14 May 2018

Theresa May asks to “trust her” on delivering Brexit

In an article for the Sunday Times, Prime Minister Theresa May writes, “You can trust me to deliver [Brexit]… I will ensure that we take back control of our borders…our money…[and] our laws.” May explains that a post-Brexit customs arrangement with the EU has to fulfill three tests: “protect our precious Union and also honour the agreements that were reached in the historic Northern Irish peace process… create as little friction as possible for trade to protect jobs… and must not constrain [the UK’s] ability to negotiate trade agreements with other countries around the world by being bound into a customs union.” The Prime Minister concludes, “Of course, the details are incredibly complex, and as in any negotiation, there will have to be compromises…I will need your help and support to get there. And in return, my pledge to you is simple: I will not let you down.”

Elsewhere, government sources told the Guardian that the customs arrangements divisions in the Brexit “war Cabinet” sub-committee could take another week or more to resolve. Meanwhile, speaking about the two working groups studying the two customs proposals, the Prime Minister’s spokesman said on Friday, “The groups reflect the issues that have been raised in relation to the two models. The groups are working through these issues of priority and need to come up with the right solution,” adding, “We are not setting any further deadlines for ourselves apart from October.” This comes as the Cabinet working groups will meet today to discuss the proposals.

Separately, Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer yesterday told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show, “We are in a farcical situation at the moment…the Cabinet is fighting over [the] two customs options neither of which frankly are workable, neither of which are acceptable to the EU,” adding, “We want a vote on a customs union with the EU. That is the only way to resolve this impasse.” Writing in the Sunday Times, Sir Keir warned, “This is a government in paralysis. We need a new approach and fast. First, the prime minister should abandon her two flawed customs options and accept that it is in our economic and national interest to be in a customs union with the EU… Next, the prime minister needs to give parliament the chance to vote on a substantive motion on a customs union,” adding, “Now is the time for the prime minister finally to face down the fantasy Brexiteers in her party and her cabinet.”

Source: The Sunday Times The Guardian BBC News The Sunday Times

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HMRC: “Customs partnership” option is unworkable

Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs (HMRC) believes that the government’s “customs partnership” option for a post-Brexit customs arrangement with the EU is “incredibly complicated” and “unviable,” the Daily Telegraph reported on Friday. Whitehall sources are quoted saying, “HMRC dislikes the Customs Partnership, they don’t think it’s a viable option…It’s incredibly complicated and would be very hard to track goods.”

Elsewhere, Environment Secretary Michael Gove yesterday said that there were “significant question marks” about whether the “customs partnership” model was deliverable, saying that the model requires the UK government to “act as the tax collector… for the European Union.” Gove added, “It is my view that the new customs partnership has flaws and that they need to be tested.” This comes as the Sunday Telegraph reports that at least twelve Cabinet ministers are against the government’s “customs partnership” model.

Speaking yesterday, former First Secretary of State, Damian Green, said, “I think the most likely end point will be what’s called ‘maximum facilitation’ — some variant of that,” adding, “I personally am not yet convinced that you could have that in place by the end of 2020, by the end of the implementation period. And therefore you might need to bolt on to that another period — a sort of transition period into that — so we know not only that it works, but that it works from Day 1.”

Separately, Conservative MP and Chairwoman of the Treasury select committee, Nicky Morgan, yesterday told ITV’s Peston on Sunday that both of the government’s customs proposals “obviously come with their own issues,” but warned that the “maximum facilitation” model “which seems to rely on technology not yet invented…would absolutely be a deal in name only, because it doesn’t talk about an enduring relationship with the EU…it causes enormous problems on the island of Ireland.”

Open Europe’s Henry Newman yesterday discussed the two post-Brexit customs arrangements models on the BBC Radio 4’s Westminster Hour programme.


