4 December 2017

Theresa May to meet European Commission President today for crucial Brexit talks

Prime Minister Theresa May will meet European Commission President Jean-Claude Junker today to present the UK’s offer on the withdrawal phase of negotiations. The EU has reportedly set today as the “absolute deadline” to secure an agreement that opens the way to “sufficient progress” at the EU27 leaders’ summit on 14-15 December. The Times reports a senior EU official saying the UK and EU are “85-90 per cent” of the way to securing an agreement for negotiations move on to trade and transition talks. A UK government spokesperson has said, “With plenty of discussions still to go, Monday will be an important staging post on the road to the crucial December council.”

Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that discussions between the UK and Irish governments this weekend has failed to produce a breakthrough on the issue of the Irish border. One Irish official told the Guardian that “there is still a way to go…The Irish government remains hopeful – but at this stage it is very difficult to make a prediction.”

Meanwhile, writing on the Sunday Times, Simon Coveney, Ireland’s Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, warned, “To return to a hard border now risks jeopardising all that has been achieved. This is why we have been asking for more assurance now, in phase one of the EU-UK talks, on how that can be avoided.” Coveney said that “Whatever method is deployed to achieve the outcome we all desire and before sufficient progress is deemed to have been achieved, the 27 EU members require a firm and credible assurance that there will not be a hard border on the island of Ireland”, adding “Once we move on to talk about the future relationship, hopefully early in the new year, Ireland will be at the forefront of promoting the closest possible UK-EU trading relationship, one which sustains the €65bn in business that we do across the Irish Sea each year. But first we must safeguard the peace process, protect the gains of the Good Friday agreement and ensure that our land border remains open and invisible.” Speaking on RTÉ’s Morning Ireland today, Coveney warned that discussions on the Irish border issue are in a “sensitive place right now”. He added that though progress had been made “we are not quite yet where we need to be”.

On Friday, European Council President Donald Tusk confirmed the EU’s support for the Irish position on the border question. Tusk said, “Let me say very clearly: if the UK offer is unacceptable for Ireland, it will also be unacceptable for the EU. I realise that for some British politicians this may be hard to understand.”

Source: The Times The Guardian Press Association The Sunday Times The Guardian The Guardian

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Eurosceptic Conservatives outline Brexit red lines ahead of May-Juncker meeting

In a letter coordinated by the group Leave Means Leave, more than 30 former cabinet ministers, business leaders and economists asked Theresa May “not to make any further financial commitment” unless the EU accepts seven “red lines.” These include the right for the UK to “negotiate, sign and implement trade deals across the globe from 30th March 2019”, as well as an end to “any jurisdiction” of the ECJ, freedom of movement and an exemption for the UK from new EU regulations during any implementation period, which should in any case not exceed two years. The letter concludes, “If the EU refuses to agree to these terms by the end of the December council, the UK — having exhausted every avenue — should suspend its participation in the negotiations and inform the EU that, unless they are prepared to talk to us seriously about a future free trade arrangement, we will revert to World Trade Organisation terms from March 30, 2019.”

This comes as newspapers report that a compromise on the issue of citizens’ rights might be possible on the basis of the UK accepting an arrangement where British judges could refer cases to the ECJ for a “binding interpretation.” Commenting on the speculations at the ITV’s Peston on Sunday, the Health Secretary, Jeremy Hunt said, “The Supreme Court will decide what the law of the country is in this country as voted on by Parliament, that is the big thing that Theresa May has achieved…European law will not hold sway over British law.” He also warned Tory rebels that “The choice we face now is not between this Brexit and that Brexit, if we don’t back Theresa May we will have no Brexit and she is doing an unbelievably challenging job amazingly well.”

Elsewhere, a poll published by the Mail on Sunday suggests that 50 percent of people would support a second referendum on the terms of the Brexit deal, with 34 percent opposing it. It is the first time a major polls registers backing for a second referendum.

Source: Leave Means Leave The Sunday Telegraph The Sunday Times The Telegraph The Mail on Sunday Reuters

UK and Scottish governments discuss amendments to the EU (Withdrawal) Bill

With the EU (Withdrawal) Bill entering day 4 of parliamentary debate, the Telegraph reports that the Government would be preparing to amend clause 11 of the Bill, dealing with devolved powers, in order to avoid a revolt by the Scottish Conservative MPs and the Scottish National Party. A UK Government spokesperson said, “Ministers and officials have met with the Scottish Government to discuss their proposed amendments. The Scottish Government agree that we will need common frameworks in some areas”, adding, “”It is the Government’s expectation that leaving the EU will result in a significant increase in the decision-making power of each devolved administration.”

Separately, Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, urged Theresa May “to come away from the EU summit with a clear agreement to move into trade talks and a clear statement that transition will mean remaining in the single market and the customs union.”

