21 May 2018

The Sunday Times: Tory MPs are preparing for autumn elections

According to The Sunday Times, Tory MPs would be preparing for the possibility of a snap election to be held as early as this autumn, due to the Brexit deadlock on the UK’s future customs relationship with the EU. An unnamed Tory Brexiteer is quoted saying, “It’s becoming clear there’s no compromise that will keep remainers such as Nicky Morgan, Anna Soubry and Dominic Grieve happy as well as the likes of myself and Jacob Rees-Mogg.” The Brexiteer adds, “The numbers are against us and if we face repeated defeats when the [EU] Withdrawal Bill returns to the Commons, the only alternative will be to kick over the table and trigger a vote of no confidence in the Prime Minister, which will likely lead to another general election.” This comes after Prime Minister Theresa May last week revealed plans for an alternative backstop option for the Irish border, which would see the whole of the UK, as opposed to Northern Ireland only, remain in a customs union with EU until an alternative solution is found, which could be well after the end of the transition period.

Elsewhere, a group of Conservative MPs bringing together remainers and moderate leavers, led by former cabinet ministers Justine Greening, Amber Rudd and Damian Green, is reportedly taking steps to show the Prime Minister that she has the numbers to push for a “sensible” Brexit. One senior figure in the new group told BBC Newsnight, “The prime minister is going to have to make a decision. If she comes down on the side of the ERG to keep 60 of them happy that will be unacceptable to us and our numbers are larger. In the coming weeks we will be showing what the mainstream is thinking – Leavers and Remainers. This is about identifying a locus, where the mainstream lies to allow the prime minister to land this in the right place.”

Meanwhile, former Tory minister Nick Boles on Saturday told the Observer, “I am encouraged by reports that the PM is exploring an extension to the UK’s participation in a customs union after the end of the transition in December 2020… I hope this will become the government’s preferred policy,” adding, “If it does not, I am ready to lay amendments to the [EU] Withdrawal Bill and am confident of securing significant support from pragmatic colleagues who, like me, want to see a Brexit that works.”

Elsewhere, pushed on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show about Labour’s divisions on Brexit policy and whether he stood by earlier remarks made in private that people are playing up the Irish border question for political reasons, shadow international trade secretary Barry Gardiner  said, “If all you ever do is stick by the given line, you’d never actually advance it because you’d never discuss anything with people – that’s the reason for holding things in private.” He added, “The important thing is that we in the Labour party have come forward with the proposal – the Conservatives have not – which actually meets the problems of solving the Irish border and that is a new customs union which would minimise disruption on the border.”

Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar appeared on the Daily Politics last week discussing the government’s proposal to remain in a customs union as a backstop solution to the Irish border.

Source: The Sunday Times BBC The Observer BBC Andrew Marr Show

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New survey: 61% of Northern Ireland voters support UK staying in EU single market and customs union

A new survey published by academics at Queen’s University Belfast has found “substantial and intense opposition” in Northern Ireland towards border checks between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland, or between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. 61% of poll respondents supported the UK as a whole remaining in the EU single market and customs union. 55% of Catholics would find customs checks on the Irish border “almost impossible to accept”, with 20% saying the same of cameras at the border. The survey also found that Northern Ireland would vote more strongly to remain if there was another referendum, with 69% saying they would vote to stay in the EU, compared to 56% in 2016.

Elsewhere, a separate ICM poll for Policy Exchange found that a majority (59%) of Northern Ireland support the Union its current form. However, 60% of respondents also believe that Brexit makes the break-up of the United Kingdom more likely.


Sturgeon: Scotland will consider another vote on independence after Brexit clarity

Speaking on ITV ’s Peston on Sunday, Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said, “Once we get some clarity, which hopefully we will in autumn of this year, about the Brexit outcome and the future relationship between the UK and the EU, then I will consider again the question of the timing of an independence referendum.” Sturgeon added that the Scottish National Party would not block a popular vote on the final Brexit deal but warned that the outcome could be different in different parts of the country.

Elsewhere, speaking at the Welsh Conservative conference, Prime Minister Theresa May stressed that Sturgeon is the “only First Minister in the UK” to oppose the Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill. May linked this opposition to the fact that Sturgeon is also “the only First Minister who wants to break up the United Kingdom,” adding, “If you believe in the integrity, the value and the future of our United Kingdom, you support the sensible measures in the Withdrawal Bill. And if you don’t – you won’t.”

Meanwhile, in an op-ed for the Financial Times, the leader of the Scottish Conservatives Ruth Davidson wrote, “Contrary to popular belief, Brexit has not eroded support for the UK despite a majority of Scots voting for Remain. If anything it has reminded folks that constitutional change brings insecurity and uncertainty.” Davidson however also urged the Government “to spread the benefits of the union fairly and equally around the nation [after Brexit ],” adding, “The UK is still too London-centric.”


Boris Johnson: We must give the Prime Minister “time and space to negotiate”

On a five-day trip to Latin America, the Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, said, “Brexiters fearing betrayal over the customs backstop must understand that the PM has been very clear that it is not an outcome we desire; we want a deal with the EU and she will deliver it,” adding, “We must now give the prime minister time and space to negotiate this Brexit vision.”

During his visit to Latin America, Johnson will visit Peru, Argentina and Chile to strengthen links between these countries and the UK. Speaking ahead of the visit, Johnson said, “Latin America is a vibrant and dynamic part of the world that works closely with the UK on a number of issues including trade, security, science, infrastructure and education,” adding, “I am looking forward to strengthening the UK’s relationship with countries in the region.”  Only 1% of imports to the region currently come from the UK and the Government is working to highlight the post-Brexit trading potential for British companies in Latin America.