Customs partnership model could be way forward for Brexit negotiations, says Irish Foreign Minister

Irish Foreign Affairs Minister Simon Coveney yesterday told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, “If we can have a shared customs territory through some kind of customs partnership…we think that can be the basis of a negotiation to find a way forward.” Coveney also said he does not believe technological solutions to the Irish border issue would work, warning, “I’m not flexible when it comes to border infrastructure.” He argued that the UK backtracking from its commitment to avoid physical infrastructure on the Irish border after Brexit would mean “a very difficult summer for these [Brexit] negotiations,” adding, “If we are expecting to get this [deal] concluded by the end of October, is it unreasonable for the Irish government to ask for significant progress on a hugely important issue by the end of June, when it is actually factored into the EU negotiating guidelines that there would be a reassessment by the end of June?”


Head of MI5 stresses the need to protect UK-EU intelligence sharing after Brexit

In a speech to European security chiefs in Germany today, the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, will urge leaders to protect the vital “shared strength” of UK and EU intelligence sharing after Brexit. He will say that “European intelligence cooperation today is simply unrecognisable to what it looked like five years ago,” adding that the European-wide Counter Terrorism Group is the “largest multinational counter-terrorism enterprise in the world,” allowing for “real-time intelligence sharing” with “thousands of exchanges on advanced networks every week.” Parker will also warn about the threats posed by Russia and Daech, but will say he is “confident about our ability to tackle these threats, because of the strength and resilience of our democratic systems, the resilience of our societies and the values we share with our European partners.” This comes as the EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier will deliver a speech on post-Brexit security policy later today.


The Independent: EU will seek to extend Brexit transition period

European Commission negotiators will try to push for an additional optional six-month extension of the transition period that is currently planned until December 2020, sources have told the Independent. An EU official is reported saying that additional time could be a precaution in order to face the uncertain position of the UK. The extension would be inserted into the Withdrawal Agreement later in the Brexit negotiations.

Elsewhere, Environment Secretary Michael Gove yesterday said that he would not support any extension of the UK staying in the EU customs union beyond the current transition period.


Norway open to UK joining EEA post-Brexit, says Norwegian Prime Minister

In an interview with the Financial Times, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg said that Norway would welcome the UK joining the European Economic Area (EEA) explaining, “I think we will cope very well if the Brits come in. It will give bargaining power on our side too. And it would ease Norway’s access to the UK.” Solberg also mentioned that there would be both “costs and benefits” to the UK’s EEA membership, adding, “Of course there are limits [to being in the EEA]. It shows that small countries like Norway are dependent on stable rules. But I won’t speak it up as a big problem.”

Elsewhere, Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry yesterday told the BBC Five Live’s Pienaar’s Politics that the European Economic Area (EEA) was not an appropriate option for the UK post-Brexit, as “We simply can’t cram our economy into the structure that is the EEA.” Thornberry also argued that the UK needs “to negotiate a customs union with the rest of Europe which will look fairly similar to the customs union that we’re in at the moment.”

Separately, Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told ITV’s Peston on Sunday, “We also want to see a new customs union arrangement develop that also gives [the UK] the ability to negotiate trade deals and have real legal teeth,” adding, “We need a better relationship with the EU than the Norway model.”


Reuters: Banks to call for special visa system for financial industry after Brexit

Global banks located in the UK call for a post-Brexit special working visa system to preserve the City of London’s position as a top global financial centre, Reuters reports. A draft report by TheCityUK recommends a new visa system which would allow international staff posted to the UK for less than six months to come freely without applying for a work visa, in order to attract global talent to the City of London. The report also calls for the UK government to set out a post-Brexit transition period immigration policy by spring 2019 in order for the industry to have the time to adjust.

Elsewhere, Politico reports that a government white paper setting out the rules of the UK’s post-Brexit immigration policy, especially the conditions for EU citizens coming to the UK after Brexit, could be published before the end of July. This comes after Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly intervened to speed up the process, as the policy was not due to be published until the fall.


