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In a speech to the Conservative Party Conference in Birmingham yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May said, “No-one wants a good [Brexit] deal more than me. But that has never meant getting a deal at any cost. Britain isn’t afraid to leave with no deal if we have to.” She added, “Leaving without a deal… would be a bad outcome for the UK and the EU. It would be tough at first, but the resilience and ingenuity of the British people would see us through.” May continued, “Some people ask me to rule out no deal. But if I did that I would weaken our negotiating position and have to agree to whatever the EU offers…Let us send a clear message from this hall today: we will never accept either of those choices [the Canada or Norway-style arrangements offed by the EU]. We will not betray the result of the referendum. And we will never break up our country.” May also pledged to end austerity measures and increase financial support for public services “when we have secured a good Brexit deal for Britain.”
This comes as Bloomberg reports that Government officials are planning to fast-track May’s Brexit deal through Parliament within two weeks of an agreement with Brussels. Bloomberg notes that this strategy is likely to be controversial as it would reduce the ability of Conservative rebels to block a deal.
Separately, a special Brexit meeting of the EU27 has been planned for the evening of October 17, ahead of the European Council Summit on October 18.
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Irish officials are backing Theresa May’s emerging plan for a backstop comprising an all-UK customs union with the EU, the Financial Times reports. The UK government is working on a proposal for the whole UK to participate in a temporary customs union with the EU in the event that no other solution is found to the Irish border question, while accepting the EU’s demands that Northern Ireland alone remain aligned to the single market for some regulations. Officials in Dublin have told the Financial Times that they could back May’s proposal. “It looks like it would resolve that issue [of the border],” said a senior Irish official involved in Brexit talks. “Whether Europe accept it or not is another conversation.”
This comes as the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, holds meetings today in Brussels with the President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, and the chair of the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group, Guy Verhofstadt. Varadkar said, “I look forward to these meetings in Brussels, which will give me the opportunity to discuss the status of the Brexit negotiations ahead of the European Council meeting in two weeks’ time. The immediate focus of the Irish Government is on the pressing need for agreement on a Withdrawal Agreement, with an operational and legally-binding backstop.”
Separately, the Sun reports that EU officials are increasingly optimistic of achieving a major breakthrough on the Irish backstop in the next two weeks. One EU diplomat told the Sun, “I’m more optimistic than I have been for months that a deal is possible.” This comes ahead of an expected intensification of the negotiations, ahead of the EU summit in October. One Cabinet minister told the Sun, “We need some very fancy footwork to get the Withdrawal Agreement wrapped up by the October council. But deadlines always concentrate minds. The PM will be hitting the phone hard and we think it’s just about doable.”
The leader of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), Arlene Foster, has reaffirmed her opposition to a border in the Irish Sea, telling BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that her party’s “red line is blood red.” Foster, however, said she had confidence in the Prime Minister and that “she understands where we are at in all of this and therefore I need to give her that space to share that information with me.” Sinn Fein’s leader in Northern Ireland, Michelle O’Neill, said that Foster’s comments were “absolutely bizarre in the context of the serious consequences which there are in regard to Brexit.”
Meanwhile, O’Neill will join the leaders of three other Northern Ireland parties – the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP), the Alliance Party and the Green Party – in a meeting with chief negotiator Michel Barnier on Friday. Writing in the Irish News, O’Neill said that the meeting will ‘be a clear demonstration that the DUP do not speak for the majority [in Northern Ireland] on the issue of Brexit.’ Foster will have a separate meeting with Barnier next week.
Separately, the DUP Leader in Westminster Nigel Dodds said last night on ITV’s Peston show, “A catastrophic deal for us would be a border down the Irish Sea, which over a period of time could lead to a continuing divergence between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.” “No deal, to coin a phrase, is better than a bad deal,” Dodds added.
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The Guardian reports that figures released by the European Court of Auditors reveal the EU’s spending promises and pension costs increased by tens of billions of euros last year, which could mean an increase for the Brexit financial settlement, currently estimated at £39 billion. The EU auditor described member states’ annual budget fees as “movable,” as they are linked to changing commitments. A UK Treasury spokesperson commented, “These accounts are based on historical information, and do not determine the size of any financial settlement. We will honour commitments made while being part of the EU, and we have negotiated a settlement that is fair to UK taxpayers…The UK cannot be made to pay for additional spending beyond what it has signed up to as a member.”
