Posts Tagged ‘Brexit’

Michael Barnier attacks key parts of Theresa May’s Brexit plan

July 20, 2018

heresa May has warned Eurosceptics the UK cannot “wash our hands” of the Irish border issue as she urged the EU to increase the intensity of Brexit talks.

Speaking in Belfast, the Prime Minister said the UK and EU would need to work together in order to ensure the continuation of a “seamless border”.

Her comments will be seen as a slapdown to Brexiteers on her own benches who believe the UK should tell Brussels the Government would under no circumstances impose a hard border and dare the EU to do so in the event no withdrawal deal can be done.

Mrs May said: “Some argue that the right approach is for the UK to declare that we will not impose any checks at the border after we have left.

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The Independent

Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, has delivered the EU 27’s response to the Theresa May’s Brexit plan.

He welcomed several elements of the proposals agreed by ministers at Chequers but raised concerns over whether they are compatible with the integrity of the EU’s single market. He also cited border checks, unfair competition and potential fraud as other possible problems.

Mr Barnier was speaking after meeting with ministers from the EU’s 27 other member states.

Earlier, Theresa May used a speech in Northern Ireland to call on the EU to accept the UK’s Brexit proposals.

Visiting the region for the first time since taking office, the prime minister sought to reassure residents and businesses that she is committed to maintaining a soft border with the Republic of Ireland.

She insisted that her government’s Brexit plan “works for the whole UK, including Northern Ireland” and said it is “now for the EU to respond”.

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Theresa May in Northern Ireland to defend Brexit plan

July 20, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May will tell the people of Northern Ireland on Friday that her Brexit plan is the best way to avoid a hard border with Ireland, standing firm against critics in her own party.

Still reeling from the resignation last week of senior cabinet members and with her own political future uncertain, May will also call on the European Union to give some ground in talks on Britain’s departure from the bloc.

May flew to Northern Ireland on Thursday for a two-day visit to see up close the troubled British region’s frontier with EU-member Ireland, which has become one of the biggest stumbling blocks in the negotiations.

© Clodagh Kilcoy

After quitting the cabinet, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson singled out her treatment of the border as the biggest mistake of her negotiations with the EU for a smooth exit from the bloc next year.

May’s Brexit ‘white paper’, the policy document which prompted Johnson’s resignation, proposes negotiating the closest possible commercial links for goods trade to protect businesses and to fulfil a commitment to avoid having infrastructure on the border.

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Arlene Foster


Delighted to welcome the Prime Minister to Fermanagh & S. Tyrone – the most western constituency in the United Kingdom. Great discussion earlier with people who live and work on the border. . . Having dinner on the banks of Lough Erne – that’s RoI just across the water.

The 500-kilometre (300 mile) border has been largely invisible since army checkpoints were taken down after a 1998 peace deal ended three decades of violence between the region’s pro-British majority and an Irish nationalist minority. Over 3,600 died.

“The economic and constitutional dislocation of a formal ‘third country’ customs border within our own country is something I will never accept and I believe no British Prime Minister could ever accept,” May is to tell a crowd at Belfast’s Waterfront Hall on Friday, according to the extracts of the speech provided by her office.

Instead, she will say that she believes the close regulatory alignment on goods trade as described in her white paper, will meet her commitment to prevent the “inconceivable” eventuality of a hard border.

It is “now for the EU to respond. Not simply to fall back onto previous positions which have already been proven unworkable. But to evolve their position in kind,” she will say, according to the text.

>> Focus: 20 years after Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland faces uncertain future

Politicians have warned that the re-imposition of physical infrastructure on the border when it becomes the EU’s external frontier would anger Irish nationalists in Northern Ireland who aspire to unification with the Republic of Ireland and help militants opposed to the peace deal to recruit new members.

