Archive for the ‘No-deal Brexit’ Category

Merkel ‘highly qualified’ for top EU job, says Juncker

Angela Merkel would be “highly qualified” for a senior EU position once she steps down as chancellor, Jean-Claude Juncker said, referring to the German leader as “a lovable work of art.”

In an interview with the German Funke Media Group, the European Commission president, whose own term of office comes to an end in the fall, said he “cannot imagine” that Merkel would “disappear without trace.”

“She is not only a respected person but also a lovable work of art,” Juncker said.

But the Commission president was less complimentary about French President Emmanuel Macron over his refusal to back the Spitzenkandidat (or “lead candidate”) system for choosing the next Commission president. Juncker said he was a “great supporter” of the system, which was used for the first time during his own appointment.

“One reason for the crisis of political credibility is precisely the fact that what is promised before the election is not what is done after,” he said.

“The Liberals, to whom Emmanuel Macron belongs, have failed to put up a lead candidate and have therefore nominated nine candidates,” said Juncker. “I can already tell you one thing: There will not be nine Liberal Commission presidents.”

Juncker’s European People’s Party looks set to win the most seats in the European Parliament, putting its Spitzenkandidat, Manfred Weber, in pole position to be Juncker’s successor.

On Brexit, Juncker said that there remained the risk that the U.K. would leave the bloc without a deal, despite the decision by EU leaders last week to extend the Article 50 deadline until October 31.

“Nobody knows how Brexit will end. This is creating great uncertainty. There is still a fear that there will be a hard Brexit without any withdrawal treaty arrangements,” he said, adding that Brexit would “stifle growth.”

“I hope that the British will make use of this time and not waste it again,” Juncker added.

Asked if he thought it “absurd” for Britain to participate in the European Parliament election, he said that if the U.K. is still an EU member on election day then the EU treaty would apply and so the election must be held. “We cannot punish the citizens just because the British have not managed to leave by the agreed date,” he said.

And on the security of the EU-wide poll more generally, the Commission president said he was concerned about attempts to influence the outcome.

“I can see an attempt to rig the European Parliament elections,” he said. “This comes from several quarters, and not only from outside the EU. States within the EU are also seeking to direct the will of voters in a particular direction with fake news.”

The Chemical Brothers on Brexit: ‘For what?’

Electronic music stars The Chemical Brothers said Brexit was “maddening” and there was no “trade-off” to leaving the European Union.

Speaking to the Guardian to promote their new album “No Geography,” Chemical Brother Ed Simons said Brexit meant “losing something you’re used to having — your rights, whether you use them or not — and for what? There’s no trade-off, which makes me quite angry and sad.”

He added that “you’re going to have something reduced about your country and your own personal opportunities, and that’s being celebrated? It’s maddening.”

Brexit, Simons said, “hits into something about collaboration, this sense of we can do it together. Whatever happens with Brexit, whether it happens or it doesn’t happen, the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has now left Britain, it’s not coming back to London, that’s gone. The idea that we are at the centre of people collaborating to make better medicine, that’s gone. It’s really sad.”

The EMA has already moved staff to temporary headquarters in Amsterdam, where construction is underway on a new headquarters, which it plans to move into in November.

Inside the Brexiteer mind

LONDON — What are the Brexiteers up to?

After 40 years of complaining about the European Union they finally have a deal which would take Britain out of the bloc, but are refusing to sign it.

Their strategy is in tatters, a no-deal Brexit all but dead — at least for the next six months — and their most high-profile leaders are divided over the best way forward. Their beloved Brexit was supposed to happen on March 29 — and then again on April 12 — and the U.K. is now not scheduled to leave the EU until October 31.

Yet the Brexiteers still refuse to change course.

On Monday, Boris Johnson reassured readers of the Daily Telegraph that a “proper” Brexit is still inevitable. “Some day soon we are going to get out,” he wrote. “We will eventually respect the result of the 2016 referendum and leave the European Union.”

Boris Johnson says that Brexit, though delayed, will still eventually go through | Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

He did not say how.

Nothing in Brussels or Westminster has changed since the prime minister’s last failed attempt to force her deal through parliament on March 29 — even with Johnson’s reluctant support. There’s no sign of a deal with Labour, or any other way of forming a majority for the Withdrawal Agreement.

Brexiteers don’t have the numbers to leave without a deal and the EU has shown no willingness to change the terms of the divorce. The only option as of today that guarantees Britain leaves the political structures of the European Union is to sign Theresa May’s deal.

