11 July 2018

Varadkar welcomes Chequers proposal

Speaking in the Irish parliament yesterday, Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested that the EU might consider relaxing its red lines in the Brexit negotiations following the proposal agreed by the British government at Chequers last week. He said, “If the United Kingdom was able to relax from some of its red lines, then the European Union could be flexible too,” adding, “I think we are now entering into that space.” Commenting on the plan outlined by the UK government, Varadkar said, “The Chequers statement is welcome. I believe it can input into the talks on the future relationship,” but cautioned, “We would like to see the White paper first… I imagine there will be a lot more in a 100-page paper than there is in a three-page paper.” Varadkar also warned that the plan would unlikely be “a solution on its own.” Asked whether he would stick to the legal text on the backstop agreed in March to address the issue of the border on the island of Ireland, the Taoiseach said, “It’s about the outcome, it’s about achieving a legally binding agreement that there can be no hard border with Northern Ireland… It’s not about the legal text.”

Elsewhere, speaking in New York yesterday, the EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said he was looking forward to a “constructive conversation” with London after the publication of the Chequers proposal. Barnier suggested that “after 12 months of negotiations we have agreed on 80% of the [Brexit] negotiations,” but added that, as far as the remaining part is concerned, “We need clarity for these negotiations to move forward for the time is very short.” He refused “to make any comment on domestic and national policy in the UK,” but welcomed “that the UK is discussing the future relationship, taking positions… and avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

Separately, German Chancellor Angela Merkel yesterday also welcomed May’s Brexit proposals, saying that there was “progress” in UK-EU negotiations. Speaking at a press conference with Theresa May, Merkel said, “We as the [EU]27 now … will form an opinion and later on table a common response to those proposals…But it’s a good thing that we have proposals on the table.” At the same press conference, May said the government could deliver a “smooth and orderly” Brexit and that the White Paper due to be published tomorrow will  be in “faith with the vote of the British people.” This comes as two Conservative Party vice-chairs, Ben Bradely and Maria Caulfield, yesterday resigned over the Brexit plan agreed at Chequers.

Source: RTE BBC News The Guardian Politico The Guardian

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Donald Tusk: not true that “US alone protects Europe”

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, yesterday criticised US President Donald Trump for complaining “almost daily [about], in his view, insufficient contributions to the common defence capabilities and for the [the EU] living off the US.” Tusk said that “Europe was first to respond on a larger scale when the US was attacked and called for solidarity” after the terrorist attacks on 11 September 2001, adding, “European soldiers have been fighting shoulder to shoulder with American soldiers in Afghanistan.” While Tusk also called on European countries to spend more on defence, he said he was aiming “to dispel the American president’s argument which says that the US alone protects Europe against our enemies and that the US is almost alone in this struggle.”

Elsewhere, commenting on his upcoming meetings, Trump yesterday said, “I have NATO, I have the UK which is in somewhat turmoil, and I have [Russian President Vladimir] Putin. Frankly, Putin may be the easiest of all.”

This comes as representatives of the EU and NATO yesterday signed a new joint declaration on strengthened cooperation in the future, on issues including military mobility and counter-terrorism.

Meanwhile, the NATO summit begins today in Brussels, with the first session on “burden-sharing,” during which Prime Minister Theresa May will announce that the UK will commit more troops to the NATO mission in Afghanistan. Speaking ahead of the summit, NATO Secretary General Jens Stoltenberg said that the “main topic to discuss” will be “how we can make further progress on burden-sharing in the alliance,” while Trump said, “Over the last year about 40 billion US dollars more has been given by other countries to help NATO, but that’s not nearly enough…This has been going on for decades, for decades, and it is disproportionate and not fair to the taxpayers of the United States. And we are going to make it fair.”