May has refused to accept a “backstop” solution proposed by the European Union in which Northern Ireland would remain closely aligned with the European Union’s single market and customs union on the grounds that it would create a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

Sinn Féin


Speaking as the British Prime Minister visited Fermanagh today, Sinn Féin deputy leader Michelle O’Neill accused Theresa May of attempting to renege on the commitments she made in December on Brexit.

Johnson on Wednesday told parliament that May had unnecessarily let the “readily soluble” border issue “become so politically charged as to dominate the debate” pushing May towards a close alignment with the EU he described as a “miserable, permanent limbo”.

“The process of withdrawal will be complex, and it will require hard work, serious work, and detailed work,” May will say in Belfast.

“The Government has done that work. The White Paper is our plan for the future.”

The first stop in May’s visit was the border village of Belleek in Fermanagh, the home county of pro-British Democratic Unionist Party leader Arlene Foster, whose party provides 10 votes in Britain’s lower house of parliament that May needs to govern.

She arrived in Belleek by helicopter before touring a pottery factory with Foster.

“This visit will enable Mrs May to speak with people who live, work and travel across the much talked about Irish border on a daily basis,” Foster said in an earlier statement.

On Friday May will meet the leadership of the largest Irish nationalist party, Sinn Fein.


Brexit: Theresa May’s Government to Offer Weekly Updates on “No Deal Brexit”

July 20, 2018

Britons will from next week start receiving weekly information bulletins from the government about how to make sure they’re ready for a disorderly Brexit, The Times reported on Friday.

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Anti-Brexit protesters are reflected in a puddle as they demonstrate opposite the Houses of Parliament in London, Britain, April 30, 2018. REUTERS/Simon Dawson/File Photo

The information will be distributed as “bundles” to consumers and companies as Britain counts down to its departure from the European Union on March 29, 2019, said the newspaper.

British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plan proposes negotiating the closest possible commercial links for goods trade, but even if she can secure enough support for it at home, she still needs to win agreement from the EU.

That means that a disorderly or no-deal Brexit, where the two sides fail to agree a new relationship, is still on the table.

Under the government’s new campaign, the newspaper said that small businesses will be given information about how to make customs declarations while British holidaymakers will be told to buy health insurance in case current reciprocal deals end.


Reporting by Sarah Young; editing by Guy Faulconbridge

Boris Johnson issues battle cry to block ‘botched’ Brexit

July 19, 2018

Former UK foreign secretary makes thinly veiled pitch for Conservative party leadership

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Boris Johnson delivers his resignation speech as foreign secretary to the Commons on Wednesday, using it as a thinly veiled pitch for the leadership of the Conservative party © AFP

By George Parker and Laura Hughes in London

Boris Johnson has drawn up the battle lines for the end game of Brexit, urging fellow Eurosceptics to join him in a fight to stop Theresa May signing a “botched treaty” with the EU and declaring: “It is not too late to save Brexit.”

The former foreign secretary’s Commons resignation statement on Wednesday was also a thinly veiled pitch for the Conservative party leadership, as he set himself as the standard bearer for a true Brexit.

The prime minister’s ability to deliver a Brexit deal in the autumn now hangs on whether Tory Eurosceptics follow Mr Johnson’s hardline stance, or if they heed her warning that Britain will end up staying in the EU should they torpedo her compromise plan.

The schism that has opened up on the Tory right over Brexit is now the biggest factor determining whether Mrs May can deliver an exit deal based on her “soft Brexit” plan that was thrashed out by the cabinet at Chequers, her country residence, this month.

While Mr Johnson and David Davis, the former Brexit secretary, quit the cabinet to lead resistance to the plan, many moderate Eurosceptics have swallowed the need for a compromise proposal that can win the support of MPs.

Environment secretary Michael Gove, trade secretary Liam Fox and the new Brexit secretary Dominic Raab are among the Eurosceptics calling for the party to unite behind Mrs May to make sure Britain leaves the EU on March 29 2019.

Mr Gove, backed by many moderate Conservative Eurosceptics, has been telling fellow Tories that the main task is to get Brexit “over the line” and that flaws in the exit treaty can be fixed once Britain has left.

