Archive for the ‘British politics’ Category

Nigel Farage: ‘I’m back’ to fight Theresa May’s Brexit plan

Nigel Farage is back — again — promising to teach Remainers a lesson “they will never forget.”

The MEP and leader of the right-wing Europe of Freedom and Direct Democracy faction in the European Parliament has pledged to help raise funds and make appearances for a re-launch of the Brexit campaign dubbed Leave Means Leave.

“Under Theresa May’s fraudulent Chequers plan, the people have … been offered a form of regulatory alignment,” the three-time leader of UKIP said in an opinion piece for The Telegraph on Saturday, describing May’s plan as the “Chequers betrayal” and a “cowardly sell-out.”

Farage’s latest intervention comes as momentum builds for a referendum on any final Brexit deal hammered out between London and Brussels, and as public opinion in some key leave-voting constituencies shifts toward Remain.

Farage said his return was to quash “baseless” claims about the negative impact of Brexit and challenge those who call for a re-think on the original June 2016 referendum result to leave the EU.

“Unless challenged, these anti-democrats will succeed in frustrating the result. Whatever they may claim publicly, this is their ultimate objective,” wrote Farage. “They think nothing of betraying the citizens of Britain.”

The Leave Means Leave campaign is funded by businessmen Richard Tice and John Longworth, with a plan to hold a series of public events throughout Britain aiming to promote a hard Brexit. Farage said they had already hired a battlebus.

“The time has come to teach them a lesson — one that they will never forget,” said Farage, concluding, “I’m back.”


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Danish finance minister puts risk of ‘no deal’ Brexit at 50-50

Denmark’s Finance Minister Kristian Jensen said Friday he puts the chance of a no-deal outcome for Brexit at 50-50, arguing that time is running out to strike a deal.

Jensen told the BBC Radio 4 Today program that Denmark’s close alliance with the United Kingdom means the country is committed to striking a Brexit deal. After meeting U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt in Denmark on Wednesday for bilateral talks, Jensen said the Chequers proposal put forward by the British government is “a positive step forward and good basis for further negotiations.”

He said that Hunt told him the United Kingdom will do “whatever they can to make a good agreement.”

“We also want a deal that is as good and as solid as possible,” Jensen said — citing the close economic relationship between Denmark and the U.K., and their historical alliance on issues such as defense.

But he warned negotiators are running out of time to reach that deal. “If you imagine being married to someone for 40 years … then having a divorce, you would know it takes a lot of legal scrubbing to do the right deal,” Jensen said.

Jensen’s position mirrors that of Latvian foreign minister Edgars Rinkēvičs, who on Wednesday said the prospect of a no-deal outcome for Brexit represented a “very considerable risk,” although he said he was “remaining optimistic.”

In preparation for a no-deal outcome, London Mayor Sadiq Khan plans to ask the body tasked with planning for terrorism attacks to assess whether the U.K. capital could cope with shortages of items such as food or medicines, the Guardian reported Friday.

EU and U.K representatives on Friday continued a two-day meeting in Brussels with discussions on the future relationship, after talks about the Northern Ireland border Thursday.


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Britain’s middle-class Brexit Anxiety Disorder

LONDON — Remainers: getting angry isn’t working. It’s time to see a shrink.

Visit any middle-class gathering this summer and even the vaguest hint of Brexit sympathy is likely to elicit a swift and angry response. “It’s broken the social contract,” one senior City lawyer told this author over wine one evening, in a broadside aimed squarely at those who voted for Brexit. “We paid all the taxes which propped them up. Now they’ve gone and f****d us. So, f**k them. We’ll be fine, but they’re screwed.”

At another gathering, at the embassy of a major EU27 country, senior figures laughed, joked and despaired at the stupidity of the country voting to leave. Brexit was like a cancerous tumor which had to be surgically removed from the EU, one prominent official said. Few demurred.

In Westminster’s bars and restaurants, MPs often talk of the “catastrophe,” “humiliation” and “nightmare” being inflicted on them.

At their heart are questions of identity, power and uncertainty.

For Britain’s pro-European middle classes, Brexit is akin to a psychological trauma which has left many unable to behave rationally, according to two leading experts. Far from being hyper-rational observers concerned only with what is economically sensible, many have morphed into the “Remainiacs” of Brexiteer disdain.