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Eurosceptic Conservative MPs threaten to derail key Brexit legislation

The Eurosceptic Conservative European Research Group (ERG) yesterday warned the Prime Minister that there would be “a resignation a day until recess” unless the plan agreed at Chequers last week is dropped. According to The Sun, ERG members have “seriously discussed” plans to hijack the Trade and Customs Bills by putting forward amendments to it in parliament. ERG leader Jacob Rees-Mogg, who branded the Chequers deal as “a dud” and praised former Brexit Secretary David Davis and former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson for showing “real leadership and courage” in quitting the Cabinet, would reportedly plan to table amendments to prevent ministers from giving themselves new “Henry VIII” powers, while other MPs would want to go even further. A ministerial source is quoted commenting, “The ERG have had to show their hand after Chequers, and it turns out they don’t have one… They don’t have the numbers as it’s become clear that most colleagues are behind the PM,” adding, “It’s only a matter of time before they become wreckers and start blocking legislation in the Commons as a last resort.”

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Sturgeon would not support Chequers Brexit plan in its current form

Scotland’s First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said she would not support the Government’s Chequers plan “as it stands,” adding, “I think after the events of the last 24 hours or so it’s highly questionable about whether there is a majority for the Chequers plan.” Sturgeon said that the plan is “a step forward in the sense that there appears to be more realism in it than we’ve heard from the UK Government to date,” but added, “We don’t yet know whether it is acceptable to the EU. It still seems to be cherry-picking, trying to divide the four freedoms. It looks horrendously complicated and, of course, it excludes services, and services make up almost 80% of the Scottish economy, and the UK economy for that matter, and a third of our exports.”

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Home Secretary: Freedom of movement will end after Brexit

Home Secretary Sajid Javid yesterday said that “There will be a complete, total end to freedom of movement” after Brexit, explaining, “There will be no version of that, no derivative of that, no back door version of freedom of movement.” Speaking to the House of Commons Home Affairs Committee, Javid added, “There will be no automatic right for anyone in the EU for example, or anyone else for that matter, to just make a unilateral decision that they can just hop on a plane or ferry and just come and work in the UK. That will end. In terms of work we are not planning any automatic right.” Asked whether it was the Government’s goal to reduce net migration to 100,000 per year, Javid said, “It will be an objective of the post-Brexit migration system to bring down immigration, in the long term, to sustainable levels,” adding however, “We can’t start talking about what numbers might look like at this point.”

Elsewhere, a British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey published yesterday revealed that in 2017, 47 percent of the British public believe immigration has a “good” impact on the economy, which represents an increase of 14 percent from 2015, while 17 percent believe immigrants have a “bad” impact on the economy, a decrease of 11 percent from 2015. The study also shows that the British public’s perception of the impact of immigration on the UK’s cultural life has become more positive, with 44 percent saying immigration “enriches” cultural life, an increase of 12 percent from 2015. The study report states,  “There is little sign here that the EU referendum campaign served to make Britain less tolerant towards migrants; rather they have apparently come to be valued to a degree that was not in evidence before the referendum campaign.”

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Dutch government to prepare no-deal Brexit “playbook”

Pieter Omtzigt, a Brexit rapporteur in the Netherlands parliament, said on Monday that the Dutch government will be preparing a “playbook” to be ready for a ‘no-deal’ Brexit scenario.  Omtzigt told Reuters that there was too much at stake for the Dutch economy to discard preparations for a ‘no-deal’, adding, “For us, we need to have a clear view that there’s a British government in place with support of a majority that knows what kind of Brexit they want. As we do not see that clearly, we have asked the government to intensify contingency planning.” The Dutch government has agreed to begin preparations and to brief the parliament on the progress in September.

Elsewhere, Belgian employer federation VBO-FEB has warned against a cliff-edge Brexit, with its CEO saying, “The uncertainty is already burdening the economy now,” and adding, “for Belgian companies it is of special importance to keep a partnership with the British for goods and services that is as deep and broad as possible, while guaranteeing the good functioning of the single market.”

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Brexit could have an impact on global growth, warns JP Morgan chief

The Chief Executive of JP Morgan Chase, Jamie Dimon, warned that “If there is going to be less growth in the UK [due to Brexit], this will have an impact on global growth, and so Brexit could hurt everybody a bit.” Dimon told the Italian newspaper Il Sole 24 Ore, “We still do not fully understand what Brexit is, its economic effects and how its effects will play out: these are huge question marks that will stay for a long time,” adding, “I do think that, because of Brexit, some businesses across the financial and manufacturing sectors will be relocating from the UK to other parts of Europe, including Italy.”

