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In a video released on Sunday, Prime Minister Theresa May said that the Government and the Labour Party both agreed on “ending free movement, ensuring we leave with a good deal, protecting jobs, protecting security,” while adding that finding a deal that will have the support of Parliament “will mean compromise on both sides,” and, “I believe that delivering Brexit is the most important thing for us.” The talks between the Government and Labour party are due to continue this week as they seek to find a compromise on a Brexit deal. Culture Secretary Jeremy Wright told the BBC this morning, “As I understand it there will be conversations that continue today and we need those conversations to proceed and I hope (they) reach a sensible conclusion.”
Labour party leader Jeremy Corbyn commented saying that his party was “engaging in good faith to find an alternative Brexit plan that can bring people together and get us through this crisis,” adding, “A sensible Brexit compromise that works for the whole country is still possible. But if Theresa May and her Government are genuinely prepared to work together for the public good, they need to show us they are prepared to make the real changes to their deal that her statement on Tuesday promised.” Corbyn will today meet with Sinn Fein’s leaders in London.
Elsewhere, Shadow Attorney General Shami Chakrabarti told Sky News, “So far our impression is that Mrs May has not moved an inch on her red lines. That is worrying to me because the clock is running down.” Shadow Business Secretary Rebecca Long-Bailey told BBC’s Andrew Marr Show yesterday that talks have been “positive and hopeful,” adding, “But we are currently waiting for the government to come back to us now to state whether they are prepared to move on any of their red lines.” Long-Bailey also said that voting to revoke Article 50 is something that the Labour Party “considers very, very strongly,” adding that “[Labour] keeps all options in play to keep no deal off the table.”
Meanwhile, House of Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom said about May’s stance on joining a customs union with the EU, “There are various different types of arrangement and those discussions are still ongoing…My expectation – and I’m not party to the discussions – is that the prime minister will only seek to agree those things that still constitute Brexit.” She also commented on a potential No Deal scenario saying, “The civil service has done an amazing job of ensuring that we minimise the problems. I’m not an advocate for No Deal, but it would not be nearly as bad as many like to think it would be.” Leadsom said the UK holding European elections was “utterly unacceptable,” while Chief Secretary to the Treasury, Liz Truss, said a longer Brexit extension would be purgatory, adding, “I think the British public are going to be pretty horrified if we go into more limbo than we’ve already had.”
Chancellor of the Exchequer Philip Hammond said on Saturday, “We should be open to listen to suggestions that others have made, and some in the Labour party have suggested others. We have to be prepared to discuss,” adding, “Our approach to these discussions is that we have no red lines, we go in to these talks with an open mind and discuss everything with them in a constructive fashion.”
Elsewhere, the Times reports that May intends to offer Corbyn a Brexit deal with a customs union arranged enshrined in law. The arrangement would ensure that any future Prime Minister would have to overturn primary legislation with majority support from MPs in order to exit the customs union and seek a harder Brexit.
The Bill tabled by Yvette Cooper will have its committee, report stage and third reading in the House of Lords today, after having been passed in the House of Commons last week. If it becomes law, May will be required to table a motion pledging to request an Article 50 extension. However, May has already requested an extension until 30 June in a letter to European Council President Donald Tusk on Friday.
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Commenting on Prime Minister Theresa May’s request to further extend Article 50, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said it was “extremely unlikely” for any EU27 to veto the request, as “they wouldn’t be forgiven for it and they would know they might find themselves on the other end of that veto power in the future.” Varadkar also said, “None of us want a No Deal next week, [we] certainly don’t want it in Ireland, I know the UK doesn’t want it and Europe doesn’t want it either,” adding, “But we also want to avoid rolling extensions where there is an extension every couple of weeks, or every couple of months, because that just adds to the uncertainty for citizens, for businesses and for farmers. So perhaps a longer extension might make more sense.” Varadkar will today meet with EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that at an EU27 ambassadors meeting last week the French ambassador said, “We really feel we should stick to the decision of the [European] council on 21 March…If the request was to come for a long extension, provided that there is a case for it, it must be precisely formulated conditions by which we agree to extend to 1 July.” French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said,”We can’t live in a perpetual Brexit process. The British government and the British parliament have to realise that the EU cannot forever waste its time in dealing with the vagaries of the UK’s domestic politics.”
Meanwhile, Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte said, “The plan was that the British would explain what they wanted from the EU. A letter was sent today which, as far as I am concerned, doesn’t answer this request.” French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said, “If we are not able to understand the reason why the UK is asking for an extension, we cannot give a positive answer.” Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz commented on Friday, “We, as the European Union, have set very clear deadlines and there is no reason to further extend those deadlines. Unless the facts in Britain change. But we have not yet reached this point.”
Separately, Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster commented on May’s request for an extension in a statement, “The United Kingdom fighting European elections almost three years after a clear majority voted to leave the EU sums up the disorganised and slapdash approach taken to negotiations by the Prime Minister.”
