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Speaking at the European Council informal summit about the Future in Europe in Sibiu, Romania, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the meeting is “an opportunity for us to consider the sustainable future relationship between the UK and the EU.” He said, “We, the UK and the EU, face shared challenges, with shared values, but post Brexit will do so from a different starting point in which the UK is not part of the EU, but it remains a part of Europe,” adding, “Sibiu reinforces our shared analysis of the global challenges ahead. And I look forward to working with you as the UK continues to be an active partner in meeting those challenges head on.”
Also speaking in Sibiu, French President Emmanuel Macron called for the EU to focus more on climate, security and growth once the European Parliament elections have concluded at the end of May. Macron said, “In 15 days, some 400 million Europeans will choose between a project…to build Europe further or a project to destroy, deconstruct Europe and return to nationalism,” adding, “We need to move faster now and with more determination on European renaissance. Climate, protection of borders and a model of growth, a social model…is what I really want for the coming years.”
This comes as the EU27 leaders issued a common Sibiu Declaration, listing 10 commitments for the EU’s future agenda. They stated, “The Union of today is stronger than that of yesterday and we want to continue to build its strength for tomorrow. This is our commitment for the future generations. This is the spirit of Sibiu and of a new Union at 27 ready to embrace its future as one.” European Council President Donald Tusk also called for a special summit on 28 May for EU leaders to “start the process to nominate the next leaders of the EU institutions.” He said the process “should be swift, effective and in accordance with our Treaties,” adding, “If consensus proves difficult, I will not shy away from putting these decisions to a vote in June.”
Meanwhile, both Macron and Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel criticised the so-called ‘Spitzenkandidat’ method for selecting the next European Commission President yesterday. Macron said he did not “feel bound at all by the principle of the Spitzenkandidat,” while Bettel said voters in Luxembourg “have no clue who’s the Spitzenkandidat.” Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras also criticised the European People’s Party candidate for President, Manfred Weber, saying that the Commission needs a President who supports “solidarity, democracy, and social cohesion… This president is not Weber.”
Elsewhere, the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, and deputy leader, Nigel Dodds, held a “private political meeting” with Prime Minister Theresa May at Chequers yesterday. Dodds said they had a “useful discussion,” adding, “We want the Stormont Assembly restored immediately and the result of the EU referendum delivered in a way which strengthens the union.”
Separately, the leader of the House of Commons, Andrea Leadsom, announced yesterday that Parliament’s Whitsun recess will go ahead at the end of this month. The House will rise on 23 May, the day of the European elections, and return on 4 June.
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A new ComRes poll for the European parliament elections suggests the Labour Party will finish in first place with 27% of the vote, just ahead of the Brexit Party on 26%. The Conservatives are on 14%, the Liberal Democrats 11%, Change UK on 8% and the Greens on 6%. The poll used multilevel regression and post-stratification (MRP).
Elsewhere, an Opinium poll commissioned by the anti-Brexit People’s Vote campaign found that 74% of voters do not think a customs union deal between the Conservatives and Labour would “honour the result of the last referendum.” 27% say it would make them less likely to vote Labour, while 12% said more likely; 30% said it would make them less likely to vote Conservative, and 12% said more likely. The survey also asked participants their voting intention for the European elections; unlike the ComRes poll, it put the Brexit Party in the lead on 26%, with Labour second on 23%.
Speaking yesterday at the launch of his party’s European election campaign, the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “Over 17 million people voted to leave the European Union. As democratic socialists, we cannot ignore that. We voted to trigger Article 50 in 2017 and promised to respect the referendum in our general election manifesto… Labour will never be the party of the 52 per cent or of the 48 per cent.” Commenting on his party’s talks with the government, he said, “There’s been no big offer and the red lines are still in place,” adding, “we can never accept the government’s bad deal or a disastrous No Deal. So if we can’t get a sensible deal along the lines of our alternative plan or a general election, Labour backs the option of a public vote.” Corbyn also criticised Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party, saying, “The Brexit party is in fact the No Deal party. And for millions, No Deal would mean no jobs… Only Labour can see off the Farage snake oil in this election.”
Elsewhere, the Scottish National Party (SNP) launched its European elections campaign yesterday. Party leader and Scottish first minister Nicola Sturgeon said, “This is by far the most important European election in Scotland’s history. At stake in this election is not just which parties and which candidates will be elected to the European parliament. At stake also is whether Scotland can remain inside the European Union at all,” adding, “Scotland does not want Brexit.”
Separately, the Liberal Democrat leader Vince Cable yesterday said his party were “the best organised” of the pro-Remain parties in the European elections. Cable said he regretted the fact that his party was not fighting a “common campaign” with new party Change UK.
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The Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, has said that a Conservative leadership contest should be done “as quickly as possible” once the Withdrawal Agreement has been passed. In an interview with the Evening Standard, Hammond stressed the need to avoid a lengthy contest because “this isn’t just about the leader of the party, it’s about the Prime Minister.” Hammond also said that Prime Minister Theresa May would be “as good as her word” in starting the leadership process as soon as the deal was passed, and added that Brexiteers seeking a new party leader should “Vote for the deal and it’s done and we can move on.” The Chancellor said he would favour a candidate taking a “pragmatic view” on Brexit and someone “who can articulate the opportunities available to the UK.”
Meanwhile, on the question of a second Brexit referendum, Hammond said, “We know people have changed their minds in both directions,” adding, “The issue is less about the mandate than the need to find a way out of the impasse.”
Separately, the Daily Telegraph reports that Theresa May is considering different methods of holding indicative votes on different Brexit outcomes in case cross-party talks with the Labour Party fail. One way would be to force Parliament to choose a Brexit outcome by ranking different options in order of preference. Another reported method is a knockout system, with least popular options eliminated after each voting round.
The EU’s High Representative for Foreign Affairs Federica Mogherini and the foreign ministers of the UK, France, and Germany, yesterday issued a joint statement, expressing their commitment to “the preservation and full implementation” of the Iran nuclear deal. The statement read, “We reject any ultimatums and we will assess Iran’s compliance on the basis of Iran’s performance regarding its nuclear-related commitments,” adding, “We are determined to continue pursuing efforts to enable the continuation of legitimate trade with Iran.” This came after Iranian President Hassan Rouhani said the deal’s signatories should ease their restrictions on Iran’s oil sector within 60 days.
Elsewhere, EU leaders yesterday expressed concern over Turkey’s drilling activities in the Exclusive Economic Zone of Cyprus. European Council President Donald Tusk said, “The European Union stands united behind the Republic of Cyprus and expects Turkey to respect sovereign rights of the EU member states. The European Council will continue to follow these developments closely.”