The influential Brexiteer columnist Iain Martin used his slot in the Times last week to urge Euroskeptic MPs to back the deal. “It should be obvious to any Leaver with their brain switched on that you might not get your perfect outcome but you can still get to leave the EU,” he wrote.

“We cannot ‘lose’ Brexit because we voted for it” — Stewart Jackson, former chief of staff to ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis

Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the hard-line Brexiteer caucus in parliament, the European Research Group, said of Martin’s column: “I think this analysis is correct.”

The deal is not to Rees-Mogg’s liking, principally because of the Irish backstop, but it remains better than no Brexit, he said. Whatever the drawbacks of May’s deal, it takes Britain out of the EU, ends freedom of movement and guarantees that the U.K. will no longer be part of the common fisheries and agriculture policies.

The Irish backstop is the price to be paid for all that. It is uncomfortable for MPs because it leaves part of the U.K. — Northern Ireland — anchored in the EU’s customs union and bound by single market rules that will not apply to the rest of the U.K.

Yet if Brexiteers accept this price, much of what they campaigned for remains perfectly achievable for the rest of the country (the country in question being Great Britain, not Northern Ireland): from an independent trade policy to a loose “Canada-style” free-trade deal with the EU.

So why won’t the Brexiteers follow Rees-Mogg’s lead and “take the win”?

Because, to them, it’s not a win.

Conservative MP and staunch Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg | Georgia O’Callaghan via Getty Images

Rejecting the Withdrawal Agreement — even if it means Britain remains in the EU — is preferable because it keeps alive the real goal of leaving Brussels’ control entirely. It’s a short-term defeat to keep the long-term dream alive.

Brexit, eventually

Former Brexit Minister David Jones, one of the Tory MPs who has refused to support the prime minister, said he is confident Brexit could not be stopped forever.

“A reasonably long extension of the Article 50 period, though unwelcome, is preferable to entering the transitional arrangement set out in the Withdrawal Agreement,” he said. “It enables us to elect a new party leader and then hold an election seeking a mandate for an early withdrawal, if necessary, on World Trade Organization terms. It is not the big problem that the EU thinks it is.”

Stewart Jackson, former chief of staff to ex-Brexit Secretary David Davis, agreed. “It’s not a deal — it’s a binding international treaty with no unilateral exit mechanism or end date, which colonizes a part of the U.K. to a foreign sovereign entity.”

To Brexiteers like Jackson and Jones, there is little risk to rejecting May’s Brexit deal — because it is not Brexit.

Some are drawing lessons from Ireland’s struggle for independence from the U.K.

To them, the longer-term goal of a clean break from the EU is best achieved not by agreeing to the deal, but by holding firm for more fundamental change which will be driven by the country’s fury with the political establishment for failing to honor the result of the referendum.

“We cannot ‘lose’ Brexit because we voted for it,” said Jackson. “It doesn’t matter how long it will take, it’s more important than the Tory Party. You can’t put the genie back in the bottle, the impact will be too corrosive to our democracy.”

Irish lessons

Some are drawing lessons from Ireland’s struggle for independence from the U.K.

In 1921, Ireland descended into civil war when the revolutionary leader Michael Collins signed the Anglo-Irish treaty, which left Ireland in the British Empire.

It was a necessary evil, Collins said, to allow Ireland to break free. “In my opinion it gives us freedom, not the ultimate freedom that all nations desire and develop to, but the freedom to achieve it,” he declared.

For the hard-liners, led by Éamon de Valera, it was not freedom at all. De Valera and the anti-treaty forces fought — and lost — a bloody year-long civil war against the new government.

In 1926, De Valera split from the anti-treaty Sinn Féin to form the republican Fianna Fáil party in order to enter politics in Dublin — eventually becoming Irish prime minister. But Ireland would not officially become a republic until 1948 — 32 years after the 1916 Easter Rising against the British.

Christopher Montgomery, former Vote Leave director, isn’t a fan of the analogy and said his colleagues are right to hold their ground.

Montgomery, a former chief of staff for Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, said May is no Michael Collins.

“Collins, de Valera, [W. T.] Cosgrave wanted maximal disengagement from the superstate they were in [and] wanted out of,” Montgomery said. “They differed on how, not what. Whereas May, at best, wants the least disengagement she can get away with.”

He added: “The point is that what they did was the radical break with what had gone before” — the preceding 40 years of agitation for Home Rule.

In other words, May is not even trying to achieve a decisive break from the EU, in Montgomery’s view — a view shared by many Brexiteers.

