8 September 2017

Michel Barnier: UK-EU deal will not be a “combination” of Norway model and EU-Canada trade deal

Speaking at a press conference yesterday, EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, warned that Britain’s future relationship with the EU will not “combine the benefits of the Norway model (which has full access to the EU single market but accepts free movement of people) with the weak constraints of the Canada model.” Unveiling the EU’s position on the Irish border, which insists the onus is on the UK to provide solutions to challenges, Barnier told reporters, “What I see on the UK’s paper on Ireland and Northern Ireland worries me.” He added, “The UK wants to use Ireland as a kind of test-case for the future EU-UK customs relations – this will not happen.” Barnier also accused the UK of “backtracking” on its financial commitments, “including the commitments post-Brexit.” He ended the conference by warning that any attempt to “unearth any difference” between himself and the positions of the EU-27 leaders is “a waste of time.”

Barnier’s conference comes following the publication of minutes from a European Commission meeting on July 12, in which EU Commission President, Jean-Claude Juncker “expressed his concern about the question of the stability and accountability of the UK negotiator [David Davis] and his apparent lack of involvement, which risked jeopardising the success of the negotiations.”

Separately, according to The Guardian, Prime Minister Theresa May has rejected an invitation to address the European Parliament in an open session but instead will speak to European Parliament leaders in a closed-door meeting. A Downing Street spokesman said, “The Prime Minister has confirmed to [European Parliament] President [Antonio] Tajani that she would be happy to address the Conference of Presidents (the President of Parliament and the chairmen of the political groups). A date will now be arranged with his team.”

Source: Bloomberg The Guardian

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David Davis rules out transitional EFTA membership

Speaking at the second reading of the European Union (Withdrawal) Bill, also called the Repeal Bill, David Davis, Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, told MPs, “This Bill is an essential step. Whilst it does not take us out of the EU – that is a matter for the Article 50 process – it does ensure that on the day we leave, businesses know where they stand, workers’ rights are upheld and consumers remain protected. This Bill is vital to ensuring that as we leave, we do so in an orderly manner.” Davis described the three main functions of the Bill as: repealing the 1972 European Communities Act, the Act that “gave EU law supreme status over law made in this country”; transposing existing EU law onto the UK statute to ensure “wherever possible, the same rules and laws will apply the day after exit as they did before”; and to grant ministers powers to use statutory instruments to resolve any anomalies that might otherwise prevent the proper functioning of legacy EU law in the UK after exit day.

Davis also attacked the Labour Party’s position to vote against the Bill at the second reading as “cynical and unprincipled…a fundamental misrepresentation of Parliament and our democratic process [and] reckless in the extreme.” However, speaking for the opposition, Sir Keir Starmer, the Shadow Brexit Secretary, disputed Davis’ assertion that the Bill amounted to “a technical exercise,” saying it would affect “every facet of national life.” Starmer went on to describe it as “an unprecedented power grab […that would grant] the widest possible power, no safeguards, channelled into the level of least scrutiny. That is absolutely extraordinary.”

Elsewhere in the debate, Davis fielded questions from MPs on the possibility of negotiating a transitional period for exiting the EU. Davis said, “We’ve found the [European] Commission is open to the idea of transition. We’ve only raised it briefly because it doesn’t fit with the four parts of the negotiation, but I think there’s a very good prospect.” However, when questioned on what form a transitional arrangement might take, Davis said, “Membership of EFTA [the European Free Trade Association] would keep us within the acquis [the body of EU law] and it would keep us in requirements for free movement, albeit with some restrictions, but none have worked so far. In many ways it’s the worst of possible worlds. We did consider it, maybe as an interim measure. But it would be more complicated and less beneficial.”

For his part, Starmer questioned whether Clause 6 of the Bill, which would grant UK courts the discretion but no obligation to refer to EU case-law developed after the UK exits the bloc, would “preclude any transitional deal, because the EU will want the UK to recognise EU case law even after the formal exit date for the duration of any transitional period…If the Bill reaches a final vote in the Commons without an amendment to Clause 6, we can be certain that the EU will not agree to the transitional deal with the UK after March 2019.”

