal from the EU, adding, “A meaningful vote is one in which the range of views that there clearly are in the House of Commons are able to be debated and voted upon before the government’s motion is then voted upon, either amended or unamended. I think saying to the House of Commons there’s only two choices: you can vote for our withdrawal agreement or we are leaving with no deal, is not a meaningful vote.”
Elsewhere, writing in The National, Scottish National Party (SNP) MP Pete Wishart pushes back against SNP leader Nicola Sturgeon’s statement that SNP MPs could back a second referendum. He writes, “By enthusiastically buying into this confirmatory vote for an EU referendum, we weaken our hand in resisting Unionist calls for a second vote on a successful indyref.” He adds, “To throw our weight behind their People’s Vote without any guarantees or recognition of our national position is like throwing the dice on someone else’s roulette wheel.” An SNP spokesperson said, “We have made it clear that we would push strongly for any second EU referendum to have safeguards to ensure Scotland’s voice is protected in the event of Scotland voting Remain again while the UK as a whole voted to Leave.”
In a clarification issued last night, the Home Office told the EU citizens’ rights pressure group The3Million, “EU citizens will continue to be able to evidence their right to work by showing a passport or national identity card. Employers will not be expected to differentiate between resident EU citizens and those arriving after exit.” This comes after immigration minister Caroline Nokes’ comments before the Commons Home Affairs Committee on Tuesday, where she announced that UK employers would need to distinguish between EU citizens who had arrived before Brexit day, and those who had arrived after. Nokes had said, “If somebody hasn’t been here prior to the end of March next year, employers will have to make sure they go through adequately rigorous checks to evidence somebody’s right to work.”
Meanwhile, Home Secretary Sajid Javid told ITV last night that there will be a “sensible transition period” for EU citizens in a No Deal Brexit. “We’ve just got to be practical,” Javid said. “If there was a No Deal, we won’t be able to immediately distinguish between those Europeans that were already here before March 29 and those who came after— and therefore as a result I wouldn’t expect employers to do anything different than they do today.”
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According to the Guardian, EU27 diplomats have agreed to hold a series of planning seminars for a No Deal Brexit in November, amid lack of progress in Brexit negotiations. These seminars will covers areas such as citizens’ rights, aviation, ground transport, customs, border controls and financial services.
Prime Minister Theresa May has agreed a deal on financial services as part of negotiations on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, The Times reports. Financial services companies will be given continued access to EU markets after Brexit, provided that both the UK and EU maintain equivalence in financial regulation. The Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said that the news was a sign that “The end [of Brexit negotiations] is firmly in sight.”
Elsewhere, London-based bank Barclays has applied to the UK high court requesting an order allowing it to transfer its European Economic Area (EEA) business, reportedly valued at €250 billion, to Ireland as part of its Brexit preparations.
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Chair of the Office for Budget Responsibility (OBR) Robert Chote told the House of Commons Treasury select committee yesterday that a Brexit deal was “unlikely” to hugely improve UK public finances. He said that if the UK and the EU agree on a deal, “We could be in a world where that removal of the immediate concern about something very nasty could release some pent-up investment that people have been hanging back on and you could have a result in terms of asset and equity prices rising.” But he added, “It’s not clear to me that that plausibly delivers you a huge fiscal upside. Stronger business investment doesn’t help the public finances in the near term. Because of capital allowances, it actually weakens them. But you get stronger growth in the long term.”
Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt yesterday announced that some future senior UK diplomatic roles would be opened up those outside the civil service, saying, “The strength of our network is its professionalism… But we must never close our eyes to the approaches and skills of other industries.” He explained, “There may be one or two posts where someone who is perhaps chief executive of a FTSE company, who has got strong links with another country, could do a brilliant job representing the UK, building up our trade with another country. We want the Foreign Office to be open to that kind of talent.” Hunt also announced that the diplomatic corps would be expanded by 1,000 personnel, a third of which will be posts overseas.
Meanwhile, the FDA union, which represents civil servants and public service professionals, criticised Hunt’s announcement, saying, “The role of a diplomat in representing the UK’s interests abroad is much broader than simply trade… That expertise already includes international trade. To solely focus on this area risks undermining the UK’s interests and influence given the complexities of international relations.”
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has told the House of Commons that the Government is “actively considering” whether an independent mediator could play a “constructive” role in talks to restore power-sharing in Northern Ireland. Bradley also confirmed she will hold talks with the Northern Ireland parties in Belfast today, before attending a meeting of the British-Irish Intergovernmental Conference in Dublin on Friday.
Meanwhile, Parliament has approved legislation which seeks to clarify the rules under which officials in Belfast can make decisions in the absence of Departmental Ministers, and which also extends the period before the Secretary of State is obliged to call new elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly. The Bill is expected to receive Royal Assent today.
Commenting on the Austrian Government’s decision not to sign the UN Global Compact for migration, the European Commission yesterday said, “We regret the decision that the Austrian government has taken. We continue to believe that migration is a global challenge.” The treaty has been supported by most UN members, but with notable exceptions such as the US and Hungary.
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In a new blog, Open Europe’s Dominic Walsh assesses how the outcome of Brexit might affect this week’s Budget, as well as the consequences of the Budget for domestic politics. Walsh notes that the Chancellor made little mention of Brexit in his speech to the Commons on Monday, but adds, “However, the Budget was predicated on an exit deal which has not yet been reached, and the uncertain outcome of Brexit therefore raises questions about the Government’s future spending plans.” Assessing the Chancellor’s expectation of a “double deal dividend” for the UK’s finances if a Withdrawal Agreement is reached, Walsh argues, “[this] remark was more about politics than economics… It could be interpreted as a veiled threat to Conservative MPs considering voting down the Withdrawal Agreement, by implying that doing so would jeopardise the extra public spending many of them have lobbied for.” He concludes, however, that “the Budget’s impact on the Brexit negotiations at EU level will be negligible; it may have been predicated on a deal with the EU, but does little to make that aspiration a reality.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze looks at the reaction to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s recent announcement that she would not be seeking another term as her party’s and Germany’s leader. Meanwhile, Open Europe’s Head in Brussels, Pieter Cleppe, takes a look at Merkel’s track record in an article for CapX.