Posts Tagged ‘Britain’

A Russian Ghost Submarine, Its U.S. Pursuers and a Deadly New Cold War

October 20, 2017

A resurgence in Russian submarine technology has reignited an undersea rivalry that played out in a cat-and-mouse sea hunt across the Mediterranean

Animation: George Downs/The Wall Street Journal

 

The Krasnodar, a Russian attack submarine, left the coast of Libya in late May, headed east across the Mediterranean, then slipped undersea, quiet as a mouse. Then, it fired a volley of cruise missiles into Syria.

In the days that followed, the diesel-electric sub was pursued by the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, its five accompanying warships, MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and P-8 Poseidon anti-sub jets flying out of Italy.

In the days that followed, the diesel-electric sub was pursued by the aircraft carrier USS George H.W. Bush, its five accompanying warships, MH-60R Seahawk helicopters and P-8 Poseidon anti-sub jets flying out of Italy.

The U.S. and its allies had set out to track the Krasnodar as it moved to its new home in the Black Sea. The missile attack upended what had been a routine voyage, and prompted one of the first U.S. efforts to track a Russian sub during combat since the Cold War. Over the next weeks, the sub at points eluded detection in a sea hunt that tested the readiness of Western allies for a new era in naval warfare.

Russia’s Krasnodar submarine.Photo: Russian Look/ZUMA PRESS

An unexpected resurgence in Russian submarine development, which deteriorated after the breakup of the Soviet Union, has reignited the undersea rivalry of the Cold War, when both sides deployed fleets of attack subs to hunt for rival submarines carrying nuclear-armed ballistic missiles.

When underwater, enemy submarines are heard, not seen—and Russia brags that its new subs are the world’s quietest. The Krasnodar is wrapped in echo-absorbing skin to evade sonar; its propulsion system is mounted on noise-cutting dampers; rechargeable batteries drive it in near silence, leaving little for sub hunters to hear. “The Black Hole,” U.S. allies call it.

“As you improve the quieting of the submarines and their capability to move that much more stealthily through the water, it makes it that much harder to find,” said U.S. Navy Capt. Benjamin Nicholson, of Destroyer Squadron 22, who oversees surface and undersea warfare for the USS Bush strike group. “Not impossible, just more difficult.”

Russia’s support of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad has given Russian President Vladimir Putin opportunities to test the cruise missiles aboard the new subs over the past two years, raising the stakes for the U.S. and its allies.

The USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier on July 22 in the Mediterranean Sea.Photo: Daniel Gaither/Planet Pix/ZUMA PRESS

Top officials of North Atlantic Treaty Organization say the alliance must consider new investments in submarines and sub-hunting technology. The findings of a study this year from the Center for a New American Security, a Washington-based think tank, grabbed the attention of senior NATO leaders: The U.S. and its allies weren’t prepared for an undersea conflict with Russia.

“We still remain dominant in the undersea world,” said Gen. Curtis Scaparrotti, the top U.S. and NATO commander in Europe. “But we too must focus on modernizing the equipment we have and improving our skills.”

The U.S. Navy, which for years trained its sub-hunting teams through naval exercises and computer simulations, is again tracking Russian submarines in the Baltic, North Atlantic and Mediterranean seas. The challenge extends beyond Russia, which has sold subs to China, India and elsewhere.

“Nothing gets you better than doing it for real,” Capt. Nicholson said. “Steel sharpens steel.”

This account was based on interviews with officials from the U.S. Navy, NATO and crew members aboard the USS Bush, as well as Russian government announcements.

The U.S. Navy is engaged in a technology-fueled game of hide and seek, hunting for stealthy Russian submarines like the Krasnodar, a.k.a. “The Black Hole.” Video/Image: George Downs/WSJ.

Lookout duty

On May 6, after a last volley of cruise-missile tests conducted in the Baltic Sea, the Russian defense ministry said the Krasnodar was to join the country’s Black Sea fleet in Sevastopol, Ukraine, via the Mediterranean. American allies already knew.

The sub, traveling on the ocean surface, was accompanied by a Russian tug boat. The U.S. and its NATO allies had hashed out a plan to follow the sub using maritime-patrol aircraft and surface ships.

“Even if you are tracking a transiting submarine that is not trying to hide, it takes coordination and effort,” said Capt. Bill Ellis, the commodore of Task Force 67, the U.S. sub-hunting planes in Europe.

NATO’s maritime force, led by a Dutch frigate, took first lookout duty. The Dutch sent NH-90 helicopter to snap a photo of the sub in the North Sea and posted it on Twitter. Surveillance of the Krasnodar then turned to the U.K.’s HMS Somerset on May 5, about the time the sub entered the North Sea by the Dutch coast.

The Krasnodar passed through the English Channel and continued past France and Spain, where a Spanish patrol boat took up the escort.

When the submarine reached Gibraltar, a U.S. Navy cruiser monitored the sub’s entry into the Mediterranean Sea on May 13. U.S. Navy P-8 Poseidon aircraft, flying out of the Sigonella air base in Italy, also took up watch.

“We want to see where it goes,” Capt. Ellis said. “At any time a submarine could submerge and start to be hidden, so we want to follow.”

As the Krasnodar headed east, Russia’s defense ministry notified international airlines that it would be conducting drills off the coast of Libya. U.S. officials and defense analysts said the drills were part of a sales pitch to potential buyers, including Egypt, that would show off the submarine’s cruise missiles.