They are acting no differently to what psychologists would expect from those suffering from chronic anxiety caused by loss of control and insecurity, Dr. Philip Corr, professor of psychology and behavioral economics at the University of London, and Dr. Simon Stuart, a clinical psychologist, told POLITICO.

In such circumstances, Corr and Stuart said, patients can become prone to anger, despair and rumination, while slipping into polarized “in” and “out” groups, seeking solace in the demonization of the “other,” whom they blame for the current state of affairs.

Sound familiar?

While it is impossible to put 48 percent of the country on the couch and generalize about their reaction to Brexit, there are common psychological threads running through the train of emotions many Remainers are feeling, the experts said. And at their heart are questions of identity, power and uncertainty.

#FBPE

To an extent unparalleled in British political history, Brexit has ripped away the veneer of security that the managerial and professional classes enjoyed, throwing — in their mind at least — almost everything into question, from the U.K.’s place in the world to the future prosperity of their children. It is a threat that many find hard to cope with psychologically.

It is also something many of them feel can be blamed on those over whom Britain’s educated professionals usually have day-to-day political, economic and social control — the working-class, provincial, poor and elderly who were over-represented among Leave voters.

According to Corr and Stuart, this emotional response is “standard psychological stuff.” To find solace and some level of security amid the disorder, Remainers are following a well-trodden path to polarized group think, dismissing their social “inferiors” who voted for Brexit as stupid, racist and easily misled.

Such a prognosis goes some way to explaining why other EU countries are far less concerned by Brexit than the U.K., even if it could have similar, if less severe, disruptive economic effects. For Britain, Brexit is existential, affecting almost all its political, diplomatic and economic ties with Europe — and therefore more likely to cause anxiety about the future. For other countries, it is just a pain.

“On both sides of the debate, there is evidence of considerable ‘in-group’ love and ‘out-group’ hate,” said Corr. “This is only to be expected given the social psychological dynamics of the debate.”

One example is the pro-EU hashtag #FBPE used by Remainers on Twitter to highlight their opposition to Brexit. The acronym stands for “follow back, pro EU” — a calling card for others who agree with them to join their social media circle.

Kick in the rear

Corr said there are two major psychological processes happening for those particularly exercised by Brexit.

First is the “loss of behavioral control” for the Remain group — made up, in the most part, according to academic studies, of wealthier, professional and more educated people.

The lack of control over the direction of the country is “psychologically very disturbing” and “has been long known to undermine psychological stability — including the ability to reason objectively.”

Faced with a political situation of unprecedented uncertainty, the brain naturally sends warning signals that all is not well, causing “heightened negative emotions” such as panic and anxiety. While this is happening the body is also put on high alert for new threats.

Supporters of the “Stronger In” campaign watch the results of the EU referendum in June 2016 | Rob Stothard/AFP via Getty Images

The second psychological process at play, according to Corr, is “goal conflict” — when people try to resolve the conflict causing them such psychological trauma — in this case, why Brexit is happening. “One powerful way of this is ‘cognitive dissonance,’” explains Corr. “When holding two opposing ideas or behaviors, one can change one to accommodate the other,” he said.

In the case of Brexit, instead of assuming that the Leave camp appraised the situation equally well as the Remain camp, and with equally honorable motives, he said, “the goal-conflict and cognitive dissonance has been resolved by assuming that the Leave camp are — typically speaking but always with exception — stupid, ill-informed and ill-intended. The underlying notion seems to be that they should have listened to ‘their betters’ — rather like naughty school children, if only they had ‘paid more attention in class.’”

Corr says the fact that many working-class people have been subject to this attitude for much of their lives “made the kick up the backside of ‘their betters’ all the more enjoyable.”

Living with anxiety

Stuart agreed that for the traditional liberal elite, the political upheaval happening all around them is likely to be “incredibly anxiety-provoking.”

“Human beings hate uncertainty. If our lives are constantly uncertain, our stress levels increase markedly — this is something that people living in poverty know only too well,” he said. “And now, all of a sudden, the professional, liberal, educated middle class is getting a taste of this. It feels horrible — literally ‘feels,’ because we’re experiencing a physical stress response.”

One way to avoid this sensation is to join together with others who feel the same way, Stuart said. “In the absence of anything better, ‘blame and shout at the out-group’ seems to be being constantly, mutually reinforced.”

