Archive for the ‘No-deal Brexit’ Category

Merkel: I didn’t mean 30 days as a fixed Brexit deadline

BERLIN — When Angela Merkel said a no-deal Brexit could be averted within 30 days, she didn’t actually mean 30 days.

The German chancellor told Boris Johnson on Wednesday she sees “possibilities” to solve the Irish backstop problem and avoid a no-deal Brexit but it is up to the U.K. to come up with a workable plan. “We can maybe find it in the next 30 days,” the chancellor said, standing alongside Johnson in Berlin.

A day later and Merkel clarified what she meant. “I said that what one can achieve in three or two years can also be achieved in 30 days,” she said during a visit to The Hague, according to Reuters.

“The 30 days were meant as an example to highlight the fact that we need to achieve it in a short time because Britain had said they want to leave the European Union on October 31,” Merkel said.

French President Emmanuel Macron said Thursday that the U.K. and EU will not be able to find a new Brexit agreement that’s different to the existing one in 30 days.

UK government yet to commission Australian migration system review

A month after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson promised to commission a report into Australia’s points-based migration system, he still hasn’t done so, according to the independent committee that would be charged with conducting the review.

“For years, politicians have promised the public an Australian-style points based system,” Johnson said on July 25 in his first speech to the British parliament after replacing Theresa May as PM. “And today I will actually deliver on those promises — I will ask the Migration Advisory Committee to conduct a review of that system as the first step in a radical rewriting of our immigration system.”

But the committee said Johnson’s government has yet to request the review.

“At present we have not received the commission to look at an Australian points-based system for the U.K.,” a Migration Advisory Committee (MAC) official said. “We look forward to receiving more detail on the commission in due course.”

According to the MAC official, it could take about six months to produce a report, though the actual timing would depend on the details of the commission itself.

“I don’t know if they’re going to give us this [commission] separately or as a sort of light-touch one as part of another commission. That’s what we’re waiting for at the moment — whether it’s going to be a real in-depth one, or an initial look and then an in-depth one later,” the official said. “I can’t give you more information at the moment because we’re not sure ourselves.”

Speculation about the commission “stemmed from just a comment [Johnson] made in parliament,” the official continued. “It’s much more work than just saying that and then expecting the answers, isn’t it?”

A No. 10 spokesperson said: “The PM has instructed the Home Office to task the MAC,” and “they will be actioning this in due course.”

A Home Office spokesperson said that Johnson has “set out this government’s ambitious vision for a new immigration system that is open to the world and brings the brightest and best to the U.K.”

“As part of this, the home secretary will shortly commission the independent Migration Advisory Committee to review the Australian-style points-based system,” the spokesperson added.

Earlier this month, a spokeswoman for the prime minister said Johnson’s post-Brexit immigration plan is still “being developed” but insisted that freedom of movement “will end” on October 31, when the U.K. is due to leave the EU. “The prime minister has obviously been clear he wants to introduce an Australian-style points base immigration system,” the spokeswoman added at the time.

Johnson backed the points-based system when he led the Vote Leave campaign in the 2016 EU referendum, and has repeatedly said he wanted to introduce the system in the U.K. after Brexit.

Emilio Casalicchio contributed reporting.

This article has been updated with a response from a Home Office spokesperson.

Macron to Johnson: ‘Different’ Brexit agreement not possible in 30 days

PARIS — The U.K. and the EU will not be able to find a new Brexit agreement that’s different to the existing one in 30 days, French President Emmanuel Macron said, ahead of his first meeting with Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Setting a one-month deadline for a breakthrough, Macron said he agrees with German Chancellor Angela Merkel that the EU needs “visibility” on the way forward on Brexit within 30 days and that leaders would not “wait till October 31 without trying to find a solution” to the vexed question of the Irish backstop.

Johnson, who wants to remove the backstop plan from the Withdrawal Agreement, insisted that he wants a deal and has been “powerfully encouraged” by his meeting with Merkel in Berlin on Wednesday.

