25 July 2018

Theresa May to “lead negotiations with the EU,” with Brexit Secretary “deputising”

In a written statement yesterday, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that she “will lead the negotiations with the European Union” with Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab “deputising” for her. She explained that the Cabinet Office Europe Unit, led by the Prime Minister Europe adviser Oliver Robbins, will have “overall responsibility for the preparation and conduct of the negotiations.” The statement noted that the Department for Exiting the EU will “continue to lead on all of the Government’s preparations for Brexit,” including domestic preparations for all eventualities and all relevant legislation.

Separately, the Department for Exiting the EU yesterday published its White Paper on the Withdrawal Agreement and Implementation Bill, which would give legal effect to the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated with the EU. In a statement to the House of Commons, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab said its publication “sends a clear signal to the European Union that the United Kingdom is a reliable, dependable negotiating partner, delivering on the commitments it has made across the negotiation table.” He also repeated his intention to ensure the payment of the financial settlement is conditional on agreeing the future deal, saying, “There must be a firm commitment in the withdrawal agreement requiring the framework for the future relationship to be translated into legal text as soon as possible. It is one part of the whole deal we are doing with our EU partners. And of course if one party fails to honour its side of that overall bargain, there will be consequences for the deal as a whole – and that includes the financial settlement.” Asked what would happen to the rights of EU citizens living in the UK in the event of no deal, Raab said there would be “no wholesale removal of rights.” He added, “There’ll be separate legislative provision made in the normal way through the Home Office, but we will move quickly to secure the position of those EU nationals.”

Elsewhere, Dominic Raab will resume negotiations with the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier this Thursday. Topics discussed will include the future relationship, the Irish backstop and other remaining issues relevant to the Withdrawal Agreement.

Meanwhile, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said in an interview, “In order for the departure to be carried out in as orderly a way as possible, the British government will need to move. On the one hand on the issue of the border between Northern Ireland and EU member the Irish Republic and secondly on the undivided internal market, where Britain cannot cherry-pick. But we won’t let ourselves be put under pressure. We won’t enter any deals that would be to the detriment of Europe.”

Source: Press Association The Times BBC News RTÉ

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Representatives of UK services sectors express disappointment in White Paper proposal for UK-EU services trade

The policy chair of the City of London Corporation, Catherine McGuiness, told the House of Commons Brexit Select Committee yesterday that the City was disappointed that the government’s White Paper abandoned plans for post-Brexit mutual recognition of financial services. She said, “We had expected continued support for mutual recognition,” and added that proposals for ‘enhanced equivalence’ would be “an uphill task to persuade the EU27.” The director general of the Association of British Insurers, Huw Evans, also said, “You are asking the EU to partner with you in a way to make equivalence work in future. Equivalence… is something the EU considers proprietary. It’s quite a big psychological ask.” The executive director of Commercial Broadcasters Association, Adam Mins, said, “The White Paper for us was a backward step.” The head of Brexit policy at TechUK, Giles Derrington, said the technology sector would prefer the same terms of access as currently envisaged for UK-EU goods trade, noting that it was unclear what benefits there would be to diverging from EU data rules.

Elsewhere, on the possibility of financial services jobs moving out of the City of London post-Brexit, Catherine McGuinness said, “We are not expecting a big Brexodus in the first instance. But depending on how things pan out … in the longer term, we may see many more go.”

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The Daily Telegraph: UK and EU considering a two-part Irish backstop

The Daily Telegraph reports that UK and EU negotiators are considering a new, two-part proposal for the Irish backstop. Under this plan, the UK would agree to a Northern Ireland-specific backstop within the Withdrawal Agreement, and the EU would commit to introducing a “parallel” backstop for the rest of the UK as soon as the transition period begins in April next year. One EU source referred to the new option as a “conjoined twin” solution, which would keep the whole UK in the same customs arrangement as a backstop, but by separate legal routes. The EU has argued that it is unable to agree a UK-wide backstop within the Withdrawal Agreement, as Article 50 cannot legally be used to determine the future UK-EU trading relationship. The UK government has argued that it cannot accept the creation of a customs border between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.