The Scottish First Minister and leader of the Scottish National Party (SNP), Nicola Sturgeon, said that she would hold off calling for a second Scottish referendum on independence until “there is greater clarity about the terms of Brexit”. Speaking at the 50th anniversary of the Europa Institute at Edinburgh University, Sturgeon added that she would “wait until we are at this [clearer] phase of the negotiations before effectively sharing my view on… the question of an independence referendum… I previously thought that would be October. It is now looking like that is more likely to be November, perhaps with a vote in the House of Commons in December.” Sturgeon also stressed that her administration would continue to argue that the UK should remain in the Single Market and Customs Union.
In a statement to the Guardian, Japanese car manufacturer Nissan said that “Frictionless trade has enabled the growth that has seen our Sunderland plant become the biggest factory in the history of the UK car industry, exporting more than half of its production to the EU.” Lamenting the lack of clarity of Brexit Nissan added, “a sudden change from those rules to the rules of the World Trading Organization [a hard Brexit] will have serious implications for British industry, we urge UK and EU negotiators to work collaboratively towards an orderly balanced Brexit that will continue to encourage mutually beneficial trade.”
French Foreign Affairs Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Minister of European Affairs, Nathalie Loiseau, yesterday presented a bill to the Council of Ministers authorising the government to adopt by decree emergency legislative measures to handle a ‘no deal’ Brexit scenario. The measures will include areas that may require legislative or regulatory provisions and will be coordinated with other EU states.
Elsewhere, Loiseau yesterday said that UK citizens living in France will get reciprocal rights to French citizens living in the UK after Brexit, adding, “We want to reach the best situation possible with a view to – and that is quite normal – working in a spirit of parallelism and reciprocity between the status we’ll give UK residents in France and the status given to EU citizens in the UK.”
Separately, the Times reports that Prime Minister Theresa May warned the Cabinet French President Emmanuel Macron believes the UK’s withdrawal from the EU can be stopped through a second referendum.
The Federation of Master Builders (FMB), a trade body for small and medium-sized construction firms, has warned that disruption to trade in goods in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit “could mean a lot of projects are delayed or halted because we haven’t got the materials coming in.” Around 12% of construction materials used by British builders are imported from the EU. Brian Berry, the head of the FMB, also warned that if the status of EU nationals in the UK is uncertain, “we’re going to have a serious problem in delivering the infrastructure projects and housing targets that the Government has set out.” Around 8% of construction workers in the UK are EU nationals, rising to over 25% in London.
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The US medical research company Recardio has suspended all trials in the UK, citing “uncertainty due to EU withdrawal” and “unresolved” questions about future medical regulations after Brexit. In an email to the Golden Jubilee National Hospital near Glasgow, seen by the BBC, Recardio said that the British trials were being put on hold because of “completely unresolved issues” over whether the European Medicines Agency (EMA) would accept British drugs and data after Brexit. A spokesman for the Golden Jubilee Research Institute added, however, that the suspension “may change when the regulatory situation has clarity.” A spokesman for the UK government’s Department of Health and Social Care said, “We are confident of reaching a deal with the EU that benefits patients and continues to deliver the best possible environment in which to support clinical trials. We want to ensure that patients in the UK and across the EU are still able to access the most innovative and effective medicines.”
The civil service will expand its graduate recruitment in order to aid the implementation of Brexit, according to The Times 100 Top Graduate Employers. The fast stream, the civil service’s graduate scheme, aims to recruit a record 1,500 trainee officials this year, up from 960 in 2015.
The European Parliament yesterday voted to reduce CO2 emissions for new cars and vans by 40% through to 2030 with further negotiations to take place between the European Parliament, Commission and Council on the legislation. The Commission has proposed that the target should instead be 30%. EU member state environmental ministers will discuss the issue on Tuesday.
Italy’s economy minister Giovanni Tria yesterday said that his country would reduce its budget deficit from 2020 onwards, claiming, “The deficit will increase compared with the previous forecast in 2019, but then there will be a gradual reduction in the following years.” This comes as the Italian government last week declared it would run a budget deficit of 2.4 percent of GDP for the next three years, a move that had been strongly criticised by EU policy makers for breaching the bloc’s spending rules.
Morocco’s foreign minister Nasser Bourita yesterday rejected EU plans to build refugee reception centres in the country, saying, “Morocco is generally opposed to all kinds of centres. This is part of our migration policy and a position of national sovereign position.” He added that any financial transfers would not change their position. Bourita further accused the EU of exaggerating the scope of the issue due to political reasons. He said, “Migration encompasses three percent of the global population, of which 80 percent are legal. So we are talking about only 20 percent of these three percent.”
Ahead of the upcoming EU Council Summit, Open Europe is hosting a panel debate in Brussels to explore what the future trade relationship between the UK and the EU could look like.
Topics to be discussed include:
The event will take place on Thursday, October 11 at 3:00 PM (CET) at Open Europe’s Brussels Office. Tickets are available on Eventbrite.