A more dramatic and unexpected display came a few days later. Russia’s defense ministry announced on May 29 that the sub’s cruise missiles had struck Islamic State targets and killed militants near Syria’s city of Palmyra. Suddenly, a routine tracking mission turned much more serious.

Russia released images of what officials said was the Krasnodar submarine launching cruise missiles at Islamic State targets near Palmyra, Syria, as well as images of missile strikes.Photo: Russian Defence Ministry Press Office/TASS/ZUMA Press

With both U.S. and Russian forces crossing paths in Syria, each pursuing distinct and sometimes conflicting agendas, the battlefield has grown more complicated. The Russians have given only limited warnings of their strikes to the U.S.-led coalition. That has required the U.S. and its allies to keep a close eye on Russian submarines hiding in the Mediterranean.

Nuclear-armed submarines are the cornerstone of the U.S. and U.K.’s strategic deterrent. For the U.S., these subs make up one leg of the so-called triad of nuclear forces—serving, essentially, as a retaliatory strike force.

Smaller attack submarines like the Krasnodar, armed with conventional torpedoes and cruise missiles, can pose a more tangible threat to U.S. aircraft carriers, which are the Navy’s most important weapon to project American power around the world.

On June 5, the USS Bush, a $6.2 billion carrier, and its warships, passed through the Suez Canal into the Mediterranean. Its mission was to support U.S.-backed Syrian rebels and attack Islamic State positions.

A sailor on the bridge of the USS George H.W. Bush aircraft carrier on June 21 while at sea on the Mediterranean. Photo: Bram Janssen/Associated Press

Amid rising tensions between U.S. and Russian military forces in Syria—and with the Krasnodar trying to evade Western surveillance—the job of the USS Bush now also included tracking the sub and learning more about its so-called pattern of life: its tactics, techniques and battle rhythms.

By then, the Krasnodar had slipped beneath the waves and begun the game of hide and seek. Sailors and aviators with little real-world experience in anti-sub warfare began a crash course.

“It is an indication of the changing dynamic in the world that a skill set, maybe we didn’t spend a lot of time on in the last 15 years, is coming back,” said Capt. Jim McCall, commander of the air wing on the USS Bush.

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USS George H.W. Bush

Into the deep

The Krasnodar was designed to operate close to shore, invisible to opposing forces and able to strike missile targets 1,600 miles away. The coastal waters of the Mediterranean south of Cyprus, which put it within range of Syria, provided plenty of places to hide.

Finding a submarine that is operating on batteries underwater is very difficult. How many hours or days the Krasnodar’s batteries can operate before recharging is a secret neither Russian officials who know, nor the U.S. Navy, which may have a good idea, will talk about.

Generated by AI2DynInsetPhoto: Sources: news reports; U.S.S. George H.W. Bush crew

Western naval analysts say the sub most likely must use its diesel engines to recharge batteries every couple of days. When the diesel engines are running, they say, the sub can be more easily found.

The Krasnodar wasn’t likely to challenge an aircraft carrier. But the U.S. Navy was taking no chances. “One small submarine has the ability to threaten a large capital asset like an aircraft carrier,” said Capt. Ellis, the P-8 task force commander.

For many days in June, a squadron of MH-60R Seahawk helicopters lifted off from the deck of the USS Bush and its accompanying destroyers in the eastern Mediterranean. Some used radar for signs of the Krasnodar on the water’s surface. Others lowered sonar beacons to varying ocean depths.

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MH-60RSeahawk helicopter

“When you find what you are looking for in an ocean of nothingness, then it feels really good,” said Naval Aircrewman First Class Scott Fetterhoff, who manned radar gear aboard a Seahawk helicopter. U.S. Navy radar, used on ships, helicopters and jets, can detect objects as small as a periscope.

Cmdr. Edward Fossati, the commander of Helicopter Maritime Strike Squadron 70, the Bush Strike Group’s sub-hunting helicopters, said Russian subs have gotten quieter but the cat-and-mouse game remained about even with advances in tracking: “We are much better at it than we were 20 years ago.”

That includes narrowing down where to look. The USS Bush had on board three Navy anti-sub oceanographers to help track the vessel.

Submarines look for ways to hamper sonar equipment by exploiting undersea terrain and subsurface ocean currents and eddies. Differences in water temperature and density can bend sound waves, making it difficult to pinpoint the source of a sound.

U.S. Navy computer systems analyze the ocean environment and make predictions about how sound will travel in a given patch of ocean. Using the sub’s last known position and expected destination, the oceanographers use the data to mark potential hiding places and determine where search teams should focus.

“It is a constant foot race,” said U.S. Navy Secretary Richard V. Spencer. “And, as I say, ‘Game on.’ ”

On June 18, a Syrian Sukhoi jet fighter threatened U.S.-backed rebels advancing toward Raqqa, the Islamic State’s de facto capital. Fighter planes from the USS Bush warned away the Sukhoi. When the Syrian pilot ignored flares and radio calls, Lt. Cmdr. Michael Tremel shot down the Sukhoi. Moscow threatened to shoot down U.S. planes in western Syria.

Five days later, the submerged Krasnodar fired another salvo of cruise missiles. Russian officials said they hit an Islamic State ammunition depot.