Mr Johnson was scathing of that approach. “It is absolute nonsense to imagine, as I fear some of my colleagues do, that we can somehow afford to make a botched treaty now, and then break and reset the bone later on,” he told MPs.

Mr Johnson said that Mrs May’s Brexit plan, outlined in a white paper published last week, would leave Britain in a state of “miserable permanent limbo” and that the prime minister had come up with a “Heath Robinson” customs proposal.

Mrs May agreed a new strategy with cabinet colleagues this week intended to push more Eurosceptics into Mr Gove’s camp, by highlighting the risks to Brexit if MPs reject her deal in the autumn.

“We’ve all been asked to make the point that if the Commons votes down a deal, the result will not be a ‘no deal’ Brexit, it would be no Brexit at all,” said one cabinet minister.

Downing Street argued that if MPs rejected Mrs May’s deal, the Labour party would use an arcane parliamentary procedure known as a “humble address” to force a vote to stop Mrs May leading Britain out of the EU without a deal.

Most MPs are opposed to a “no deal” exit because of the economic chaos it would unleash, in spite of claims by Mr Johnson, Mr Davis and arch-Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg that Britain could simply trade with the EU on World Trade Organization terms.

“If we can’t agree on a deal or a no deal exit, the only way out would be to have a general election,” said the minister. “We would also come under pressure to have another referendum. Either way, Brexit would be in jeopardy.”

At a meeting of the 1922 committee of Conservative backbenchers on Wednesday, Mrs May urged MPs to back her. She was given a boost when one Eurosceptic, Simon Clarke, stood up in front of colleagues to say he was withdrawing his letter calling for a vote of confidence in the prime minister.

Mr Clarke said: “We all want Brexit to succeed: that is the reality. I don’t want to go into the summer feeling like the Conservative party is at war with itself.”

Mr Rees-Mogg agreed that the mood at the “end-of-term” meeting of the 1922 committee, which took place after several Commons votes on Brexit this week had highlighted Mrs May’s fragile grip, had been “very supportive” of the PM.

Mrs May joked with journalists before the meeting that she did not intend to watch a recording of Mr Johnson’s resignation speech, saying she would rather be attending to documents in her official red box instead.

Although Mrs May had to abandon her attempt to end the turmoil by bringing forward the date of the Commons summer recess to Thursday, in practice many MPs are already packing their bags.

They will not return to Westminster until early September, by which point Mrs May is meant to be in the final stages of negotiating the deal in Brussels that will make or break her premiership — and Britain’s future relations with the EU.


‘It’s not too late to save Brexit’, Boris Johnson tells UK parliament

July 18, 2018

Boris Johnson, Britain’s former foreign secretary who quit in protest at Theresa May’s plan for leaving the European Union, urged parliament on Wednesday to rethink its strategy, adding that the country would never get the chance to get it right again.

“It is not too late to save Brexit,” he said as he delivered his resignation speech. “We have time in these negotiations, we have changed tack once and we can change again.

“The problem is not that we failed to make the case for a Free Trade Agreement of the kind spelt out (by May) at Lancaster House, we haven’t even tried. We must try now because we will not get another chance to get it right.”


Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; writing by Kate Holton; editing by Stephen Addison

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Boris Johnson: It is not too late to save Brexit

Irish foreign minister says EU to negotiate Brexit on UK’s white paper only

July 18, 2018

The European Union plans to negotiate Britain’s withdrawal on the basis of the British government’s white paper on Brexit and will not focus on amendments passed by parliament, Ireland’s foreign minister said on Wednesday.

Image result for Simon Coveney, Photos
Ireland’s Foreign Minister Simon Coveney

One of several amendments passed by the British parliament this week accepted Brexit campaigners’ demands for a legal guarantee that there would be no post-Brexit customs border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.