Separately, MPs will on Tuesday debate a motion which would allow the government to have more control of the legislative agenda. The leaked motion states that “where a committee has an odd number of members, the government shall have a majority.” And “where a committee has an even number of members, the number of government and opposition members shall be equal, but this instruction shall not apply to the nomination of any public bill committee.” The committee stage is where a bill is examined in detail and normally consists of between 18-30 MPs.

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The Times: Conservative MPs warn the UK should be “well and truly out” of the EU in 2019

The Times has seen a copy of a letter by the European Research Group (ERG), a group of Eurosceptic Conservative backbenchers, calling on the government to ensure the UK is “well and truly out” of the EU in March 2019. The letter reads, “Continued membership of the Single Market, even as part of a transitional arrangement, would quite simply mean EU membership by another name – and we cannot allow our country to be kept in the EU by stealth. The Government must respect the will of the British people, and that means leaving the Single Market at the same time as we leave the EU.” The ERG also argues that a transitional arrangement should be time-limited, and “any deal should also reserve the right for the UK government to unilaterally withdraw from the deal via domestic legislation.” The group supports an end to continued payments into the EU budget, and calls on the government to “make sure the UK is not forced onto a conveyer belt of EU regulation” after exit. The letter is due to be published on Sunday by ERG chairwoman Suella Fernandes.

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European Parliament: ‘Sufficient progress’ on Brexit withdrawal issues unlikely to be met by October

In a joint statement following the European Parliament’s Conference of Presidents, European Parliament President, Antonio Tajani, and European Parliament Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, stated, “A clear majority of group leaders were of the view that continued lack of clarity or absence of UK proposals on separation issues as well as the latest developments in Brexit negotiations meant that it was more than likely the assessment on “sufficient progress” on the first phase of Brexit negotiations is unlikely to have been met by the October European Council.” Tajani also said, “I would think it wise for the European Council to postpone [entering the second phase of negotiations] to its December meeting.” The Parliament’s Conference of Presidents is also expected to adopt a Brexit resolution in its October session, which focuses primarily on citizens’ rights.

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Welsh government: Wales should be given a quota of EU migrants post-Brexit

The Welsh Government has published a paper outlining its vision of a post-Brexit migration system, calling for Wales to be given a quota of EU migrants, should a limit be placed on numbers. It called for migration to be “more closely linked to work,” allowing EU nationals to come to the UK if they have a job or a “real prospect of finding a job quickly.” The paper called for Wales to be given a “stronger role in determining how future migration to Wales would be managed,” adding, “If the UK decides to adopt an immigration approach which favours specific sectors at a UK level, we believe that this could severely disadvantage Wales by making it very difficult to recruit to sectors where we currently have a high demand for migrant workers.” Welsh First Minister Carwyn Jones told BBC Radio Wales that a quota for Wales was “not his first preference” but may be necessary if the UK proposed national quotas on migration from the EU, adding, “We need to make sure, if that’s what they want to do, that we are able to recruit the people we need for the Welsh economy.”

This comes as the latest monthly report by the Recruitment and Employment Confederation (REC), has found that a fall in the number of EU workers coming to the UK has intensified labour shortages and encouraged employers to raise entry-level salaries during August this year at the highest rate since October 2015.

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Macron warns “sovereignty, democracy and trust are in danger” in Europe

Speaking at a press conference in Athens with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras, French President Emmanuel Macron said, “In Europe today, sovereignty, democracy, and trust are in danger…We must rediscover the enthusiasm that the union was founded upon and change, not with technocrats and not with bureaucracy.” He reiterated his plan to establish “democratic conventions” in EU member states, where “the peoples of Europe will be consulted and will debate on principles proposed by the governments.” He also called for debt relief for Greece and said on the management of the Greek crisis in 2010, “I don’t think it was the right method for the IMF to supervise European programmes and intervene in the way it did…The IMF had no place in EU matters.”

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Rajoy to ask court to revoke Catalan referendum law

Spain’s Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said today that he will ask Spain’s constitutional court to revoke a referendum law passed by the Catalan parliament on Wednesday. The law in question permits the referendum on seceding from Spain to go ahead in October. Rajoy, speaking at a news conference, said that the law was unconstitutional, as the Spanish constitution states that the country is indivisible. Additionally, Spain’s state prosecutor’s office said it would present criminal charges against leading members of the Catalan parliament who allowed the vote to take place.

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