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Negotiators from the UK and the EU have denied a report in yesterday’s Sunday Times that the prime minister, Theresa May, had achieved a “secret Brexit deal” with the EU. The Sunday Times had suggested that May had secured “private concessions” from negotiators in Brussels regarding the issue of the Irish backstop. The EU was said to have accepted that the whole of the UK could be kept in a customs union after Brexit, preventing a hard border on the island of Ireland, but that there would also have been an “exit clause” allowing the UK the right to leave it in the future. It was also reported that May had made progress on the outlines of a Future Economic Partnership with the EU.
No 10 have dismissed reports of a finished deal as “speculation”, while EU officials have warned that there is only a “50-50” chance of achieving a deal on the Irish backstop. The Telegraph reports that there have been divisions in the cabinet over the Irish backstop. Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has argued that the UK should be free to pull out of the Irish backstop after three months, but this was contradicted by the de-factor deputy prime minister David Lidington.
Meanwhile, in an article for the Sunday Times, the former Brexit Secretary David Davis has issued a demand for the Prime Minister to publish the Government’s legal advice on the Withdrawal Agreement before asking MPs to vote on it. This comes amid reports that nine cabinet ministers have already told May that they will not sign up to a deal unless it receives the backing of the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox.
Elsewhere, the Irish Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, has said that Brexit has led to “fraying” relations between Ireland and Britain. He added, “Anything that pulls the communities apart in Northern Ireland undermines the Good Friday Agreement, and anything that pulls Britain and Ireland apart undermines that relationship.” In response, a UK government spokesperson said, “nothing we agree with the EU will risk a return to a hard border.”
Separately, a thousand nationalist community leaders from Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland have written to Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar urging him “to stand firm in these negotiations, to stand up for the Good Friday Agreement and a rights-based society, and to ensure that rights enjoyed in Donegal will continue to be enjoyed in Derry.”
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In a letter to the Sunday Times, over 70 business leaders have called for a public vote on the government’s Brexit deal. The letter states: “The business community was promised that, if the country voted to leave, there would continue to be frictionless trade with the EU and the certainty about future relations that we need to invest for the long term. Despite the Prime Minister’s best efforts, the proposals being discussed by the government and the European Commission fall far short of this.” It concludes: “We are now facing either a blindfold or a destructive hard Brexit… Given that neither was on the ballot in 2016, we believe the ultimate choice should be handed back to the public with a People’s Vote.” A Downing Street source said there were no plans for a second referendum.
Elsewhere, the Guardian reports that that over 1500 lawyers have written to the Prime Minister calling for a second referendum.
The co-founder of Leave.EU, Arron Banks, has received further allegations of wrongdoing during the referendum campaign. Leaked emails seen by the Observer have suggested that some of Banks’s insurance staff also worked on the Leave.EU campaign, but that this work was not declared, making it illegal under electoral law. The allegations suggest that Banks may have misled parliament in outlining the separation between his insurance business and his referendum activities.
Banks is already under investigation by the National Crime Agency over claims that donations to his Leave.EU campaign came from an offshore source. Appearing on the Andrew Marr Show yesterday, Banks denied these allegations, which have also suggested that he had links with Russian spies. He said, “absolutely for the record, there was no Russian money or interference of any type” in the campaign.
This comes as the Financial Conduct Authority has begun its own investigation into the sources of Banks’s wealth.
A new poll, conducted by Hanbury Strategy on behalf of Politico, suggests that a plurality of the public would prefer the Prime Minister to “compromise” to reach a deal with the EU than walk away without a deal. According to the poll of 3,006 voters carried out last week, 47% prefer a compromise deal, against 35% who prefer No Deal. By contrast, Conservative voters would prefer the Prime Minister to walk away rather than strike a compromise, by 48% to 41%.
According to the poll, a majority of the public – 59% – would support delaying the date of the UK’s departure if it would allow for a better deal, with 26.5% opposed. The poll also suggested a narrow majority for remaining in the EU rather than leaving without a deal, by 53.5% to 46.5%. However, voters broke narrowly against an extension of the transition period (39% against, 38% in favour). Moreover, the poll also showed that voters would rather the UK has flexibility to set its own regulations rather than benefit from greater trade with Europe (65-35); would prefer to control immigration than maintain close ties to the EU (60-40); and would rather the UK have the ability to strike independent trade deals than avoid a hard border in Ireland (60-40).
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British diplomats have called on UK citizens living in the EU to secure their legal right of residence amidst uncertainty over the Brexit timetable. It has been estimated that up to 50% of British expatriates in countries such as Spain and Portugal have not complied with the legal requirement of registering as a resident from another part of the EU.
Danish Prime Minister Lars Lokke Rasmussen warned on Friday that the EU is not well prepared to ensure that European banks maintain access to London-based financial clearing houses in the event of a No Deal Brexit. He said, “I’ve pushed hard for the EU Commission to start preparing for a No Deal Brexit…They may well be doing that, but they didn’t put a great deal of effort into it.” Meanwhile, Ulrik Nodgaard, the head of the Danish bankers’ association, said that financial firms in Denmark would “very much like some assurance…This is our cliff edge.’’
Elsewhere, the European Free Trade Association (EFTA) is making arrangements to prepare for a No Deal Brexit scenario, Swiss newspaper Neue Zuercher Zeitung reported on Friday. Swiss diolomat Henri Getaz is quoted saying, “All parties must take precautions to minimise disruption of economic and financial flows and to secure the essential rights and obligations of citizens in such a [No Deal Brexit] case. This also applies to the EFTA states,” adding, “We are aware that some circles in London are promoting the idea of joining EFTA or European Economic Area (EEA). But that does not match the position of the British government, which has rejected the option and taken a different line… The question is not on the agenda until further notice. But if the British decide to do so, the EFTA states would consider it.”
In a statement published on Friday, the finance ministers of the Hanseatic group of EU member states, including the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Sweden and Slovakia, called for a strengthening of the European Stability Mechanism (ESM), the Eurozone’s crisis management mechanism. They wrote, “A reinforced role for the ESM increases the credibility and effectiveness of the crisis management framework,” adding, “To be properly prepared to assess risks to a country’s repayment capacity, the ESM needs analytical expertise and full access to information of the economic and financial situation in normal times.” This comes as the 19 Eurozone finance ministers will meet today to discuss national budgets and proposals to strengthen the Euro area.
The Bavarian Christian Social Union (CSU), the sister party to German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s Christian Democratic Union (CDU), has reached a coalition deal with the centre-right, regionalist Free Voters for the state government of Bavaria. The coalition deal includes a commitment to bolster border police. This comes after an election three weeks ago, in which the CSU recorded its lowest result since 1950.
The US today reimposed all the sanctions on Iran that were removed as a result of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPoA) agreement, targeting more than 700 individuals, entities, vessels and aircraft, including major banks, oil exporters and shipping companies. Eight countries were granted a temporary permission to continue importing Iranian oil.
In a statement on Friday, EU Foreign Affairs High Representative Federica Mogherini and the foreign and finance ministers of France, Germany and the UK said, “We deeply regret the further re-imposition of sanctions by the United States, due to the latter’s withdrawal from the JCPoA,” adding, “It is our aim to protect European economic operators engaged in legitimate business with Iran…As parties to the JCPoA, we have committed to work on, inter alia, the preservation and maintenance of effective financial channels with Iran, and the continuation of Iran’s export of oil and gas.”
The former cabinet secretary and head of the civil service, Sir Jeremy Heywood, has died of cancer. He was 56. This comes only two weeks after he left government service. Theresa May said that “he worked tirelessly to serve our country” and that his death was a “huge loss to British public life.”