“They were flexing their muscles,” said Rear Adm. Kenneth Whitesell, commander of the USS Bush strike group. U.S. officials wouldn’t say how long the Krasnodar remained hidden underwater, but Adm. Whitesell said the launch was watched by a French frigate and U.S. Navy aerial surveillance.

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P-8 U.S. Navy submarine hunter

Flight-tracking companies don’t log military flights, but amateur plane watchers examining transponder data often catch clues. On July 2, with the USS Bush in a five-day port call in Haifa, Israel, a P-8 flew toward the Syrian coast, apparently searching the seas, according to amateur plane watchers.

On July 20, the flight-tracking data showed two P-8s flying south of Cyprus, close to six hours apart. The first plane was observed on flight-tracking sites making tight circles over the Mediterranean south of Cyprus, a flight pattern typical of a plane homing in on a submarine.

Capt. Ellis wouldn’t say if his P-8s had the Krasnodar in their sights.

F/A-18E Super Hornet jets of U.S. Navy strike fighter squadron VFA-31 and Northrop Grumman E-2C Hawkeye planes of Carrier Airborne Early Warning Squadron 126 on the USS George H.W. Bush on July 3..Photo: ronen zvulun / pool/European Pressphoto Agency

Tables turn

After the Soviet Union’s collapse in 1991, Moscow curtailed undersea operations. In 2000, the nuclear-powered Kursk sank with 118 sailors, a naval tragedy emblematic of the decline.

Russia’s military modernization program, announced in 2011, poured new money into its submarine program, allowing Russian engineers to begin moving ahead with newer, quieter designs.

When the Krasnodar was completed in 2015 at the St. Petersburg’s Admiralty Shipyards, Russia boasted it could elude the West’s most advanced sonar. NATO planners worry subs could cut trans-Atlantic communication cables or keep U.S. ships from reaching Europe in a crisis, as Nazi subs did in World War II.

“If you want to transport a lot of stuff, you have to do that by ship,” said NATO’s submarine commander, Rear Adm. Andrew Lennon. “And those ships are vulnerable to undersea threats.”

NATO’s military leaders have recommended reviving the Cold War-era Atlantic Command, dedicated to protecting sea lanes, alliance officials said, a proposal that defense ministers are expected to approve.

U.S. officials have said they believe that Moscow’s support of the Assad regime is partly for access to a strategic port in the eastern Mediterranean to resupply and rearm warships. The Syrian port of Tartus is expanding to include a Russian submarine maintenance facility, according to Turkish officials.

On July 30, the Krasnodar surfaced in the Mediterranean. The Krasnodar’s port call in Tartus, coinciding with Navy Day, a celebration of Russia’s maritime forces, marked the end of its hide-and-seek maneuvers with the USS Bush. On Aug. 9, the Krasnodar arrived in Crimea to join the Black Sea fleet, Russian officials said. Its mission appeared a success: Moscow showed it could continue unfettered strikes in Syria with its growing undersea fleet.

The Krasnodar, Russia’s diesel-electric attack submarine, at its new home port in Crimea. Photo: Pavlishak Alexei/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

By then, the Bush carrier strike group had left the eastern Mediterranean for the coast of Scotland, where the U.S. and British navies, along with a Norwegian frigate, were conducting a joint exercise called Saxon Warrior. U.K. sailors boarded the USS Bush and heard lessons from the Krasnodar hunt.

Days before the exercise, Capt. Nicholson predicted another Russian sub would be nearby. “We are in the Russians’ backyard,” he said. “Prudence dictates we are ready for whatever or whomever might come out to watch.

A senior U.S. official later said a Russian sub had indeed shadowed the exercise, which ended Aug. 10. NATO officials wouldn’t comment.

A new nuclear-powered class of Russian submarines even more sophisticated than the Krasnodar, called the Yasen, are designed to destroy aircraft carriers. They are built with low-magnetic steel to better evade detection and can dive deeper than larger U.S. submarines

At the time of the U.S.-U.K. exercise, Russia said its only Yasen sub officially in operation, the Severodvinsk, was in the Barents Sea. But a second, more advanced Yasen sub, the Kazan, was undergoing sea trials.

Crew members at the launching of the Kazan, one of a new class of nuclear-power Russian submarines. Photo: Ryumin Alexander/TASS/ZUMA PRESS

Russian, NATO, and U.S. officials won’t say whether the Kazan was shadowing the U.S.-U.K. exercise in the North Atlantic.

On Aug. 17, a U.S. P-8, flying from a Norwegian base, conducted three days of operations, according to amateur aviation trackers. Canadian air force patrol planes also flew out of Scotland. On Aug. 26, French planes joined.

Allied officials said some of the flights were searching the waters for a Russian submarine. The USS Bush, however, was out of the hunt. On Aug. 21, she returned to port in Norfolk, Va.

Write to Julian E. Barnes at julian.barnes@wsj.com

https://www.wsj.com/articles/a-russian-ghost-submarine-its-u-s-pursuers-and-a-deadly-new-cold-war-1508509841

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G7, tech giants agree on plan to block jihadist content online

October 20, 2017

AFP

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© AFP / by Ella IDE | The G7 interior ministers are meeting at a seafront hotel on the island of Ischia off the coast of Naples.