Meanwhile, according to figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday, the UK economy expanded 0.2 percent between March and May, after a growth rate of zero between February and April.  The growth was due to a 0.4 percent expansion in the services sector, which includes retail. Meanwhile, the manufacturing sector contracted by 1.2 by percent and growth in the construction sector decreased by 1.7 percent.

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German Interior Minister presents his asylum "master plan"

German Interior Minister Horst Seehofer yesterday presented his migration “master plan” to tackle secondary movements, yet did not include the compromise proposals agreed by the German government last week. The plan, which Seehofer confirmed “isn’t a master plan of the coalition, but a master plan of this house [Ministry of Interior],” includes the introduction of “transit centres,” as opposed to the “transit procedures” favoured by the Social Democratic Party (SPD), and demands, “We want to stop people disappearing during or after their asylum procedures, or hide their real identities.” The plan was criticised by the centre-left SPD deputy chairman Ralf Stegner, who said, “The SPD has no interest at all in another performance in the CSU summer theatre. Our common master plan is and remains the coalition contract – and Mr. Seehofer has enough to work on there.”

Elsewhere, commenting on secondary movements in an interview with the newspaper Il Messaggero, Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini said, “What is certain is that for Italy there is no plan to take back who has gone abroad. It’s the last thing that could happen,” adding, “If the Germans and the Austrians are thinking only about sending migrants back to us, helping us close the external borders first would be a step forward.” This comes as tension remains high in Italy over migration issues after Salvini yesterday suggested an Italian coast guard ship would not be allowed to dock, having taken on board migrants from an Italian commercial ship which had rescued them in waters belonging to the Libyan area of competence. However, Italian Infrastructures Minister, Danilo Toninelli, clarified shortly after that the coast guard boat would be allowed to dock as it had been forced to take the migrants on board following threats to the life of the commercial boat’s crew.

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Austria to propose new migration centres outside EU territory

Austria will propose the establishment of open migration centres outside EU territory, Politico reports, where asylum seekers will be brought to in case of a  “negative final decision on an application for international protection.” The third country on whose territory these centres would be placed would then be responsible for taking care of the migrants while respecting EU standards. The Austrian draft proposal cites “possible incentives” that should be offered to these countries to uphold “international and European human rights law.” An unnamed Austrian official said they had “been working on it [the plan for these centres] for years” with the Danish government. This comes as today an informal summit of EU Interior Ministers takes place in Innsbruck, Austria, where also trilaterall talks between Austrian Interior Minister Herbert Kickl and his German and Italian counterparts Horst Seehofer and Matteo Salvini are planned. Ahead of this meeting, Salvini said, “In Innsbruck we want to defend the EU’s external borders. We hope that Europe awakens.”

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Henry Newman: May’s strategy is in crisis – continuing to exclude the Brexit Secretary from the process will only make that worse.

In an article for Conservative Home, Open Europe director Henry Newman comments on the Chequers plan agreed by the UK Cabinet on Friday, “It is welcome that the Government finally agreed a plan. Remarkably, it’s taken over two years to get one locked down. This isn’t a perfect plan – far from it […] but to coin a phrase, perhaps a plan is better than no plan.” He continues, “Many in Government and beyond are rightly worried that the EU will see the UK’s concessions and simply ask for more. The UK must hold firm.” He sressed, “With a generous offer of a partnership on the table, Brussels and the EU capitals should take the UK plan seriously and should recognise how much the UK side has shifted.” Newman warns, “Recent resignations ought to underscore how politically difficult it would be for the Prime Minister to concede further ground […] If Brussels doesn’t move – and it’s certainly strongly possible that they will remain intransigent – then the inevitable outcome must be a more distant relationship with the EU, based on a thinner FTA and greater regulatory divergence.”