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Ireland is not ruling out special post-Brexit arrangements for itself and Northern Ireland, Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said on Wednesday. Varadkar said that, “We’re determined to secure a customs union partnership and a free trade agreement or area between Britain and Ireland when it comes to the post-Brexit scenario.” He added, however, that his government “of course has fall back positions if things don’t work out… We certainly don’t rule out seeking special arrangements for Ireland and Northern Ireland, but that’s not our negotiating position or preference by any means.”
Separately, an internal European Commission memo seen by RTÉ suggests that a “distinct all-Ireland solution” could be found for agri-food trade post-Brexit “based on the distinct devolution of competence to Northern Ireland of agriculture and health [from Westminster].” This would require Northern Ireland to remain compliant with EU food safety and animal health regulations and the introduction of “controls by the UK between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.” But the memo, which was passed to the Irish government in February, notes, “As the Commission’s Irish interlocutors have indicated, that insisting on such a solution could harm the peace process.” Alternatively, the report suggests the whole of the UK could continue to apply EU rules and regulations, with the introduction of an “adequate enforcement mechanism” to ensure compliance. Meanwhile, Mr Varadkar will meet the Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in Dublin today for talks which are expected to focus on Brexit.
Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar has written about the future of the Northern Irish border and the Customs Union, arguing that progress on this issue in the negotiations will remain slow whilst the EU refuses to talk about trade.
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Speaking yesterday at the Conservative party conference in Manchester, Prime Minister Theresa May said the UK government is preparing “for every eventuality” in the Brexit negotiations, but stressed it is “profoundly in all our interests for the negotiations to succeed.” She urged the Brexit negotiators to reach an agreement on citizens’ rights “quickly” and told EU citizens, “I know you will feel unsettled and nervous. But let me be clear that we value the contribution you make to the life of our country. You are welcome here…I want you to stay.”
May reiterated that “A deep and special partnership is our ambition and offer, and I look forward to that offer receiving a positive response.” The PM nonetheless also made clear that “It is our responsibility to prepare for every eventuality, that is exactly what we are doing.” She also announced that £2 billion will be invested in “affordable homes”, in a move which is expected to deliver 25,000 additional homes by 2021. The PM also set out a cap in energy prices.
Ireland is being referred to European Court of Justice (ECJ) by the European Union for failing to collect a year-old bill of as much as €13 billion from Apple. EU Competition Commissioner Margrethe Vestager said that, “We of course understand that recovery in certain cases may be more complex than in others, and we are always ready to assist… But member states need to make sufficient progress to restore competition.” The referral comes in the wake of the EU’s decision to tell Amazon to pay around €250 million euros in taxes to Luxembourg. Mrs Vestager stated that, “Luxembourg gave illegal tax benefits to Amazon. As a result, almost three quarters of Amazon’s profits were not taxed.” Amazon said that it was considering an appeal.
Elsewhere Pierre Moscovici, EU Commissioner for Economic and Financial Affairs, Taxation and Customs, announced a proposal to reform European taxation. The proposed reform aims at tackling VAT frauds, estimated to amount to as much as €50bn annually. “The new rules have two objectives: to prevent fraud and to simplify the lives of companies in the union,” said the Commissioner.
According to the Catalan authorities, Catalonia will declare independence on Monday. In a televised address on Wednesday evening, the regional President of Catalonia Carles Puigdemont criticised the Spanish King who spoke out against Sunday’s referendum. He promised to “apply the results of the referendum” in the coming days, yet renewed calls for a dialogue. He said, “This moment calls for mediation”, and that he had “received various offers in the last hours”, but no “positive response from the state.” The Spanish government dismissed his offer for negotiations as “blackmail”.
A source from the Catalan authorities has said that Puigdemont will ask the regional Parliament to declare independence on Monday once the votes are counted. It is thought that those who participated in the poll – roughly 43 per cent of eligible voters – have voted overwhelmingly in favour of secession.
Yesterday, the European Commission declared that the “proportionate use of force” in Catalonia was necessary to uphold the rule of law. During the debate in the European Parliament on Wednesday morning, Commission First Vice President Frans Timmermans condemned the attempt to hold an independence referendum as a violation of the Spanish Constitution and a threat to the rule of law.
A new Forsa poll released yesterday shows 75% of Germans in support of a Jamaica coalition, consisting of the CDU/CSU, Free Democrats and the Green Party, for their next government. Approval is highest among supporters of the Green Party (84%) and the Free Democrats (81%), and lowest among CDU/CSU supporters (58%). Only 26% of Germans would like to see a continuation of the current “Grand Coalition” of the CDU/CSU and Social Democrats (SPD). Official coalition negotiations have not yet started, as the CDU and CSU still have not agreed on their joint negotiation position, particularly with regards to immigration.
Meanwhile, the Alternative für Deutschland has lost a second MP as its founding member Mario Mieruch announced he will leave the party’s parliamentary group and take up his mandate as an independent MP instead. He cited the party leadership’s failure to distance itself from its far-right members as the reason for his exit.
Digital innovation group U.K. Digital Catapult said that the British economy could miss out on as much as €67 billion annually unless it ensures data protection laws are harmonized with the single market. The UK currently has the largest data market in Europe, worth an estimated €13 billion in 2016.
The EU is also pressing ahead with efforts to further harmonize data regulation across all the member countries to create a Digital Single Market. What access the UK would have to this market post-Brexit is uncertain, the report said. It urged the UK government to consider data flows as part of any post-Brexit deal with the EU.