ISCHIA (ITALY) (AFP) – G7 countries and tech giants including Google, Facebook and Twitter on Friday agreed to work together to block the dissemination of Islamist extremism over the internet.

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“These are the first steps towards a great alliance in the name of freedom,” Italian Interior Minister Marco Minniti said after a two-day meeting with his Group of Seven counterparts, stressing the importance of the internet for extremist “recruitment, training and radicalisation.”

Officials said the accord aimed at removing jihadist content from the web within two hours of being posted.

“Our enemies are moving at the speed of a tweet and we need to counter them just as quickly,” acting US Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke said.

While acknowledging progress had been made, Britain’s Home Secretary Amber Rudd insisted “companies need to go further and faster to not only take down extremist content but also stop it being uploaded in the first place”.

The meeting on the Italian island of Ischia off Naples also focused on ways to tackle one of the West’s biggest security threats — jihadist fighters fleeing Syria — as the European Union promised to help close a migration route considered a potential back door for terrorists.

Tens of thousands of citizens from Western countries travelled to Syria and Iraq to fight for the Islamic State group between 2014 and 2016, including some who then returned home and staged attacks that claimed dozens of lives.

Minniti warned last week that fighters planning revenge attacks following the collapse of the IS stronghold in Raqa could hitch lifts back to Europe on migrant boats from Libya.

The United States and Italy signed an agreement on the sidelines of the G7 meeting to share their fingerprint databases in a bid to root out potential extremists posing as asylum seekers.

The “technical understanding” aims “to ascertain whether (migrants, asylum seekers or refugees) are noted criminal suspects or terrorists”, Minniti’s office said.

– ‘De-radicalisation’ –

Earlier, EU President Donald Tusk promised the bloc would fork out more funds to help shut down the perilous crossing from Libya to Italy — a popular path for migrants who hope to journey on to Europe.

The EU would offer “stronger support for Italy’s work with the Libyan authorities”, and there was “a real chance of closing the central Mediterranean route”, he said.

Italy has played a major role in training Libya’s coastguard to stop human trafficking in its territorial waters, as well as making controversial deals with Libyan militias to stop migrants from setting off.

Minniti said the G7 ministers had discussed how to go about “de-radicalising” citizens returning from the IS frontline, to prevent them becoming security risks in jails.

The ministers had also brainstormed on how to tackle the legal headache of prosecuting returnees, amid questions over what sort of evidence, collected by whom, could be used in a domestic court.

The US and Britain called for more to be done on aviation safety, particularly through the sharing of passenger data.

– ‘Malware of terror’ –

The Group of Seven — Britain, Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan and the US — said it had also called on the web giants to work with their smaller partners to bolster the anti-extremism shield.

“IS took to the technology world like a fish to water,” Minniti said, adding that it was time to unleash the antidote to its “malware of terror”.

Rudd said the UK government would do its part by changing the law so that those accessing and viewing extremist material on the web could face up to 15 years behind bars.

But Julian Richards, security specialist at BUCSIS (Buckingham University Centre for Security and Intelligence Studies), said the rest of the G7 was unlikely to get behind her on that front.

“The UK’s fairly hard approach of introducing legislative measures to try to force companies to cooperate… and suggestions that people radicalising online should have longer sentences, are often considered rather unpalatable and too politically sensitive in many other advanced countries,” he told AFP.

by Ella IDE

Macron says work on Brexit not even halfway done

October 20, 2017

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – French President Emmanuel Macron said on Friday that work on settling Britain’s financial obligations to the EU when it leaves was not even halfway done.

He said more than half the work remained to be completed on the crucial issue of Britain’s exit bill and that discussions could not move to the next phase on the future relationship until the three divorce issues of citizens’ rights, the Irish border and financial settlement have been settled.

“A lot is in the hands of Theresa May,” Macron said in a news conference at the end of an EU summit.

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British Prime Minister Theresa May, center, speaks with French President Emmanuel Macron, right, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel, left, during a round table meeting at an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017. British Prime Minister Theresa May headed to a European Union summit Thursday with a pledge to treat EU residents well once Britain leaves the bloc. (AP Photo/Geert Vanden Wijngaert)

Reporting by Julia Fioretti; editing by Robert-Jan Bartunek

No trade talks but May wins gesture, warm words at EU summit

October 20, 2017

Image may contain: 2 people, people smiling, people sitting

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, British Prime Minister Theresa May (C), and Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat take part in an EU summit in Brussels, Belgium October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Julien Warnand/Pool

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – EU leaders shunned Theresa May’s summit plea to negotiate a post-Brexit trade deal on Friday but sweetened the pill for the fragile British prime minister with warm words and a gesture toward future talks.

May asked the other 27 over dinner in Brussels on Thursday to help her quell calls in Britain for her to walk out of deadlocked talks on a divorce settlement by giving assurances they expect to get to a deal in the coming weeks. They obliged with some long anticipated language in a formal statement.

But perhaps as important for the Conservative leader, under fire from party rivals over her efforts to ease Britain gently out of the European Union in 2019, were markedly upbeat remarks from German Chancellor Angela Merkel and images, much reproduced in British media, of May engaged in animated, friendly conversation with Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron.

With talks on the divorce package deadlocked mainly over a refusal by May to detail how much she is willing to pay of the around 60 billion euros ($70 billion) that Brussels is demanding, she said again that a final figure would depend on what future relationship is negotiated — and urged the EU to move ahead and open talks on a post-Brexit free trade pact.