Financial Times: Japan will extend terms of its trade agreement with the EU to the UK during transition

Japan has signalled its intention to apply to the UK the terms of its recently agreed trade deal with the EU until the end of the transition period, the Financial Times reports. After the end of the transition period, Japan and the UK will need to agree the terms of a new trade deal, with the Japanese government who would reportedly be pushing to be granted a visa quotas exemption in any future trade deal. A Japanese official involved in preparations said, “The UK’s position is that it wants a copy and paste [of the Japan-EU deal], but that is not where we are. We want something better,” adding, “There is a feeling within the ministries that although the [Japan-EU] Economic Partnership Agreement as a whole is good, there are areas where Japan could have done much better in its negotiations, and these will probably be areas where we press harder with the UK.”


Financial Times: First tenders for the UK's own satellite navigation system could be launched this year

The UK is seeking to launch the first tenders for its own satellite navigation system by the end of this year if it is excluded from accessing parts of the EU Galileo satellite programme after Brexit, the Financial Times reports. The UK Space Agency said, “The [UK] government has been clear there is mutual benefit to our full participation in Galileo but it is right to develop options for a national alternative to ensure our security needs are met in the future.” The Ministry of Defence is due to announce today its plans for a specialist space unit controlled by the Royal Air Force and is considering collaborating with partners from the “Five Eyes” intelligence alliance: Australia, New Zealand, the US and Canada. Whitehall sources are reported saying that Australia would be particularly interested in a UK satellite navigation project.


Business lobby groups call for immigration rules reforms after Brexit

In a new report, business lobby groups The City UK and EEF have called for the UK government to reform post-Brexit immigration rules, warning that industries in the UK could face a “recruitment crunch” after Brexit as skilled workers will be deterred from applying to work in the UK by the new immigration system.  The report also suggests introducing a visa waiver to allow “qualifying international staff” to work in the UK for up to six months. Chief Executive of The City UK Miles Celic said, “The UK’s ability to draw global talent has long been a competitive advantage. Losing this could undermine Britain’s position as the world’s leading financial centre.” EEF Director of Skills and Policy Tim Thomas said, “Skills shortages are endemic in manufacturing and engineering and companies are increasingly concerned about their ability to access the skills they need post-Brexit.”


UN’s environment program executive director urges the UK to deliver on “green Brexit” pledge

Erik Solheim, the executive director of the UN’s environment program, has said that after Brexit it will be “incredibly important that the UK keeps the environmental standards it has had under the European Union.” Speaking to The Observer, Solheim stressed that there was a “strong commitment” from the British government that “any change would be to better standards,” adding, “That is the stated position from the government and it is a very good one. Any dilution and the UK reputation would be damaged. People in government need to make sure that does not happen.” The intervention comes after the revealed Government’s proposal for a new post-Brexit environment watchdog has been dismissed by some green campaigners as “toothless.” Solheim also stressed the importance of continued UK-EU cooperation on green issues after the UK leaves the bloc, saying, “The UK has historically had a global perspective as a result of its colonial heritage. The global perspective is stronger in London and Paris than any other capital. So it is very important that the UK continues to be engaged.”


EU could compensate companies affected by US Iran sanctions, says French Economy Minister

French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire yesterday suggested that the EU could compensate companies hit by US sanctions on Iran, saying that reinforcing existing EU regulations “will allow us to take charge of possible sanctions’ prices paid by companies and that could be paid by the European Union.” This comes as Iran’s Foreign Minister Javad Zarif protested with EU Energy Commissioner Miguel Arias Cañete over the weekend that “With the withdrawal of America, (Iran’s) public expectations from the European Union have increased in order to maintain the deal’s gains, and in the current context, the European political support for the accord is not sufficient.” Similar remarks were echoed by the head of Iran’s Atomic Energy Organization Ali Akbar Salehi.


US and China reach agreement to avoid trade war

Following negotiations between the two countries in Washington, China has agreed to reduce its trade surplus with the US by buying more American goods. In a joint statement, the two countries announced, “Both sides agreed on meaningful increases in United States agriculture and energy exports,” adding, “The delegations also discussed expanding trade in manufactured goods and services. There was consensus on the need to create favourable conditions to increase trade in these areas.” The Chinese vice-premier Liu He commented, “The two sides reached a consensus, will not fight a trade war and will stop increasing tariffs on each other.”

Elsewhere, European Trade Commissioner, Cecilia Malmstrom, told Der Spiegel on Friday that the EU “won’t allow ourselves to be blackmailed and we don’t negotiate when someone puts a gun to our heads. I have made this very clear to my American counterparts over and over again. Only when it is certain that the U.S. will not impose punitive tariffs on steel and aluminium from the EU will we be prepared to discuss those issues that are important to President Trump.” Asked about the potential scope of any EU-US agreement on trade, Malmstrom said, “there will be no TTIP light, it would be a minor agreement focused on tariffs and public procurement. In parallel, we are also ready to discuss how to reinforce our cooperation in the energy field, for example, and how to improve the functioning of the WTO.”


Italy’s would-be coalition partners say they reached agreement on name of future Italian PM

The Five Star Movement and the League have reportedly reached a compromise on the name of the future Italian Prime Minister who should lead their would-be coalition government. While the name is yet to be announced, Italian dailies suggest that it should be that of Private Law professor Giuseppe Conte. The leaders of the two parties are expected to see the President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella today to receive his approval.

Open Europe’s Enea Desideri was on BBC and Aljazeera over the weekend commenting on what implications a government propped up by the Five Star Movement and the League could have on Italy and on the rest of Europe.