That move could complicate Ireland’s demand for a backstop agreement that could have kept Northern Ireland but not the rest of the United Kingdom in an EU customs union.

Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the amendment did not make that backstop illegal in the UK, but that it and other amendments were unhelpful because they distracted from urgent British-EU negotiations and cast doubt on whether May could secure backing for a final deal from parliament.

“If we get distracted by individual amendments to individual pieces of legislation — legislation that isn’t even fully passed yet, and isn’t even passed by the House of Lords yet — then I think we get dragged into an unnecessary debate that wastes a lot of time and energy,” Coveney told Irish state broadcaster RTE in a radio interview.

“What we need to do is focus on the white paper that the British government has published and it is up to the British government then to get that through their parliamentary system or get a version of that when the negotiations conclude,” he said. “That is the only way we can work.”

It has to be the British government rather than parliament leading the negotiations, he added, noting that changes to legislation can be reversed.

“The way in which international trade and political negotiations and agreements happen is that governments negotiate on behalf of their countries and then they go back once an agreement is made to look for support and ratification,” he said.

“What the British parliament is trying to do is the other way around, which doesn’t work.”

Reporting by Conor Humphries; Editing by Catherine Evans


Back UK PM May or face national election, Brexit rebels told

July 18, 2018

Pro-European Union rebels were threatened with a general election this summer if they defeated Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit plans on customs, a lawmaker said on Wednesday, threatening to widen rifts in the PM’s party.

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks to representatives during a visit to the Airbus area at the Farnborough Airshow in Farnborough, England, Monday, July 16, 2018.

Photo: Matt Dunham, AP

Conservative whips, who enforce discipline in the party, threatened to call a confidence vote that could bring down the government before a crucial vote on Tuesday on customs, one lawmaker told Reuters. Rebel lawmaker Anna Soubry told BBC radio that the prospect of a national election was also raised.

“It was an appalling spectacle,” Soubry told BBC Radio 4, adding she had told a senior whip to “bring it on”.

“These nonsenses of threatening general elections, and votes of confidence in the prime minister … bring it on, because I shall be the first in the queue to give my vote of full confidence in the prime minister,” Soubry said. “Problem is, I don’t think she’s in charge any more.”

Conservative lawmakers fear an election, and the possible victory of veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn. Earlier this month, his Labour Party took a lead in the polls.

Labour also says the June 2016 referendum vote to leave the European Union must be respected but has attacked the PM over the splits in her party.

In one of the most tumultuous periods in recent British political history, there have been four major votes in the past four years: the Scottish independence referendum of 2014, the 2015 UK election, the Brexit referendum of 2016 and the snap election called by May last year.

May narrowly avoided a defeat in parliament at the hands of the pro-EU lawmakers from her own party in Tuesday’s vote, helped by four opposition Labour lawmakers who went against their party to support the government. Turmoil over Brexit plans has hit the pound.

Parliament voted 307 to 301 against an amendment to trade legislation that would have required the government to try to negotiate a customs union arrangement with the EU if, by Jan. 21, 2019, it had failed to negotiate a frictionless free trade deal with the bloc.

On Monday, May infuriated Conservative lawmakers who want to keep the closest possible ties with the EU when she decided to accept a number of demands by hardline pro-Brexit MPs from her party.

That came after she had fought hard to get the agreement of cabinet ministers at her Chequers country residence earlier this month for her vision of Brexit. The cabinet deal was then undermined by the resignations of Brexit minister David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson.


Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge and Alistair Smout; Editing by Catherine Evans

Theresa May prepares for a grilling from MPs

July 18, 2018

Theresa May will address Conservative MPs later following a week which has shown up her party’s Brexit divisions.

The meeting will be the prime minister’s last chance to rally backbenchers before the summer recess.

It will cap off a day which includes Prime Minister’s Questions and an appearance by Mrs May at the Liaison Committee of select committee chairs.

BBC News

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On Tuesday ministers saw off a bid by Tory rebels to create a customs union with the EU if a trade deal failed.