EU diplomats said some leaders present at the dinner understood that May had gone somewhat further than she did in a keynote speech last month in Florence, while others believed she had stuck to an insistence that the EU’s financial demands had “no legal framework” but that London would make a contribution.

HONOUR COMMITMENTS

Asked at a news conference whether she had improved her offer, which officials calculate as representing about 20 billion euros, May said she had repeated what she said in Italy — namely that the other 27 countries would not lose out in the current EU budget plan and Britain would “honour its commitments”. EU officials say she won’t say what those are.

She told reporters on Friday that she was “positive and optimistic” about getting a deal that would benefit both sides but added: “We still have some way to go.”

Merkel told a late-night news conference after the dinner: “In contrast to how it is portrayed in the British press, my impression is that these talks are moving forward step by step”.

The German chancellor said suggestions in Britain that talks should be broken off were “absurd”.

“I have absolutely no doubts that if we are all focused … that we can get a good result,” she said. “From my side there are no indications at all that we won’t succeed.”

After May left on Friday morning, the other 27 took less than two minutes to endorse a prepared statement that Britain had failed to make “sufficient progress” on offers to settle three key issues on a withdrawal treaty — namely rights for EU citizens in Britain, the new Irish border and the “Brexit bill”.

However, the leaders held open the hope of reaching a deal at the next regular summit in December. And in a move that could save weeks of delay, they ordered EU negotiators to start preparing for what Brussels will want in a transition period.

But they still want the money. The text read: “The European Union … notes that, while the UK has stated that it will honour its financial obligations taken during its membership, this has not yet been translated into a firm and concrete commitment from the UK to settle all of these obligations.”

Like Merkel, other leaders emphasised the positive too: Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called May’s speech her “best performance yet” and “a warm, candid and sincere appeal”. Ireland’s Leo Varadkar said it was “very strong”.

But others complained they had heard little new of substance and rejected May’s repetition of London’s view that demands for money from Brussels have “no legal framework”. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said “rhetorical progress” needed to be followed by “tangible conclusions”.

Analyst Mujtaba Rahman at Eurasia Group said: “The next eight weeks will be the most challenging for … Theresa May and the most consequential for Brexit.”

“May’s premiership will face maximum danger at the point her government concedes more ground on money, and prepares to better define the end-state agreement the UK will seek.”

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Jan Strupczewski and Alastair Macdonald; Writing by Alastair Macdonald, editing by Elizabeth Piper

Romania says Britain more ‘positive’ on Brexit talks, so is EU

October 20, 2017

 

Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Romanian President Klaus Iohannis said on Friday it was clear that British Prime Minister Theresa May was “more positive and result-oriented” after she addressed European Union leaders over a dinner in Brussels on Brexit.

Image result for Romania's President Klaus Werner Iohannis, photos, brexit

Romania’s President Klaus Werner Iohannis arrives at the EU summit meeting in Brussels, Belgium, October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Dario Pignatelli

“If somebody says that the negotiations got stuck – they didn’t get stuck,” he told reporters. “It’s just that the negotiations have not fostered enough progress.”

“My hope is that, in the end, we will reach sufficient progress on all three chapters … It’s obvious that everybody is looking for a success story. Nobody tries to block the negotiations,” he said, adding that there was “absolutely no guarantee” both sides would arrive at a deal by December.

Reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, editing by Elizabeth Piper

Merkel sends positive signal to May on Brexit talks

October 20, 2017

Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – German Chancellor Angela Merkel, in a markedly positive response on Friday to an EU summit appeal by Prime Minister Theresa May for help with Brexit, said talks with Britain were moving forward and were unlikely to break down.

Macron, May and Merkel

May shares a joke with Macron and Merkel on Day 1 (Thursday)

Merkel made her comments at the end of the first day of a European Union summit and after May had appealed to her fellow leaders to help her silence critics at home and break a deadlock in the talks.

“In contrast to how it is portrayed in the British press, my impression is that these talks are moving forward step by step,” Merkel told a late-night news conference, dismissing as “absurd” suggestions in Britain that the talks should be broken off.

“I have absolutely no doubts that if we are all focused … that we can get a good result. From my side there are no indications at all that we won’t succeed,” she said.

Arriving for the second day, others emphasized the positive too: Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat called May’s speech her “best performance yet” and “a warm, candid and sincere appeal”. Ireland’s Leo Varadkar said it was “very strong”.

But others complained they had heard little new of substance and rejected May’s repetition of London’s view that demands for money from Brussels have “no legal framework”. Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern said “rhetorical progress” needed to be followed by “tangible conclusions”.

After May leaves the summit on Friday, the other 27 leaders are expected to rule that there has not been sufficient progress to push the talks forward but will call on their staff to prepare for talks on a transition period that would smooth Britain’s exit in 2019.

May made no comment as she arrived for a breakfast meeting with summit chair Donald Tusk. Near midnight, speaking at the end of a dinner of butternut squash gnocchi and pheasant, she had sought to calm fears Britain would use its departure in March 2019 to undercut the EU economy by lowering standards.

She appealed to EU leaders to respond in kind to her efforts to break the Brexit stalemate, making clear she was disappointed at their plan to announce on Friday that talks have not yet made enough progress to move on to a discussion of future trade ties.