Source: The Telegraph The Guardian

Tony Blair seeks to reverse Brexit

In an interview with the BBC Radio 4’s The World This Weekend, former Prime Minister Tony Blair has said he is trying to reverse Brexit adding, “It’s reversible. It’s not done until it’s done.” He argued, “My belief is that, in the end, when the country sees the choice of this new relationship, it will realise that it’s either going to be something that does profound damage to the country, or alternatively, having left the European Union, left the single market, we will try and by some means recreate the benefit of that in some new relationship, in which case I think many people will think, ‘What’s the point?’”

Source: The Daily Telegraph

Government warned of need to speed up work to replicate EU FTAs with third countries

Trade groups and leading analysts have asked the Government to step up its efforts to replicate EU trade agreements to ensure disruption is avoided after Brexit. A senior Brexit co-ordinator from one institution is quoted in the Telegraph saying, “There is a lot of work of to do, and we are getting worried that deals are slipping between the cracks in Whitehall, particularly of less high-profile countries.” Agreements said to be overlooked included those with South Africa, Turkey, Chile, Mexico and Algeria. Anastassia Beliakova, head of trade policy at the British Chambers of Commerce, said, “We have known for some time that it is not a case of simply copy and pasting the EU’s trade agreements, many of which have important preferential arrangements for UK trade… It is critical that British exporters do not lose market access benefits as the UK Government seeks to roll over existing FTAs.”

Source: The Telegraph

UK banks warn Brussels that new rules on foreign capital could have “severe” consequences

In a letter to EU officials overseeing the consultation on so-called intermediate parent undertakings, large UK, Japanese and Swiss banks have warned Brussels that plans to require lenders to inject additional capital and liquidity in the EU might lead them to pull out their European businesses. The letter reads, “We believe there is a risk that severe direct and indirect negative consequences might ensue,” warning, “If the EU businesses of third country groups suffer increased costs entailed by the IPU requirement, such groups may well decide to exit such businesses, reducing choice for EU consumers of financial services and reducing competition.”

Source: Financial Times

Financial Times: US-based fund to invest $1bn in UK biotech

The Financial Times reports that a US-based fund is ready to invest $1bn to create a large biotech company in the UK. The investment comes as part of a sector deal, which is expected to demonstrate the government’s vision and to guarantee the UK remains an attractive destination for pharmaceutical companies after Brexit. In a recent interview with the Financial Times, John Bell, Regius professor of medicine at the University of Oxford and one of the minds behind the government’s strategy, said the sector was “embedded in the innovation system that exists in the universities, academic hospitals as well as a lot of small and large companies around the UK. That’s what generates inward investment in that space and I think we will, with or without Brexit, see more of that.” The pharmaceutical company GSK was also reported ready to invest tens of millions in early stage life science research. The sector deal is expected to be unveiled this week.

This comes as the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry (ABPI) warned that a hard Brexit would bring “significant disruption to the supply chain for medicines.”

Source: Financial Times The Telegraph

British universities’ share of Horizon 2020 funding drops

Government figures on British universities’ participation in projects financed by the EU Horizon 2020 fund saw a “downward trend across several key indicators over the past 18 months.” UK participation in H2020-funded projects accounted for 12 percent of the total projects between February to September this year, down from 15 percent the year before. Its share of total funding was instead 13 percent, a 3 points drop compared to the same period in 2016. Researches focusing on “societal challenges” were particularly affected by the negative trend. Alistair Jarvis, chief executive of Universities UK, warned this “highlights the urgent need for clarity on the UK’s participation in Horizon 2020 beyond Brexit and, while the UK is still a member of the EU, the need to communicate that the UK’s universities and researchers are still eligible to participate and apply for funding through EU research and innovation programmes.” Commenting on the figures, a spokesperson for the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy said, “The UK remains one of the strongest participants in Horizon 2020. The European commission has made it clear that proposals from, or including, UK applicants must be treated in the same way while the UK is a member of the EU, and we encourage UK researchers, scientists and businesses to continue applying for funding.”

Source: The Guardian

Eurozone Finance Ministers to choose new Eurogroup chair

Eurozone finance ministers will today choose the new president of the Eurogroup. Portugal’s Mario Centeno, a minister in Portugal’s left-wing coalition, is the current favourite. He reportedly has the backing of Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Greece.

The other candidates include Luxembourg’s Pierre Gramegna, Slovakia’s Peter Kazimir and Latvia’s Dana Reizniece-Ozola. The European Parliament’s Party of European Socialists (PES) has insisted the position should come to them, PES president Sergei Stanishev said on Saturday, “We have to have this time a Socialist leader of the Eurogroup, and I would say it is broadly admitted,”. Despite Centano being the favourite “at 90 percent”, a close observer has noted that the appointment remains “an open race”.

Source: EUobserver