The rebel amendment to the trade bill was defeated by only six votes.

Twelve Conservatives rebelled against their party by supporting the amendment but the government’s total was boosted by the support of four Labour MPs.

Conservative Anna Soubry criticised colleagues who have a “gold-plated pension” and support Brexit

Conservative MPs were warned that voting for the amendment, and therefore against the government, could lead to a vote of no confidence in the prime minister, the BBC understands.

Prime Minister’s Questions will be Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn’s last opportunity to question Mrs May before Parliament breaks for the summer.

The prime minister will then head to the Liaison Committee – due to start at 15:00 BST.

The committee – which usually sits three times a year – is made up of the chairs of each select committee.

With more than 30 senior MPs from the main parties free to ask questions, the session could be lengthy.

Once that is over the prime minister will attend a meeting of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs.

The meeting comes amid rumours that Tories seeking to remove Mrs May are close to getting the 48 signatures they need to trigger a no-confidence vote.

Such a vote could pave the way for a leadership election.

There has also been speculation that Boris Johnson – who resigned as foreign secretary after disagreeing with the prime minister’s vision of the future relationship with the EU brokered at Chequers – will take the opportunity to make a resignation speech in the Commons on Wednesday.

Tony Blair calls for second vote to fix Brexit ‘mess’

July 17, 2018

“It’s a total and complete mess”: Former prime minister Tony Blair does not hold back when asked in an interview with AFP what he makes of the British government’s approach to Brexit.

Blair, who held the office for 10 years, said he sympathises with Prime Minister Theresa May as she seeks to unite her party behind a plan for leaving the European Union, suggesting she has “the least enviable job in Western politics”.

But the former Labour leader warned that with the scheduled date for Brexit approaching in March next year, it is time for her to admit “there’s no way out” and call another referendum — with the option of staying in the EU.

© AFP | Former British prime minister Tony Blair says it’s time for Theresa May to admit “there’s no way out” and call another Brexit referendum

“Once this thing has been started by a referendum it can frankly only be finished by a fresh vote,” he said.

Blair left office in 2007 and spent many of the following years abroad, including as an international envoy to the Middle East.

But these days he is more often found in London, where he has plunged back into British politics.

“I’m passionately opposed to Brexit and I still believe it can be changed,” the 65-year-old told AFP in the offices of his non-profit organisation, the Institute for Global Change.

After two years of wrangling with her Conservative party, May finally presented her plan this month for economic ties with the EU after Brexit, sparking outrage among hardliners in the party for giving too much away to the EU.

– May’s plan is ‘mush’ –

Blair himself said it was a “mush”, an “incomplete half-in half-out” plan that pleased no one — and was unlikely to be accepted by Brussels.

He noted the inherent dilemma in Brexit — stay close to the EU to protect trade but forfeit the opportunities of going it alone, or cut ties altogether and risk damage to the economy.

With parliament “paralysed” on the way forward, “the only way in the end this is going to be resolved is putting it back to the people”, he said.

Blair’s interventions on Brexit have not always been well received in Britain, where his decision to join the United States in invading Iraq in 2003 remains hugely controversial.

But while the prime minister who called the Brexit vote in 2016, David Cameron, has retired from the public eye to write his memoirs, Blair refuses to stay silent.

Some have suggested Blair had a role in Brexit by failing to limit migration from new EU member states from central and eastern Europe when they joined in 2004, leading to a huge influx of workers that sparked public alarm.

He rejected the idea as “ridiculously overhyped”, insisting non-EU migration was a driver of Brexit vote — while acknowledging that if he had stayed in power longer, he might have tried to “tighten things up”.

– Populism risk –

The European Union itself is currently split over how to handle irregular migration and asylum seekers, divisions Blair described as “very dangerous”.

“There is a crisis. The popularism of left and right is, you know, (at) risk of breaking the back of Western politics,” Blair said.