The EU is seeking a clearer commitment from Britain that it will settle financial obligations linked to its exit. Leaders will on Friday set a target of December for London to improve its divorce settlement offer.

Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May and European Council President Donald Tusk pose before a bilateral meeting at a European Union leaders summit in Brussels, Belgium October 20, 2017. REUTERS/Olivier Hoslet/Pool

But they will also make a gesture by launching internal preparations for the next phase of the negotiations.

FRIENDLY

In choreography that contrasted with images of May standing isolated in Brussels at previous summits, Merkel and French President Emmanuel Macron were filmed by television cameras engaging the British prime minister in an animated conversation at the start of the summit.

Merkel said the three had been discussing the need to safeguard the Iran nuclear deal after U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last week to “decertify” it.

It was a response May was looking for after explaining over dinner the “difficult political background” she faces if she returns home empty-handed and how she had worked hard to get the talks back on track after realizing their perilous state at the end of the summer.

“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying and I made a step forward,” she was quoted as saying by a British official, referring to a speech she made in Florence on Sept. 22.

There was no discussion after May spoke, according to an EU diplomat. Tusk said only that the leaders took note of her comments.

Weakened after losing her Conservatives’ majority in a June election and by failing to rally support at a party conference, May needs to keep the talks on the road to silence the voices calling for her to walk away from the negotiations.

Unwilling now to increase her offer on the divorce bill, May instead proposed more moves to protect the rights of EU citizens in Britain — one of three issues the bloc says must be settled before moving to discuss a future trading relationship.

“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” May told the other leaders, according to the British official.

Additional reporting by Gabriela Baczynska, Jan Strupczewski and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Alastair Macdonald and Catherine Evans

Related:

 (Day 1)

See also:

EU SUMMIT 2017: Theresa May faces Tusk as Juncker says there will be NO Brexit ‘miracle’

http://www.express.co.uk/news/politics/868337/EU-summit-2017-live-updates-theresa-may-juncker-angela-merkel-brexit

May and Tusk have met for a 15 minute meeting EP

May and Tusk have met for a 15 minute meeting

Angela Merkel EBS

Merkel arrives in Brussels for the second day of talks

Theresa May at European Council admits for the first time that Brexit negotiations have been in ‘difficulty’ — Angela Merkel says the UK has not done enough

October 20, 2017

PM makes urgent plea to leaders over dinner

By Jon Stone Brussels
The Independent

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Theresa May has admitted for the first time that Brexit negotiations have hit “difficulty” as she beseeched European leaders to give her a deal she can sell to the British people.

The Prime Minister explicitly conceded last night that talks were in trouble ahead of her key intervention in Florence two weeks ago, prompting her to try and get negotiations back on track.

She told Angela Merkel, Emmanuel Macron and other EU leaders that there is now the “urgent” need for progress with the threat of the UK crashing out of the EU without a deal looming.

Speaking on Thursday evening at a working dinner with other heads of government in Brussels, Ms May said that at the end of the summer she “recognised the difficulty the process was in”.

“I took stock, listened to what the people in the UK were saying, and what my friends and partners in Europe were saying, and I made a step forward,” she said.

 Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

“There is increasingly a sense that we must work together to get to an outcome we can stand behind and defend to our people,” she said, adding that when the 27 remaining member states convene tomorrow to discuss Brexit in private “the clear and urgent imperative must be that the dynamic you create enables us to move forward together”.

The PM and world leaders dined on gnocchi and pheasant supreme at the dinner, followed by fresh pineapple.

European Commission chief negotiator Michel Barnier has repeatedly said he is “worried” about “deadlock” in negotiations, but the line from the UK government has always been significantly more optimistic, stressing “concrete progress”.

The PM’s intervention comes as the European Council appears set to refuse to allow the UK to move to trade and future relationship talks – which it has said can only start once “sufficient progress” has been made on settling the divorce bill, Northern Ireland border, and EU citizens’ rights.

The 27 remaining EU leaders will meet tomorrow to discuss Brexit without Ms May, whose address to dinner was not followed by any discussion or debate.

Theresa May: No Brexit breakthrough on the cards

They are expected to tell Britain to come back in December once more progress has been made for another assessment of whether it is ready for trade talks.

Senior UK government officials also admitted that the prime minister was “working against a difficult political backdrop” at home – an apparent reference to Tory MPs who were pushing her for a no deal.

Arriving at the summit on Thursday Angela Merkel said she believed there were “encouraging” signs that sufficient progress could be made in December. Ms May said the summit was a time to take stock of the progress that had been made in talks so far.

Dutch prime minister Mark Rutte however told reporters in Brussels that Ms May had to “come up with more clarity on what she means by ‘other commitments’ in her Florence speech”.

“I phoned her last week, and tried to encourage her to do that and so far she hasn‘t,” he said.

Image result for Theresa May ,, october 20, 2017, photos

The Prime Minister’s spokesperson told journalists in Brussels: “The Florence speech intended to create momentum and we achieved that. In all our talks with EU leaders they have been responsive and we hope that will continue.”

