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Speaking to the annual conference of the Confederation of British Industry (CBI), the UK Prime Minister, Theresa May said, “It will no longer be the case that EU nationals, regardless of the skills or experience they have to offer, can jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi. Instead of a system based on where a person is from, we will have one that is built around the talents and skills a person has to offer.” Asked about a possible extension to the transition period, May said, “From my point of view, I think it is important in delivering for the British people that we are out of the implementation period before the next general election [currently due in June 2022].” This comes as Environment Secretary Michael Gove said yesterday that May has his “full support” and is doing a “very good job.”
Meanwhile, the CBI’s Director-General, Carolyn Fairburn, urged MPs against “playing a high-stakes game of risk, where the outcome could be an accidental no-deal.”
Separately, Open Europe’s Henry Newman is quoted in German newspaper Bild on the possibility of a vote of no confidence in Theresa May as Conservative Party leader. Newman said, “Expectations have now been raised that the 48 letters needed to trigger a no-confidence vote will be reached… However, my judgement is that although there is little love for May’s agreement, the mood is largely that she shouldn’t be deposed now. I suspect she will win a confidence vote but will be wounded.” He added that the prospect of a second referendum is low, saying, “I don’t see how any Conservative Government would introduce the necessary legislation. And the Labour leadership remain opposed despite conflicting statements.”
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In his address to the Confederation of British Industry (CBI) yesterday, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “Labour will not countenance a No Deal Brexit…The threat simply isn’t realistic.” He also criticised the Prime Minister’s negotiated agreement with the EU as “a blindfold Brexit…A leap in the dark, an ill-defined deal with a never defined end date.” On Labour’s ambition for the future relationship, Corbyn said, “We want a new comprehensive and permanent customs union with a British say in future trade deals that would ensure no hard border in Northern Ireland and avoid the need for the government’s half-baked backstop deal.” He also said, “A sensible deal must guarantee a strong single market relationship,” arguing that a Canada-style Free Trade Agreement with the EU “would be a risk to our economy, jobs and investment in our schools, hospitals and vital public services.” Elsewhere, on the drivers of the Brexit vote, he said, “At the root of this was Britain’s profoundly unbalanced economy, chronic under-investment and failed economic policy. That needs to change,” adding, “The shape of our economy after Brexit will not only be determined by the text negotiated in Brussels. It will be driven by political decisions about the direction we wish to take as a country.”
The Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) abstained on a series of votes on the Finance Bill last night and voted in favour of one Labour amendment in order to send a “political message” to the Government over the Withdrawal Agreement. However, DUP sources said that the actions were not intended to signal the end of the confidence and supply agreement it has with the Government. The DUP’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, said that “The Government had broken one of the fundamental agreements they had with us” by agreeing to the backstop proposals, adding “we had to do something”. He also pointed out that “none of the [amendments] have financial consequences”.
Earlier, the leader of the DUP, Arlene Foster, said that the Withdrawal Agreement was based on a “false choice” between an internal UK border and a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic, adding that “this really bad deal would lock us into the EU with no way out.”
Spain has threatened to reject the Brexit withdrawal agreement over Gibraltar. Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister, said, “We want to make sure the interpretation of this text is clear and shows that what’s being negotiated between the EU and the UK does not apply to Gibraltar… The future negotiations over Gibraltar are separate. Until that’s clear in the exit text and the political declaration over the future relationship, we won’t be able to agree to it.” According to the Times, Spain wants a veto over whether later trade or security treaties after Brexit will apply to Gibraltar.
This came after a meeting of the EU General Affairs Council, at which other EU figures signalled their acceptance of the deal. EU Chief Brexit Negotiator Michel Barnier called the deal “fair and balanced,” stressing that “no one should lose sight of the progress that has been achieved in Brussels and London” despite the “long road ahead to complete negotiations.” Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for foreign affairs, said that “no deal better than the one on the table can be reached.” His Dutch counterpart, Stefan Blok, said, “the result of the negotiation is what’s of the utmost achievable kind.”
Elsewhere, The Times reports that France is pushing for the EU to release official statements firmly setting out its interpretation of commitments on regulatory alignment and fishing. Barnier is reportedly concerned that such a move would make it even harder for the UK to pass the agreement.
The Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said yesterday, “I think we now have an agreement between the UK and the EU. It’s very difficult once you’ve shaken hands on a deal to reopen it.” Hunt added that renegotiating the deal “is potentially very risky and could mean that if we want to change something, then the Europeans could say they want to change something,” possibly resulting in a “No Deal by accident.” “I think when parliament looks at the deal in its entirety and recognise that it is by no means perfect but it has the vast majority of things people voted for when they voted to leave the EU, they will see that this is the right deal to back,” he added.