To the hard-liners, May is trying to maintain Britain’s place in the EU’s wider political empire. In this view, the 2016 referendum was not Britain’s uprising — that is yet to come.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this article misstated Christopher Montgomery’s former title.

Donald Tusk urges EU not to treat UK as ‘second category’ member state

European Council President Donald Tusk today urged the EU to not treat the U.K. as a “second category” member of the bloc between now and the October 31 Brexit deadline, and to approach “seriously” the U.K.’s possible participation in next month’s European election.

Speaking to MEPs during the Parliament’s last plenary session in Strasbourg before the ballot in May, Tusk defended the EU’s recent decision to delay the date of the U.K. ‘s exit from the EU for a second time. The decision was reached last week after a longer-than-expected debate among EU27 leaders at a summit in Brussels that began Wednesday evening and stretched until 2 a.m. Thursday morning.

“I hope they [the U.K] will use this time in the best possible way,” Tusk told MEPs. “The European Council will be awaiting a clear message from the U.K. on the way forward.”

He warned MEPs to respect the delay to the U.K.’s exit from the EU, and potentially “rethink Brexit” and participate in the European election during the extension period.

“I have strongly opposed the idea that during this further extension the U.K. should be treated as a second category member state,” he said. “I ask you to reject similar ideas if they were to be voiced in this house.”

British Prime Minister Theresa May and various Cabinet ministers have said they want to take the U.K. out of the EU by May 22, the day before the voting begins, so the U.K. does not have to take part in the election. However, May has admitted that if this does not happen, the U.K. will have to elect MEPs to the European Parliament.

Tusk said the U.K.’s participation in the election should be taken “seriously,” as “U.K. members of the European Parliament will be there for several months, maybe longer.” He added that British MEPs “will be full members of the Parliament, with all their rights and obligations.”

He also suggested he has not given up hope of the U.K. staying in the EU.

“During the European Council one of the leaders warned us not to be dreamers and that we shouldn’t think that Brexit could be reversed,” he said.

“I didn’t respond at the time but today in front of you I would like to say at this rather difficult moment in our history we need the dreamers and dreams. We cannot give into fatalism.”

Speaking after Tusk, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker welcomed the European Council decision to extend the Article 50 period as an “acceptable outcome,” but also made clear he expects “loyal and responsible cooperation” from the U.K. during the extension. “Europe will go on,” he said.

He warned that the U.K. would crash out of the EU without a deal if it has not ratified the Withdrawal Agreement by October 31. “Of course the U.K. can request to revoke Article 50 … But that is not my working hypothesis, and it’s not my working hypothesis either that beyond the 31 October we will see another extension.”

Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt said the six-month delay to Brexit is “too near for a substantial rethink of Brexit and at the same time too far away to prompt any action,” adding it has taken the pressure off the Conservative U.K. government and the opposition Labour Party to reach a Brexit compromise.

Monday evening’s devastating fire at the Notre-Dame cathedral in Paris was a more immediate concern for MEPs than Brexit, and many made clear that such an incident showed how unimportant Brexit had become.

Blaming British MPs for their “vanity,” Esteban González Pons, a Spanish MEP from the European People’s Party, said the Notre-Dame fire “makes me more European than the indignation of their incompetence.”

This article has been updated.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium Brexit service for professionals: Brexit Pro. To test our expert policy coverage of the implications and next steps for industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

European Parliament will hold ‘extraordinary session’ if UK approves Brexit deal

Members of the European Parliament will return to Brussels for an “extraordinary session” to ratify the Brexit withdrawal deal if the U.K. approves the text between now and July, a Parliament spokesman said.

Last week, EU leaders agreed to delay Brexit until October 31 to give the U.K. more time to get the deal approved by parliament.

If that happens before July 2, when the new European Parliament is supposed to start work, there would be “the possibility, if necessary, of having an extraordinary session,” Parliament spokesman Jaume Duch told reporters Monday.

The Parliament is holding its last plenary session this week in Strasbourg. That marks the last time all MEPs will be together before the May election. The first official gathering of the new Parliament is slated to begin on July 2 in Strasbourg.

Duch said that if Theresa May can get her deal passed by the House of Commons, “it would be the current plenary with the current composition” that would have to ratify it. That would mean MEPs who have failed to get re-elected or who have retired would have to come back for one last time.

Under EU rules, the Parliament has to sign off on the Brexit deal.

“We are ready to ratify the agreement,” Duch said.

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