Other issues such as forest fires and migration have dominated the first day of European Council discussions, with Britain’s departure not even getting a mention in the first press conference between Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk after hours of talks.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-theresa-may-negotiations-difficulties-eu-council-juncker-merkel-macron-a8009971.html

See also:

Theresa May calls for new dynamic for Brexit deal – but Angela Merkel says it’s ‘still not enough’

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/19/angela-merkel-points-december-brexit-breakthrough-eu-leaders/

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The Prime Minister has played down hopes of a breakthrough in Brexit negotiations as she arrives at this week’s European Council summit.

On her way into the Justus Lipsius building in Brussels on Thursday the Prime Minister said the summit was an opportunity to “take stock” of progress in talks.

The Independent confirmed yesterday that the PM would have no opportunity for a direct dialogue with EU leaders about leaving the EU at the summit – sticking to the strict framework of negotiations.

The PM said she would be setting out “ambitious plans” for further negotiations in the weeks ahead, and said she wanted to inject a new “urgency” into discussions on the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens living in the UK and Britons on the continent.

It had previously been hoped that the UK would be judged to have made “sufficient progress” in Brexit talks at the summit, so that negotiations could move to trade and transition. The latest indications are that this next phase has been delayed until at least December, however.

The two-day European Council summit comes as Ms May spoke directly to the estimated three million European Union citizens living in Britain, to tell them that she wants them to be able to stay after Brexit and that a deal on their rights are “in touching distance”

Britain’s hopes of getting the green light for trade talks at the European Council meeting in Brussels were dash after a series of top EU figures came out against them. Chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Council President Donald Tusk, European Parliament Brexit Chief Guy Verhofstadt, and European Parliament president Antonio Tajani also said talks had not reached a mature enough stage.

But Ms May is hoping to persuade the leaders of the 27 remaining EU states to at least agree to begin discussions among themselves on the transition to Brexit and the future trade relationship. She will address them in an after-dinner speech on Thursday evening but there will be no discussion or reply from the leaders, a spokesperson for the European Council presidency confirmed.

The other 27 EU leaders will then discuss Brexit in full without Ms May on Friday – sticking to the strict protocol of only conducting negotiations within the framework agreed by the Council.

Arriving in Brussels, Ms May said: “This Council is about taking stock. It is also about looking ahead to how we can tackle the challenges that we all share across Europe.

http://www.independent.co.uk/news/uk/politics/brexit-theresa-may-european-council-summit-a8009191.html

Brussels overcharging Britain on liabilities by €7billion, say diplomats

October 19, 2017

British Prime Minister Theresa May speaks with the media as she arrives for an EU summit in Brussels on Thursday, Oct. 19, 2017

Brussels spat: a new row over Britain’s financial obligations has blown up as Theresa May prepares to meet EU counterparts CREDIT: GEERT VANDEN WIJNGAERT/ AP

The EU is trying to over-charge Britain for its share of Eurocrats’ pensions to the tune of €7bn (£6.2bn), it has been claimed, even as European capitals continue to squeeze the UK over the so-called European capitals continue to squeeze the UK over the so-called Brexit bill.

British Brexit negotiators are questioning EU calculations over the size of pension liabilities – listed as some €67bn in the EU accounts – of which the UK share would be around €11bn on the point of exit.

However, figures published by The Times argue that the EU is unfairly using the current rock-bottom rate on investment returns of 0.3pc to calculate the total cost of servicing the ultra-generous 70pc final salary EU pension scheme.

Diplomats and pensions experts argue that the fairer rate – based on an average of investment returns over the last 21 years of 3.1pc – would reduce the UK’s liability from €11bn to €3.5bn.

Investment return rates, based on government bond yields, are…

Read the rest:

http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2017/10/19/eu-pensions-rip-off-brussels-overcharging-britain-liabilities/

(Paywall)

Corbyn Beats May to Brussels, Getting His Brexit Pitch in First

October 19, 2017

Bloomberg

By Thomas Penny and Nikos Chrysoloras

Follow @Brexit for all the latest news, and sign up to our daily Brexit Bulletin newsletter.

Introduced as the next prime minister of the U.K., Jeremy Corbyn received a standing ovation from European Socialists in Brussels, hours before the actual head of government could make her case to fellow leaders.

In a piece of political theater that aims to undermine Theresa May at a key European summit, the leader of the Labour Party hammered away at the theme that she should get out of the way and let him lead talks with the European Union.

Jeremy Corbyn in Brussels on Oct. 19.

Photographer: John Thys/AFP/Getty Images

“As the government’s splits and Brexit bungling become ever more damaging, Labour stands ready to take up responsibility for the Brexit negotiations,” Corbyn said. “We are clear in our priorities: a jobs-first Brexit which maintains free access to the single market.”

He went further: “I am unapologetic in taking every opportunity to seek to influence the final Brexit deal in the interests of the many, not just the few.”

Still, when Corbyn said he was going to respect the results of the Brexit referendum, he was met with complete silence.

— With assistance by John Follain

https://www.bloomberg.com/news/articles/2017-10-19/corbyn-beats-may-to-brussels-getting-his-brexit-pitch-in-first

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No Brexit Deal Would Be A Disaster

BRUSSELS (AFP) – 

British opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn warned Thursday that failing to reach a Brexit deal would be “catastrophic” for industry, as London’s divorce negotiations with the European Union teeter on the brink.

Corbyn, in Brussels to meet fellow left-wing European politicians on the sidelines of a crucial EU summit focused on Brexit, told Britain’s Sky News he had come to the heart of Europe to “make sure that negotiations get on track”.

