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PSA, Vauxhall’s French parent company, yesterday announced it will build Vauxhall’s new model of the Vivaro van at its Luton plant, a move interpreted as a pre-Brexit show of confidence. PSA’s chief executive, Carlos Tavares, also indicated that some Peugeot and Citroen vans would be made at Luton, with the plant’s capacity expected to increase from 60,000 to 100,000 vehicles per year. The union Unite estimated that 450 jobs would be created. Asked about uncertainty over Brexit, Tavares said the UK Government had given assurances about seeking tariff free and frictionless trade with the EU adding, “We have made this decision in spite of Brexit,” but, “The automotive industry lacks certainty and Brexit remains a concern for our business.” Business Secretary Greg Clark said, “Today’s decision is a vote of confidence in Vauxhall’s high-skilled workforce and the UK’s world leading automotive sector,” and “[ensures] the future of the Luton plant well into the next decade.”
The Guardian BBC News
Spanish Foreign Minister Alfonso Dastis has told Reuters that Spain hopes a bilateral agreement with the UK on Gibraltar can be agreed before October, the European Commission’s deadline for talks on the future UK-EU relationship to be concluded. Dastis outlined that talks are focusing on possible joint use of Gibraltar’s airport, built on disputed land which Spain does not recognise as British territory, and greater sharing of fiscal data to tackle tax avoidance by Gibraltar residents. He added, “We do not want to convert the conversation between the European Union and Britain into a hostage-type situation.”
A new report by the House of Commons Foreign Affairs Select Committee calls on the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) to “produce a statement of the Government’s long-term vision for the UK’s relationship with the Commonwealth, and clarify what the 52 other members can expect from a post-Brexit ‘Global Britain’.” It adds, “[The FCO] should also explain what it will do to build a Commonwealth caucus in the UN, and what assessments it has made of the resources that will be needed beyond 2020 to achieve the Government’s stated goal of rejuvenating the Commonwealth.” The chair of the committee, Tom Tugendhat, said, “If the FCO is to make a success of its ‘Global Britain’ strategy, it has to show leadership; nowhere is this more important than within the Commonwealth. The UK helped to shape this organisation but it has neglected it in recent years.”
Foreign Affairs Select Committee
In an interview with Swiss daily Neue Zürcher Zeitung, German Health Minister Jens Spahn urged the EU “to build a European border guard”, and said that the EU’s existing border agency Frontex “needs 100,000 men and should really protect the border.” He added, “I would also be open to partial surrender of sovereignty, if it would make the borders safer. The announcement is not, ‘No one comes in here anymore,’ but, ‘We want to know who wants to go in and then decide if he can come in.’” Spahn also said, “Despite all the criticism of [Prime Minister of Hungary] Viktor Orbán: He transposes European law on the border and secures Europe’s border.”
Neue Zürcher Zeitung
The Senate President of France’s centre-right Republican party, Bruno Retailleau, yesterday told Le Monde, “Never have we been so close to the breakdown of Europe: either Europe changes or Europe dies.” He said, “We cannot close our eyes to Brexit, to the electoral uprisings in Germany, in Italy. Each time, the parties that break through [are those that] campaigned against Europe, sometimes via the topic of immigration.” Retailleau said the campaign for 2019 European parliamentary elections would be “a risky campaign for our political family,” adding that he hoped his party would accept that “we need Europe.”
The Chinese government yesterday imposed trade tariffs of 25% on 106 US goods, including soybeans, cars, and orange juice, in retaliation to the US announcing its intention to hit 1,300 Chinese products with 25% tariffs which would apply to about $50bn of Chinese imports. Commenting on the tariffs retaliation, China’s deputy commerce minister, Wang Shouwen, said, “It must be said, we have been forced into taking this action…Our action is restrained.” The spokesperson for the Chinese Foreign Ministry, Geng Shuang, commented, “Any attempt to bring China to its knees through threats and intimidation will never succeed…There is no winner in a trade war, and an initiator will harm itself as well as others.”
The UK’s delegation to the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons (OPCW) has said, “Russia’s proposal for a joint, UK/Russian investigation into the Salisbury incident is perverse. It is a diversionary tactic, and yet more disinformation designed to evade the questions the Russian authorities must answer.” This comes as the former commander of Britain’s chemical, biological, radiological and nuclear regiment, Hamish de Bretton-Gordon, urged the government “to get on the front foot” and release “very compelling” intelligence that demonstrates Russian responsible, adding that he was “as unequivocal as the Prime Minister in saying Russia is responsible.”
Elsewhere, The Times reports that UK security services have a high degree of confidence that the weapons-grade nerve agent used in the Salisbury attack was manufactured in a covert Russian laboratory.
The leader of the Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, has proposed agreeing on a German-style governing contract that could form the basis for the next Italian government. Di Maio said the Movement would be ready to agree such a contract with the centre-left Democratic Party or the anti-immigration League, but rejected any possible alliance with Berlusconi’s Forza Italia, saying, “Salvini [the League’s leader] has to choose… whether to abandon Berlusconi and start to change Italy, or to cling to Berlusconi and change nothing.” Both the Democratic Party and the League have declined the proposal.
Meanwhile, Italian President Sergio Mattarella yesterday started consultations with the different parliamentary groups. The consultations, which will continue today, will inform Mattarella’s decisions on the next steps toward the formation of a new government.
According to EU statistical office Eurostat, the unemployment rate in the 19 countries of the Eurozone dropped to 8.5 percent in February 2018 from 8.6 percent in January 2018, a record low since December 2008. Unemployment in the EU as a whole also dropped, from 7.2 percent in January 2018 to 7.1 percent in February 2018, the lowest rate recorded since September 2008.
Meanwhile, the annual inflation rate of the Euro area is expected to be 1.4 percent in March 2018, up from 1.1 percent in February, and less than the European Central Bank’s target of close to 2 percent.
In a piece for ConservativeHome on Monday, Open Europe’s Henry Newman wrote, “The reaction to the Skripal poisoning has demonstrated some of the ways in which the UK and EU will be able to work closely after Brexit.” He argued, “Ironically, particularly for President Putin who presumably wanted to test European solidarity post-Brexit and trans-Atlantic solidarity under Trump, the Skripal affair practically united the West. This is especially significant as in the minds of many power-brokers on the Continent, Britain is already treated as if we are out of the club. The response showed the ability of the EU and the Anglosphere to agree a common approach under British leadership.”