The Chair of the European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic Conservative MPs, Jacob Rees-Mogg, reacted saying, “If a long extension leaves us stuck in the EU we should be as difficult as possible. We could veto any increase in the budget, obstruct the putative EU army and block Mr [French President Emmanuel] Macron’s integrationist schemes.” A spokesperson for the European Commission responded to Rees-Mogg’s comment, “This gentleman is not our interlocutor and the principle of sincere cooperation does apply as the Prime Minister made clear herself in her letter.”
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Italian Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the anti-immigration Lega Party, Matteo Salvini, will today launch his European Parliament election campaign at a rally in Milan, along with leaders of other populist parties from Germany, Finland and Denmark. Salvini’s spokesman said, “The leaders are considering a common manifesto to close the electoral campaign and announce the start of a new Europe.”
This comes as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán officially launched his Fidesz Party’s European election campaign on Friday, saying, “After the elections, we will see where the European People’s Party [EPP] will turn. Now it looks like it turns leftward, toward a liberal direction, liberal empire-building and Europe of migrants. If it turns that way, you can be sure we won’t follow it.”
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In a letter to Prime Minister Theresa May, 100 Conservative councillors warned that they have been struggling to find enough volunteers for local elections next month. They said, “We are short of party members to come out and canvass because the belief in the party they joined is gone. Many of us have knocked on the door of paid-up party members only to hear that they will no longer support Conservatives because they feel betrayed over Brexit. Donations have dried up,” adding, “We are extremely concerned that the Government’s breach of faith with the electorate on Brexit will result in long-serving Conservative councillors losing office through no fault of their own. Democracy only works if you make manifesto promises you will intend to keep … Frankly, we have not witnessed anger and incomprehension like this.”
Elsewhere, 80 Labour MPs, including shadow ministers, signed a letter sent to Jeremy Corbyn on Saturday calling for a second referendum as the “bottom line” in negotiations with Theresa May. The letter warned that any concessions secured in the cross-party talks cannot be guaranteed.
Portsmouth International Port director Mike Sellers warns that the port has only received 10% of the money it needs to handle a potential No Deal Brexit. Seller said, “There has been a lot of work in the port industry to prepare for the worst case. I am confident we will be Brexit ready whatever the outcome may be, even a No Deal. The issue at the moment is around the funding not the preparation.”
According to new data from the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the labour costs in the UK rose at its fastest rate for five years in 2018. The data showed that wages grew faster than labour productivity last year, which has resulted in an increase in unit labour costs of 3.1%. ONS deputy chief economist Richard Heys said that the results are a consequence of “a continuation of a decade of weak growth,” adding, “It has taken the UK a decade to deliver 2 per cent growth, which historically was achieved in a single year.”
Meanwhile, business confidence has dropped to its lowest since 2012 in the UK, according to the BDO optimism index. The BDO said, “In absolute terms, sentiment is now weaker than its previous low point after the UK’s vote to leave the EU in 2016,” adding, “The services sector, which comprises around 80% of UK GDP, drove the overall decline in confidence with the sector index falling by a dramatic 4.15 points to 95.13 in March.”
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The European Commission has sent out statements of objections to carmakers BMW, Daimler and Volkswagen, charging them with colluding to block the rollout of clean emissions technology. They could now face fines up to 10 percent of a company’s global turnover. European Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said, “Daimler, VW and BMW may have broken EU competition rules. As a result, European consumers may have been denied the opportunity to buy cars with the best available technology,”
Meanwhile, Jaguar Land Rover shuts down its production in the UK for one week due to Brexit uncertainties. Unite’s convenor at Solihull Mick Graham said, “We had to make some plans to protect the business as best we could, and we started talking about this in January. We knew we had to take reactive action to mitigate the potential effect of a bad Brexit or No Deal Brexit.” adding, “Suppliers need notice to get their parts across to us… It was a prudent thing to do.”
In a new blog, Open Europe’s Zoe Alipranti provides an overview of the Spanish political landscape ahead of the Spanish national elections on 28 April. She argues, “The last two elections transformed the Spanish political landscape into a multi-polar one; the two establishment centre-right and centre-left parties now struggle to reach a combined 50% of the vote”, adding that the 2019 national election is set to further strengthen the trend of fragmentation. She states, “Both the centre right and centre left will struggle to garner an absolute majority needed to form a coalition, making the role of regional parties such as Catalan nationalist Republican Left of Catalonia (ERC) and the Basque Nationalist Party (PNV) pivotal in the formation of the next Spanish government.” Alipranti also says that ultraconservative party Vox that is poised to enter national parliament for the first time is “committed to the unity of the Spanish state and it has pledged to make separatist parties illegal and suspend Catalan autonomy. Vox is therefore just as concerned with Spanish sovereignty being threatened from within, as by the EU.” She concludes,“With both the centre-left and centre-right bloc forecasted to fall short of a majority, the balance of power in the next Spanish government will likely be held by the separatist parties. This is likely to perpetuate instability in Spanish politics and lead to further polarisation between parties.”
Elsewhere, Open Europe’s Pieter Cleppe was quoted in the Daily Express discussing how a No Deal Brexit would affect EU members with close ties to the UK. Cleppe said, “The UK’s neighbouring countries haven’t hired the sufficient number of customs staff or veterinary inspectors needed in case of a no deal.” He added, “the EU budget will feel the strain in case the UK leaves without a deal.”