He admitted that “the centre ground of politics is pretty absent at the moment” — but denied suggestions he could help form a new centrist party in Britain.

His own Labour party has moved to the political left since he was in charge, and while many of its MPs are pro-European, its socialist leader Jeremy Corbyn is more sceptical.

Labour backs Brexit but has called for a new customs union with the EU, and has refused to rule out a second vote.

Blair said that for all his hopes of stopping Brexit, it depended on “whether at the top of the Labour party the leader, the people around the leader, still want Brexit to go through”.

But he said he hoped it would “come back to sense”, adding that in the meantime, he would press his case.


Tory Europhiles set to rebel against Theresa

July 17, 2018
At least a dozen Conservative MPs ready to side with Labour over customs union
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Theresa May has vowed that Britain will not remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit © AFP

By George Parker and Roger Blitz in London

Theresa May was on Tuesday struggling to stop her Brexit plan from unravelling, as Europhile Conservative MPs prepared to vote with Labour for a measure that could keep Britain in a customs union with the EU.

Less than 24 hours after Mrs May caved in to Eurosceptic Tory MPs by accepting four hostile amendments to the government’s customs bill, Europhile Conservatives plotted their revenge on the prime minister.

Nicky Morgan and Stephen Hammond tabled an amendment to the government’s trade bill that would require Britain to stay in a customs union with the EU if Mrs May failed to secure a “frictionless free trade area for goods” by January 21 2019.

The MPs estimate that at least a dozen Europhile Tories are prepared to back the amendment in a House of Commons vote due on Tuesday, potentially enough to wipe out Mrs May’s working majority of 13. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has told his party to back the amendment.

Sterling fell sharply as markets digested how Mrs May is at the centre of a struggle between rival Conservative factions that could derail her soft Brexit plan, which was thrashed out by the cabinet at Chequers, her country residence, this month.

Mrs May has vowed that Britain will not remain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit, arguing that it would prevent the UK from pursuing its own trade policy — seen by Eurosceptics as one of the main arguments for leaving the bloc.

The government’s white paper on the UK’s future relationship with the EU, published last week, proposed a hybrid “facilitated customs agreement”, under which Britain would effectively stay within the bloc’s customs territory while having the freedom to set its own tariffs and trade policy.

Europhile Tories had been prepared to give Mrs May breathing space to pursue her plan — even though they suspect it will be rejected by Brussels — but their attitude has hardened in the last 48 hours.

The amendment by Ms Morgan and Mr Hammond would provide what Labour’s Chris Leslie called “a safety net” — ensuring that Britain remained in a customs union with the EU if Mrs May’s negotiations in Brussels failed to provide a frictionless free trade area in goods.

Mrs May believes that if the amendment is approved by MPs it would mean that Brussels would have little incentive to negotiate with Britain on her Brexit plan, knowing there was a legal backstop that would see the UK stay in a full customs union with the EU.

Europhile Tory MP Heidi Allen said she wished Mrs May had “faced down the amendments” to the customs bill that were tabled by leading Eurosceptic Conservative Jacob Rees-Mogg and other colleagues.

She told the BBC: “We were all set [on the Remain side] to drop all our amendments and back [Mrs May’s plan], then suddenly we had these rather extreme last minute manoeuvres, which seem to us to deviate the prime minister from her plan.”

Dominic Grieve, another Europhile Conservative MP, said Mrs May had, by accepting the amendments from Mr Rees-Mogg, put herself in “a position of considerable weakness”.

Sterling took a nose-dive, at one point falling nearly 1 per cent against the dollar from its high of the day, and by 0.6 per cent against the euro.

Some of the decline could be attributed to a stronger dollar, but analysts said they mainly believed investors were spooked by Mrs May’s possible defeat in the Commons.

The markets have in recent weeks viewed Westminster developments as favouring a softer Brexit, which has supported the pound, but there is growing concern that the government’s problems with the parliamentary arithmetic raises the prospect of a no-deal outcome.