In other words, Remainers may just need to relax and get over it.

Part of the problem for Remainers is that their emotional reaction to Brexiteers makes them feel better, even if it fails to address the fundamental cause of their anxiety. “Trouble is, in the longer term it’s not really doing anything other than keeping us going round in circles, constantly talking about Brexit and winding ourselves up,” he said.

If the Brexit Anxiety Disorder theory holds true in real life, Britain’s angry Remainers can be expected to quickly return to more “normal,” rational behavior once the conflict has been resolved. In the case of Brexit, this means people grabbing hold of any certainty tha comes along, accepting whatever deal the U.K. and EU are able to strike.

“Once this goal-conflict has been resolved, then there will be a major change in these individual and collective psychological states, and the Brexit debate may become more fact-faced rather than resembling the feelings and thoughts that result from hearing a disturbing noise in the night,” Corr said.

People in Black Country, which was among the 29 out of 30 West Midlands voting areas to back Leave | Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

Stuart said this may be a little too optimistic though.

“Those suffering anxiety might return to more ‘normal,’ ‘rational’ behavior if the context around them changes,” he said. Clinically, however, this is often a forlorn hope, because contexts don’t usually tend to change enough.

“In that case, what I’d try to do is help the person become more flexible — in short, to learn how to live with the anxiety, tolerate the uncertainty, and work out how they can continue to engage with what truly matters to them in life, rather than getting caught up trying to change things they can’t change.”

In other words, Remainers may just need to relax and get over it.


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UK government pays Deloitte £2.6M for post-Brexit trade dispute training

LONDON — The U.K.’s Department for International Trade is paying external consultants £14,000 a day for a crash course in handling trade disputes, to guarantee the country’s trade authority can function the day after Brexit.

New recruits to the government’s Trade Remedies Authority (TRA) are being schooled by specialists from the professional services firm Deloitte. The total value of the contract, which commenced in June and runs until the end of February 2019 — a month before the U.K.’s exit from the EU — will be £2.6 million, according to a new listing on the government’s online contracts archive.

According to the listing, Deloitte will be tasked with designing and delivering a training program on the technicalities of trade remedies investigations. Trade remedies are rebalancing measures that states can take if they feel they are being treated unfairly by a trading partner — they include anti-dumping measures and countertariffs.

With Donald Trump upending the global trading system with sweeping tariffs on imports from several trading partners, trade remedies expertise is becoming ever more important. For decades, the U.K.’s own approach to trade remedies has been handled by the European Commission in Brussels, but Brexit will mean the country going it alone. The Department for International Trade, headed by Liam Fox, was set up by Theresa May in July 2016, shortly after she became prime minister, to take charge of U.K. trade policy.

The Deloitte training program will be split between “core modules” taken by all TRA staff, while 100 investigative staff will take technical modules, the contract listing states. “The Supplier will undertake all aspects of design and delivery to enable the TRA to be operational in time for the UK’s exit from the EU,” the listing adds. A U.K. government official familiar with the plan said the training would cover “the relevant accounting, legal and economic skills required to conduct trade remedies investigations and reviews.” The new agency will be based in Reading, England.

The government has outsourced various aspects of its Brexit preparations to external consultants.

Deloitte attracted Downing Street’s ire in 2016 after a leaked internal memo warned that the U.K. had no clear plan for exiting the EU and that Cabinet splits were stymying progress. The government dismissed the memo at the time, but Cabinet divisions on Brexit have since burst into the open, culminating in the resignations of Brexit Secretary David Davis and Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson earlier this year.

The government has outsourced various aspects of its Brexit preparations to external consultants. McKinsey were paid £1.9 million for a computer planning system, and £680,000 to draw up a model for a new customs partnership with the EU, while the Home Office drafted in five consultancy firms, including Deloitte, to help develop an app that EU citizens will be able to use to apply for so-called settled status in the U.K. after Brexit.

A Department for International Trade spokesperson said the TRA “will be ready to carry out reviews and investigations ahead of the U.K. beginning to operate its own independent trade remedies framework.

“An extensive training programme is being developed and delivered by specialists which draws heavily on the department’s expertise and knowledge. This will ensure staff have the correct skills to defend U.K. industry against unfair trade practices,” the spokesperson added.