Elsewhere, Business Secretary Greg Clark yesterday described extending the transition period as having “option value.” Clark told the BBC Today programme “It would be at our request and [until the end of 2020] would be [the] maximum period.”
Separately, former Brexit Secretary David Davis said yesterday, “If I was giving [the Prime Minister] advice, I’d say put this proposal to the House of Commons straight away,” and that the prospect of renegotiating the deal is “pretty small.” Davis added, “I think [the Prime Minister will] lose whenever she brings it – better to get that clarified and crystallise now before bringing it back to Europe.”
Cabinet ministers have begun preparations for a second vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement in the House of Commons in case MPs vote down the agreement during the first vote, according to The Times. The paper also reports that if the deal does not pass the first vote, the EU will make clear that alternatives such as a Canada-style free trade agreement would not be available. Both Conservative and Labour MPs would reportedly support the Government in a second vote due to the rising risk of a No Deal Brexit Scenario, with a Conservative MP quoted saying, “Thinking is already going on about what happens if they lose first time and many of my colleagues just need a way of elegantly retreating from a hardline position.”
Elsewhere, the Treasury has agreed to publish a paper on the economic costs of the current Brexit deal, comparing it to both a No Deal Brexit and to the status quo of EU membership. This came after pressure from pro-EU MPs to include a comparison to the status quo.
The Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, Karen Bradley, has urged business leaders in Northern Ireland to support the draft Withdrawal Agreement, saying that it upholds “in full our commitments to the people and businesses of Northern Ireland” while also “maintaining the constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom.” Bradley acknowledged “that difficult and sometimes uncomfortable decisions have had to be made” but added that the Agreement “does not open the door to divergence” between Northern Ireland and Great Britain and said that the extent of EU law that would apply would be “limited only to regulatory elements necessary to avoid a hard border”. Bradley said that undertakings on the citizens’ rights and the Single Electricity Market were agreed “as part of the withdrawal agreement” and were not necessarily guaranteed in a No Deal Brexit. She also said that the “WTO rules are clear” that a No Deal Brexit would lead to border checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic.
Elsewhere, the Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar told RTE that a hard border on the island of Ireland is not up for discussion, even if Parliament votes down the Withdrawal Agreement.
The Secretary of State for Scotland, David Mundell, said yesterday that a No Deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for Scotland, and “a fundamental threat to the continuation of the United Kingdom… I’m not prepared to countenance a No Deal outcome for Scotland.” On the draft Withdrawal Agreement, Mundell added, “It’s not a perfect deal… [But] it’s not as bad a deal as characterised… Going forward, it contains this hugely important prospect for Scottish businesses for being able to trade in the EU without tariffs, without quotas – that’s the number one thing that businesses have said that they want.”
EU diplomats have said that the UK’s plans to participate in the Permanent Structure Cooperation (PESCO) defence integration initiative post-Brexit have been undermined by political instability in London over the Withdrawal Agreement, Reuters reports. A European official is quoted as saying, “It’s too sensitive to talk about security now when everything is up in the air in London. The issue of Britain’s involvement post-Brexit was already divisive for some EU countries.” Another diplomat added that EU27 divisions over the UK’s participation would not “break the deal but it shows how tricky it all is. We’ll make sure the UK won’t get decision-making powers in our processes [post-Brexit].”
Elsewhere, Bloomberg reports that EU foreign affairs and defence ministers decided not to discuss new rules for third country participation in the EU’s defence initiatives until Brexit negotiations are over.
Separately, UK satellite company Surrey Satellite Technology (SSTL) has said it will have to relocate to the EU27 in order to continue work on a contract which involves handling sensitive information after Brexit, as the UK will no longer have access to the secure parts of the EU’s Galileo satellite navigation system.
Bloomberg Brussels Edition
French and German finance ministers Bruno Le Maire and Olaf Scholz yesterday presented their proposal for a Eurozone budget, saying “We want to enter [the budget] into force by 2021,” adding that it would help “promote greater convergence” and “have a stabilisation function” for the Euro area.
EU finance ministers reacted positively to the proposal. President of the Eurogroup, Mario Centeno, called the plan a “breakthrough,” while adding, “Further work will certainly be needed on the design of possible instruments for competitiveness, convergence and stabilisation.”
Meanwhile, Dutch Finance Minister Wopke Hoekstra said of the proposal, “Many questions remain…The need for such a budget is less than convincing,” adding, “It is unclear how this will help and why this would be in the interest of Dutch citizens.”
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