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UK and EU need to drop some of their ‘red lines’ to strike post-Brexit security deal, committee report says

In a report published yesterday, the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee voiced concerns over both the EU’s and the UK’s positions in negotiations on a future post-Brexit internal security partnership, stating that both parties “need to drop some of their rigid red lines in order to ensure that crucial policing and security information is shared” after Brexit. The committee report also says, “Based on the current state of the negotiations, we reiterate our recommendation that the UK Government and the EU must remain open to extending the transition period for security arrangements beyond the proposed end-date of December 2020” and recommends “to put workable contingency plans in place for a ‘no deal’ scenario.” The chair of the committee, Yvette Cooper, explained, “The EU is being far too rigid about preventing the UK participating in important criminal databases, and the UK government is being far too rigid about the role of the European Court of Justice… Both sides are putting political red lines ahead of public safety and national security.” Cooper also said, “To have no deal on security cooperation would be unthinkable. It would stop the police sharing crucial information on dangerous international criminals, stop border officials getting urgent information on criminals trying to enter the country, undermine investigations into trafficking, terrorism, organised crime and slavery, jeopardise trials and justice for victims, and let criminals go free.”

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Chancellor: UK government will guarantee EU funding to UK organisations in the event of a no deal Brexit

Chancellor Philip Hammond yesterday announced that “even in the event of a no-deal, our businesses, universities and local authorities can be confident that they will continue to receive the funding they successfully bid for from any EU programme.” This would cover EU programmes such as Horizon 2020, and EU structural and investment funds to the UK until the end of this EU budget period in 2020. The government hopes this guarantee will give UK organisations the confidence to continue bidding for EU funding.

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NHS to prepare for no-deal Brexit scenario by stockpiling supplies, says Health Secretary

Health Secretary Matt Hancock yesterday told the Commons Health Select Committee that the UK Government was working “to ensure that the health sector and the industry are prepared and that people’s health will be safeguarded in the event of a no-deal Brexit,” adding, “This includes the chain of medical supplies, vaccines, medical devices, clinical consumables, blood products.” Hancock explained, “I have asked the department to work up options for stockpiling by industry. We are working with industry for the potential need for stockpiling in the event of a no-deal Brexit.”

Elsewhere, Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab told the Brexit Select Committee that in case of a no-deal Brexit, there is little risk of disruption of food supplies coming into the UK, adding, “We will look at this issue in the round and make sure that there’s adequate food supplies.”

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Spain presses for bilateral solution on Gibraltar’s post-Brexit status

Spain has voiced concerns over the lack of progress in discussions about the status of Gibraltar during the Brexit transition period and after it ends, the Guardian reports. A senior EU diplomat is quoted explaining that at last Friday’s meeting between the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier and EU27 European affairs ministers, the Spanish representative “said the talks with the UK were not going anywhere, there was a lack of engagement and they emphasised that the pressure should be maintained on the British government to talk productively with them.” A Spanish diplomat told the Guardian, “We believe it’s fundamental that both delegations – British and Spanish – redouble their efforts to find a solution. It would be dangerous to underestimate the need for a deal. We have to avoid a cliff edge and so we need to show that we can reach a deal,” and warned, “A deal is still possible but we’re worried about the delay.”

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Sky News: Businesses prepare plans to address fears of lorry queues at UK-EU border

According to Sky News, members of the Joint Customs Consultative Committee (JCCC), an HMRC-sponsored forum for businesses to exchange views on customs procedures, have been discussing a new framework for customs regulations in order to plan for potential lorry queues at the UK-EU border, particularly at ports such as Dover. The plan discussed at the JCCC, part of the contingency plans in case of a no deal Brexit scenario, would involve building “additional inland locations on a fast-track basis, even as a temporary measure.” It proposes for vehicles to be checked at an “approved location” in the EU, go through the border without verifications, but then go to “an approved inland location” in the UK to be checked again.