British Prime Minister Theresa May is set to plead with the other 27 EU leaders at a dinner on Thursday to unlock the second phase of negotiations about Britain’s future relationship with the bloc — and crucially the issue of trade.

As May fights growing rebellions in her Conservative Party and increasing frustration from Brussels about the lack of progress in Brexit talks, Labour Party leader Corbyn said May had “managed to upset just about everybody”.

“It is up to her to get the negotiations back on track. We cannot countenance the idea that we just rush headlong into no deal with Europe,” Corbyn said.

“It would be catastrophic for manufacturing industry jobs and we would have real problems all through the economy.”

The other EU nations are set to say that not enough progress has been made on divorce issues to move on to the second phase of talks, and the most they can do is to start internal preparations to discuss trade and a transition deal in December.

Five rounds of Brexit negotiations have produced limited results and fears are growing that Britain may fail to strike a withdrawal agreement before its formal departure on March 29, 2019.

Brexit: What’s the ‘no deal’ fallout for the UK and EU?

October 19, 2017

Image may contain: one or more people

The UK’s Prime Minister Theresa May has admitted that a “no deal” on Brexit would be better than a bad deal. Apart from being delusional, how damaging will it be for all concerned?

Deutsche Welle

If you thought the scenario of the UK leaving the EU with all that entails was bad enough, think again: If there is no deal at the end of negotiations to formally finalize the UK’s exit in March 2019, many observers believe the apocalypse could be upon us.

So what exactly would a “no deal” mean in practice?

Steve Bullock, who worked at the UK Representation to the EU from 2010-2014 where he negotiated several EU regulations for the UK in EU Council working groups, describes it thus: “People have made the analogy of buying a car, but not coming to an agreement. What Theresa May is about to do is drive a reliable, working car down to the car dealer, set fire to it right there, and then say to him ‘You have to sell me a car, or else I’m walking home.'”

Trade:

With no deal in place, trading would defer to World Trade Organization rules. Tariffs and customs checks would be slapped on UK exports to the EU and vice versa. And this is where the problems become meaty, if you’ll excuse the pun. Tariffs on agricultural products such as lamb and beef could be as high as 50 percent — effectively putting supply industries out of business. On the upside UK consumers could feast upon cheap, unsaleable Welsh lamb for the foreseeable future.

And it’s far from plain sailing for the fishing industry. On the surface (okay, no more puns) British fishermen could theoretically catch more fish because EU member states would lose their automatic right to fish in UK waters. But here’s the downside: When it came to selling the fish, the fishermen would face tariffs on sales to their largest export market — yes, that would be the EU.

And it doesn’t stop there. A no-deal scenario would be a major blow to the services industry, with businesses losing their passporting rights which currently allow them to sell their services across the EU without having to acquire licenses in each country.

And, says Bullock, the effects and losses “of a no deal in terms of GDP would be much higher on the UK than on EU27 states.”

Infographic of UK exports for the first quarters of 2016 + 2017

Money:

The other main bone of contention. With no agreement in place, there would be no legal obligation for the UK to shell out billions of pounds as part of a financial settlement. While that would make the UK treasury happy, it would tear a huge hole in the EU budget and pour more salt on the wound. And let’s not kid ourselves: German and French taxpayers would be asked to plug the hole.

In terms of the financial burden on British households, Steve Bullock says the additional cost, especially on poorer households “is absolutely gigantic. Something in the range of 500 pounds (€560; $660) per year worse off. And there have already been increases in food prices.”

Citizens’ rights:

In a nutshell, a lot of people will be sitting on packed suitcases. Without an agreement on residency, the rights of EU nationals to live in the UK or those of UK nationals to reside in the EU could, technically, disappear overnight. This would affect more than 3 million EU nationals in the UK and over 1 million UK citizens in the EU. To avoid this nightmare scenario, individual EU countries would probably try to strike deals with the UK to guarantee citizens’ rights.

“I mean I am one of them. I’m self-employed, I run a recording studio. And my right to do that would just cease instantly. I would certainly temporarily have to close my business,” says Bullock, who lives in Brussels.

Read more: ‘Talk in the UK is misleading’: ex-ECJ judge

Customs:

Tariffs on many of the UK’s exports would amount to around 2-3 percent, and as this is a two-way street, those tariffs would also apply to European goods entering the UK market. While that looks good on paper, those 2 or 3 percent would actually go towards financing a new customs operation and an armada of HM Revenue and Customs officers to ensure that trade continues to flow and to avoid congestion and long lorry queues at border ports such as Dover and Calais.

Infographic Brexit timeline

Nuclear energy:

Not top of the “to-do-list” but important all the same. If the UK is no longer a member of Euratom, the body that oversees nuclear energy, it will lose access to crucial safety procedures and systems for operating power plants. Those plants would have to shut, and the UK would have to find alternative energy sources quickly.

The EU certainly has its faults, and its detractors are many. But at the moment any kind of deal seems better than the bleak alternative, which would be detrimental to businesses and consumers on both sides of the Channel. As Steve Bullock says the erosion of trust and the sentiment of “the good will burnt over this, not only in Europe, but the rest of the world” is almost as damaging as the actual impact of Brexit.

http://www.dw.com/en/brexit-whats-the-no-deal-fallout-for-the-uk-and-eu/a-40984937