Best Brexit deal “won’t matter” if Britain doesn’t create the domestic environment for business to grow, says BCC head

The director general of the British Chambers of Commerce (BCC), Adam Marshall, has criticised the government for failing to “get the basics rights” to create good environment for business investment, adding, “You could get the best Brexit deal in the world but it won’t matter if you don’t have the right fundamentals for businesses to grow at home.” He urged the government to offer businesses more clarity on training programmes and the future immigration system, and warned that the UK was “languishing in terms of digital connectivity.” He said, ““All of these things are in our control, and we must get clarity on them quickly.”


Brexit agreement with Scotland is still possible, says David Lidington

Speaking at a business event in Scotland on Friday, UK Cabinet Office Minister David Lidington said that it was not too late for Scottish Government to reach an agreement with Westminster over the devolution of powers after Brexit. Lidington said, “I say to the Scottish government: the door is still open. At a stroke, they [Scotland] can join the Welsh government – who have also put so much into getting us to this stage – and recommend to the parliament here in Holyrood that we should end any lingering question of legal uncertainty for businesses in all parts of the UK.”  Responding to the speech, Scottish Brexit Secretary Michael Russell said, “Just months before we leave the EU, there is still no clear plan for our future relationship with the EU… If David Lidington wants business and citizens across the UK to have clarity, his government could do so tomorrow by committing to remaining in the single market and the customs union – which is, after all, what the Scottish Parliament and the Scottish people voted for.”


Turkey seeks stronger cooperation with UK post-Brexit

Currently on a state visit to the UK, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan yesterday called for a stronger UK-Turkey strategic partnership post-Brexit, saying that it was a “necessity, rather than simple choice, for the interests of the two countries.” Erdoğan mentioned, “The cooperation we have with the UK is well beyond any mechanism that we established with other partners,” adding, “We are ready to cooperate more with the UK…post-Brexit in every field,” and, “We want to continue our economic relations as the governments of Turkey and the UK without interruptions after Brexit.”


European Commission President warns about “the return of populisms and nationalisms” in Europe

In a speech at a State of the Union conference in Florence on Friday, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker called for greater EU unity and solidarity, warning about  “the return of populisms and nationalisms” in Europe. Juncker argued that the world needed  “more Europe” and a “stronger Europe,” adding, “There are part time Europeans. At times they participate, at times they don’t. They talk a lot. I would like that all Europeans, all member states, were pro-Europeans in a full time way.”

Speaking at the same conference, European Central Bank (ECB) President Mario Draghi said that the Eurozone needs “an additional fiscal instrument to maintain convergence during large shocks, without having to over-burden monetary policy,” explaining, “Its aim would be to provide an extra layer of stabilisation, thereby reinforcing confidence in national policies.” Draghi added, “The people of Europe…expect the euro to deliver the stability and prosperity it promised…So our duty, as policymakers, is to return their trust and to address the areas of our union that we all know are incomplete.”


Italy moves closer to government agreement

The Five Star Movement and the League are getting closer to reaching a government deal in Italy after talks on a coalition agreement have progressed over the weekend. Following several meetings on Saturday and Sunday to discuss the details of the programme and the names of the ministers, Luigi Di Maio, the leader of the Five Star Movement, yesterday night said, “We are ready to present our proposal.” This afternoon the leaders of the two parties are expected to meet the Italian President of the Republic Sergio Mattarella, who will need to give his approval to the government deal. However, an agreement is reportedly yet to be found on the name of the future Prime Minister, while according to Italian daily La Repubblica, divergences remain also on key parts of the programme, including public infrastructures, security and immigration.


EU "determined to keep" Iran deal, says foreign policy chief

EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Federica Mogherini said on Friday that the Iran nuclear deal can survive despite the US withdrawal, adding that the EU is “determined to keep this deal in place.” This comes as Mogherini will tomorrow meet with the foreign affairs ministers of France, Germany and the UK to discuss the US decision to withdraw from the Iran nuclear deal.

Elsewhere, the Iranian government has given the EU an ultimatum of 60 days to ensure the continuation of the nuclear deal. Germany, France and the UK reportedly demand 90 days. German Economy Minister Peter Altmaier said, “During this time we will make use of all options to convince the US government to change its stance.”