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European Commission: Juncker’s meeting with Trump is an “occasion to de-dramatise” trade tensions

Ahead of European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s meeting with US President Donald Trump today, the Commission’s spokesman yesterday said that the visit “is an occasion to de-dramatise any potential tensions around trade and engage in an open and constructive dialogue,” adding however, “There are no offers [on tariffs]… it’s an opportunity to talk.” In preparation for the meeting, which is expected to address tariffs on steel and aluminium the US imposed on the EU last month and potential US tariffs on EU cars, Juncker yesterday spoke with German Chancellor Angela Merkel, French President Emmanuel Macron, Austrian Chancellor Sebastian Kurz and Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte.

Trump commented on the meeting, “The European Union is coming to Washington tomorrow to negotiate a deal on Trade. I have an idea for them. Both the US and the EU drop all Tariffs, Barriers and Subsidies! That would finally be called Free Market and Fair Trade! Hope they do it, we are ready — but they won’t!”

Separately, German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas yesterday said, “It is good that Jean-Claude Juncker will be in Washington tomorrow to talk and to seek a solution but we are not heading to negotiations with a pistol at our chest. I don’t think threats bring us closer to a solution,” adding, “We in Europe must stick together…I hope that we succeed in resolving this via consensus but we will not be threatened and climb down so easily.”

Meanwhile, European Commissioner for Agriculture Phil Hogan yesterday said that the EU must respond to the US by “bullying them back,” adding, “If the European Union, with its 500 million people stand together … we will ultimately show President Trump the error of his ways.” Hogan made the case for a “firm and consistent line” to “put this man back in his place…because otherwise, he will continue.”

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EU pledges financial support for ‘controlled centres’ to process asylum requests

The European Commission yesterday presented a proposal on migration in which it pledged “full financial support to volunteering Member States to cover infrastructure and operational costs” of ‘controlled centres’ which would process asylum requests of migrants disembarked in the EU. The EU would also offer “financial support to Member States accepting transfers of those disembarked” in the amount of €6,000 per person taken in. In the document, the Commission also promises “financial and operational support for disembarkation and post-disembarkation activities [outside the EU] as well as for border management with equipment, training and other forms of support.”

EU Commissioner for Migration Dimitris Avramopoulos said, “Now more than ever we need common, European solutions on migration. We are ready to support Member States and third countries in better cooperating on disembarkation of those rescued at sea. But for this to work immediately on the ground, we need to be united – not just now, but also in the long run. We need to work towards sustainable solutions.”

Elsewhere, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini commented, “If they want to give money to someone else let them do so, Italy doesn’t need charity,” adding, “We want to stop the inflows in order to clear the backlog of hundreds of thousands of people. We are not asking for money but for dignity and we are recovering it with our own hands.”

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Henry Newman: If we can’t find a way through on the Irish backstop, there is a high risk of ‘no deal’

In a piece for ConservativeHome, Open Europe’s Henry Newman argues, “The Irish backstop is the main stumbling block to reaching agreement on our departure from the EU, which is otherwise 80 per cent secured. Once the withdrawal agreement is locked down, the transition will be unlocked, and the UK can head for the exit door in an orderly fashion.” He notes, “The EU argues that the backstop must apply only to Northern Ireland. It has strongly rejected the possibility of applying the backstop to the whole of the UK, saying that this would pre-determine the future relations between the UK and EU. Yet the UK has made it clear that it will not accept a customs border in the Irish Sea, and has rejected the idea of a distinct regulatory regime for Northern Ireland, separate from Great Britain. There are no easy answers.” He concludes, “The reality is that if we can’t find a way through on the backstop, then there’s a huge risk of a ‘no deal’ Brexit, which would be damaging to the UK and also extremely damaging to Ireland and to bilateral relations. Although there have been conflicting statements about this over recent days, it’s likely that the EU would then insist on a customs border being erected between Ireland and the UK. Both sides want to avoid this, and so they need to find a path through.”