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The draft Brexit negotiating guidelines proposed by European Council President Donald Tusk have been broadly accepted following the first reading by sherpas to the EU-27 leaders yesterday. The meeting focused primarily of the rights of EU nationals resident in the UK and the Brexit divorce bill. No changes were made to the clause requiring the Spanish government to approve a deal applying to Gibraltar. EU-27 sherpas are set to meet again on 24 April, followed by technical talks on 26 April, then a meeting of the European Affairs ministers on 27 April will finalise a draft for submission to a summit of EU-27 leaders on 29 April, where the guidelines will be adopted. Speaking at a press briefing, Margaritis Schinas, Chief Spokesperson of the European Commission, confirmed that a meeting of EU Commissioners would then take place on 3 May to develop recommendations from these guidelines, which, if in turn approved by EU-27 Ministers, would constitute the EU’s negotiating mandate for Brexit. This came as Belgium’s Flemish Minister-President Geert Bourgeois said of Brexit negotiations, “We have to negotiate in parallel over the new agreement [on divorce and trade terms] so we don’t get a situation where we have to fall back on World Trade Organization rules.” Separately, the EU and Norway reached an agreement after two years of negotiation on agricultural trade to grant mutual duty-free access for 36 tariff lines.
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At the end of a two-day summit in Italy, Foreign Ministers from the G7 countries have called for a “credible political transition that meets the legitimate aspirations of the Syrian people,” but have refused to impose new sanctions against Russia and Syria for their presumed involvement in a chemical attack in Syria last week. G7 ministers said, “If Russia is prepared to use its influence, then we are prepared to work with it in resolving the conflict in Syria, pursuing a political settlement and ultimately contributing to the costs of stabilisation and reconstruction.” British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who led the call for international sanctions, reiterated after the meeting, “We hope that it may be possible, if we get evidence, that those responsible for unleashing those chemical weapons should be [subject to] sanctions.” This comes as a report in The Times cites a senior US official who claims Russia knew in advance about the chemical attack.
Meanwhile, a group of NATO and EU countries has established the European Centre of Excellence for Countering Hybrid Threats, a specialist entity designed to deal with security threats including disinformation. The states participating are Finland, France, Germany, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Sweden, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The Financial Times
The Press Association
The Italian government has agreed a €3.4bn programme of deficit reduction, bringing the country’s public finance outlook in line with European Union budget rules. Discussing the measures which will include increased tax collection, anti-tax evasion efforts and spending reductions, Italian prime minister Paolo Gentiloni said, “This delivers a message of strong reassurance: our accounts are in order, and not because of higher taxes.”
The Financial Times
The City of London Corporation’s International Regulatory Strategy Group (IRSG) has proposed mutual recognition of financial services regulatory systems between the EU and the UK in order to “enable cross-border business to continue to flow post-Brexit.” The group proposes “a joint UK-EU committee or forum… to make sure that regulation and principles of supervision are monitored as they evolve over time. It should also assess the impact of divergences, for example consulting on new legislation before it would be brought into effect.” It continues, “If the members of the new committee fail to agree on the impact of divergences, a dispute resolution model would be necessary to deal with disputes between the UK and EU,” which IRSG said could be a group made up of international regulators, such as the Financial Stability Board. The group also believes the financial services sector should have priority when it comes to negotiating a new immigration regime, and that a transitional agreement should be put in place in case the UK and EU fail to reach a post-Brexit deal.
The Daily Telegraph
A new poll by Forsa Institut published yesterday found that 47% of voters aged 18-21 would vote for German Chancellor Angela Merkel in the upcoming general elections, against 29% who would vote for leader of the Socialist SPD party, Martin Schulz. The poll also showed overall support for Merkel’s CDU party at 36%, ahead of the SPD party on 30%. Separately, Schulz said earlier this week that achieving the NATO target of spending 2% of GDP on defence “can definitely not be the goal of a government led by me.”
Following an appeal by the UN refugee agency, Germany has stopped the transfer of asylum seekers to Hungary under the EU’s Dublin regulation until the use of automatic border detention camps is abandoned. The German Interior Minister said, “In cases of Dublin transfers to Hungary, an assurance must be sought ensuring that the transferred person would be accommodated in accordance with EU norms.” The head of the UN High Commission for Refugees, Filippo Grandi, had called for the return of asylum seekers to Hungary to be halted “until the Hungarian authorities bring their practices and policies in line with European and international law.”
Speaking at the departure of the first rail freight journey from the UK to China, Xubin Feng, chairman of Yiwu Timex Industrial Investment, the company running the service, said, “This is the first export train and just the start of a regular direct service between the UK and China. We have great faith in the UK as an export nation and rail provides an excellent alternative for moving large volumes of goods over long distances faster.” The 12,000km journey will last approximately three weeks, cutting the time required to make a similar shipment by sea in half. Greg Hands, Minister of State in the Department for International Trade, said, “This new rail link with China is another boost for global Britain, following the ancient Silk Road trade route to carry British products around the world.”
According to the Office for National Statistics (ONS), the Consumer Price Index (CPI) remained unchanged from February at 2.3%, but remains above the Bank of England’s target of 2%. However, the ONS data showed food prices in March were 1.2% higher than last year, the biggest annual rise in three years. ONS deputy national statistician Jonathan Athow said, “Food, drink and clothing prices all rose in March. However, this is offset by air fares, which fell slightly but last year rose substantially thanks to the timing of Easter.” Meanwhile, ONS data also showed that average monthly car export revenues in the past six months was £3.4bn, up 16% on the £2.9bn average last year, a rise attributed to the decline in sterling value since the Brexit vote.
The Press Association
The Daily Telegraph
Speaking at an Institute for Government event, Douglas Carswell, the MP for Clacton who recently resigned from UKIP and now sits as an independent, said that the referendum result was “not an angry nativist xenophobic vote,” but “was won precisely because it was an argument about Britain being open, internationalist, generous, and globalist.” He said, “If you want evidence of this just imagine what would have happened in the referendum if my former party leader had led the Leave campaign and debates with my former-former party leader David Cameron, with Nigel having the Syria posters behind him and David Cameron having the business community behind him. Imagine what the result would have been … it could not have been won if we’d focused on immigration.” He also said, “In an age of anti-politics the real revolutionary we’ve got is a vicar’s daughter from Maidenhead. Isn’t that vastly preferable to what’s happening in France, isn’t that vastly preferable to what’s happening in Italy? I think the system works and actually Brexit will be seen as a profoundly different sort of upheaval.”