A Deloitte spokesperson said: “Leaving the EU presents a series of challenges and opportunities, never experienced before. Firms such as ours can help add vital capacity, expertise and insight supporting Whitehall and public services as they prepare and position themselves for the post-EU environment.”


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Guy Verhofstadt: Post-Brexit EU citizens plan worthy of ‘budget airline’

European Parliament legislators are “deeply concerned” at reports the U.K. may seek to process EU citizens applying for post-Brexit settled status in alphabetical order, with the assembly’s Brexit coordinator branding the approach worthy of a “budget airline.”

In a joint statement the European Parliament’s Brexit steering group said that such an approach would be “complicated, arbitrary and could create unnecessary confusion and uncertainty for millions.”

The Parliament’s Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said: “We need a simple, efficient and fair process, not one a budget airline would be proud of.”

According to a Business Insider report, officials are considering a plan to process the more than three million anticipated applicants in “bite-size chunks” based on the first letter of their surname.

All EU citizens who have lived in the U.K. for more than five years, and their family members, will be eligible to apply for settled status, allowing them to continue to live and work in the U.K. indefinitely. Those who have lived in the U.K. for less than that time will be able to apply for a “pre-settled status” which can be upgraded once they reach the five-year threshold.

The application scheme will have a phased launch later this year, before full rollout in March 2019. It will remain open during the post-Brexit transition period — that was agreed provisionally earlier this year — and for six months thereafter, closing in June 2021. Applicants for pre-settled status must have begun living in the U.K. before the end of the transition period — December 31, 2020.

But in a statement issued on Thursday afternoon, the parliament’s steering group claimed that an alphabetical approach to prioritizing applications would mean “those at the end of the alphabet may not get their status confirmed until the end of 2020 or later.” This would be “intolerable and contrary to the spirit of the assurances we have previously received,” they added.


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UK pharma chief: EU stance ‘puts patients at risk’ after Brexit

LONDON — The EU will be “putting patients at risk” unless it authorizes the U.K. to participate fully in drug safety and infectious disease databases after Brexit, and stockpiles medicines in readiness for a no-deal scenario, the head of the U.K. pharmaceutical industry association said.

With the U.K. and the EU two months away from Michel Barnier’s October deadline for an overall Brexit deal, Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry, told POLITICO that with fears of a no-deal scenario rising, it is time “to look at this in terms of a health security issue.”

Thompson said that the U.K. government’s approach to coordinate with drug firms to stockpile medicines is “well thought-through” but said he is “concerned about patients across the continent of Europe” and urged EU27 governments to step up their own stockpiling efforts. While the government in London has moved on preparations for a no-deal Brexit, there’s been little sign of EU27 countries doing so.

He also called on the U.K. and the EU to agree to mutually recognize one another’s drug quality control testing procedures, to spare U.K. firms multimillion-pound costs in setting up duplicate testing operations in the EU, and vice versa.

Mike Thompson, chief executive of the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry | ABPI

“At the moment, we are clearly caught in a legalistic negotiation,” he said. “I understand that. We all understand negotiations. We [the ABPI] have kept quiet for a long period of time, [but] we are now only a number of months before potentially these things becoming reality, and there comes a time where you have to put the negotiation to one side and think about what is the impact on patients here, and you need to do something.”

Drug safety

The EU has indicated that the U.K. will be treated as a so-called third country for the purposes of medicines regulation and frozen out of the European Medicine Agency’s “pharmacovigilance” network after Brexit. Under that system, adverse reactions to medicines that occur in clinics and hospitals across the EU are entered onto a central database. That means clinicians in all 28 countries are alerted instantly to the potential dangers of treatments they plan to administer to their own patients.

But Thompson pointed out that if the U.K. is cut out of the system, it will put patients on either side of the Channel at increased risk. He said that 38 percent of warnings about adverse side-effects linked to medicines across Europe came via the U.K.’s own alert system. “Those are going to be lost to Europe from March next year, unless we put something in place,” he said.

There is also uncertainty over the future status of the U.K. within the EU’s infectious disease database, a system that allows pathogens to be spotted early and their spread to be tracked more easily across the Continent, Thompson said. He urged negotiators to “very quickly agree” ongoing participation for the U.K.

“If you think about the number of patients that arrive in Europe through Heathrow, for the U.K. and Europe not to be working on one infectious disease database, [that] will not be understood by patients,” he said. “So there are some really simple things that we would expect now to be very quickly agreed and put in place, otherwise we’re going to be putting patients at risk.”

Aintree University Hospital in Liverpool | Oli Scarff/AFP via Getty Images

In a parallel to the dispute over U.K. participation in the Galileo satellite program, which led to U.K. officials accusing the EU of taking an overly “legalistic” approach to negotiations, the EU has so far indicated that as a third country the U.K. would be shut out of shared drug databases. An EMA planning document for the “EudraVigilance” drug safety database in June stated that “applications supporting the approval and safety monitoring of medicines across the EU would have to be closed to the UK” after March 2019. The document makes no mention of a Brexit transition period agreed provisionally between the EU and U.K. negotiators in March, and it is not clear whether that would apply.

Preparing for the worst

With growing fears of a no-deal Brexit — Trade Secretary Liam Fox put the odds at 60-40 earlier this month — a number of firms in the U.K. and Europe have begun speaking publicly about their stockpiling plans, with fears that trade and regulatory disruptions could slow down the supply of medicines across borders. AstraZeneca said last month it would increase its stock supply in Europe by around 20 percent, while major insulin-manufacturer Sanofi and Swiss firm Novartis have also set out stockpiling plans in recent weeks.

The U.K.’s health and social care secretary, Matt Hancock, told the House of Commons health committee last month that the government is actively “working with industry to prepare for the potential need for stockpiling.”

Thompson said that while preparations in the U.K. are moving more quickly, readiness for no-deal was a “pan-European issue and patients in Europe are just as impacted.”

“Understandably, Brexit is higher up the government’s agenda in the U.K. than it is in other member states, therefore the U.K. has been moving at a faster pace in terms of thinking through some of the issues. You see now government ministers in the U.K. actively discuss things like stockpiling, which you’re yet to see across other member states,” he said.

“I think that’s good for U.K. patients but I’m concerned about patients across the continent of Europe because I think it will have an impact for everybody.”

“We are continuing to work with industry in the unlikely event of a no-deal Brexit so patients continue to receive top quality care” — U.K. Department of Health and Social Care

Thompson also urged the EU to “have a little think” about the future of its life sciences sector, warning that a clean break between the U.K. and the wider EU’s pharmaceutical sectors could see drug firms downgrading the EU in favor of the U.S. and Asia for future research opportunities.

“Life sciences tends to operate regionally,” he said. “You have the U.S.; you have Europe; you have an Asian bloc … at the moment Europe is heading toward being third in that list of priorities for most companies … The U.K. is the third largest biopharmaceutical cluster outside of the East and West Coast of the United States. I can’t see why, at this moment, pushing the U.K. away makes any strategic sense,” he said.

A U.K. Department of Health and Social Care spokesperson said: “We want a deal with the EU that is good for the U.K. and good for the health service. That is why we have continued to work closely with the European Union to ensure there is no disruption to the NHS [National Health Service] after we leave.

“Alongside that, we are continuing to work with industry in the unlikely event of a no-deal Brexit so patients continue to receive top quality care.”

A European Commission spokesperson said: “Discussions on the framework of the future EU-U.K. relationship are ongoing.”

Jeremy Hunt: No-deal Brexit market impact would be ‘significant’

LONDON — The market impact of no Brexit deal would be “significant” in the short term, U.K. Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said today, as his Latvian counterpart placed the chance of such an outcome at 50-50.

Hunt’s comment, made during a diplomatic visit to Riga, suggests that the U.K. leaving the EU without an overall deal would risk causing a sharp fall in the value of the pound. But the foreign secretary added that the U.K. economy would “find a way to get through it” and “ultimately to thrive,” Reuters reported.

Latvian Minister for Foreign Affairs Edgars Rinkevics met Hunt this morning and told a press conference afterward that he rates the possibility of a no-deal Brexit at 50-50. He made the same prediction on BBC Radio 4’s Today program, but added that despite this, he remains “optimistic.”

Hunt told the press conference he does not want to put a percentage on the risk, putting him at odds with International Trade Secretary Liam Fox, who last week rated the chance of no deal at 60-40.

“Of course, there is this risk of a no deal,” Hunt said in Riga. “But I think there are a growing number of countries that recognize that would be a very, very big mistake not just for the United Kingdom, but for the EU as well.”


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