“What Angela Merkel was saying last night … was if we can do this in two years we can do this in 30 days and I admired that can-do spirit she had there. And I think she’s right, I think the technical solutions are readily available,” he said, standing alongside Macron outside the Elysée Palace.

However, while showing an openness to talks in the coming days involving the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier, Macron made clear that any agreement must “conform to … two objectives”: protecting “stability” on the island of Ireland and the integrity of the European single market.

“I’ll be very clear, in the next month we won’t find a new Withdrawal Agreement that will be very different from what we have,” Macron said.

“If there are things that in the context of what was negotiated by Michel Barnier can be adapted and conform to the two objectives I cited, stability in Ireland, integrity of the single market, we must find them in the next month, otherwise it means the problem is deeper, that it’s more political, that it’s a British political problem and then it’s not negotiation that can solve it, it’s a political choice that the prime minister will have to make, not up to us.”

However, Johnson insisted twice that the U.K. would “under no circumstances” impose “checks or controls of any kind” at the Irish border.

Macron said that while he has “always been presented as the toughest in the group” of EU leaders, this is simply because he has “always been clear a choice was made [by the U.K.] and we cannot just ignore it.”

Asked precisely what his alternative to the backstop would be, Johnson cited technical solutions, including “electronic pre-clearing for goods moving across the border” as well as trusted-trader schemes. Pressed for more detail he cited a report drawn up by former U.K. junior Trade Minister Greg Hands, and “MPs from all parties” — an apparent reference to a July report by a group of MPs and peers called the Alternative Arrangements Commission. The commission’s parliamentary advisory group is made up largely of Brexit-supporting MPs, 29 of whom are Conservatives, two from the Democratic Unionist Party, and just one from Labour.

Macron said it is up to leaders to now have a “useful month.” Ending the press conference, he turned to Johnson to say: “Let’s work.”

UK government to scale back use of Brexit gag orders

LONDON — Businesses and trade bodies working with the U.K. government on no-deal preparations will no longer be routinely required to sign non-disclosure agreements, known as NDAs.

The legally binding contracts have been used by the U.K. government in discussions with industry about the implications of a no-deal Brexit, but some trade bodies complained the NDAs hindered their ability to explain the impact of crashing out of the EU to their members.

The decision to scale back the use of NDAs was made by ministers at a daily operations meeting, codenamed XO, this week. The U.K. government said NDAs would still be used when strictly necessary, including to protect the interests of third parties.

“As we continue our preparations for Brexit on October 31, it makes no sense to engage processes which hinder constructive debate, transparency and exchange of information,” a U.K. government spokesperson said.

Sky News reported in April that hundreds of the orders had been made as part of the government’s no-deal planning.

Macron’s masterplan for Trump, the universe and everything

PARIS — Another G7 summit blown apart by Donald Trump? Not on Emmanuel Macron’s watch.

Last year’s gathering of G7 leaders ended in chaos after Trump abruptly announced via Twitter that he would not support the just-agreed summit communiqué, apparently out of anger over comments made by the host, Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.

The French president is determined not to let his American counterpart steal the show this year in the beach town of Biarritz in southwest  France so he has come up with a cunning plan: There will be no communiqué.

But that doesn’t mean Macron lacks ambition when it comes to the summit, which will run from Saturday to Monday.

As Macron expounded in a two-and-a-half-hour briefing for reporters on Wednesday night, he views the gathering as a key moment in his drive to save what he sees as an endangered multilateral liberal world order.

In his marathon briefing, Macron declared that France has a “particular responsibility” in a pivotal reshaping of the global liberal order.

He will have his work cut out, and not just when it comes to trying to keep Trump and the other leaders even vaguely on the same page. The summit takes place at a time of multiple crises around the world.

Trump is engaged in feuds on multiple fronts — from a trade war with China to a bizarre battle with Denmark over the idea of buying Greenland. New U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson is immersed in battles at home and abroad over Brexit. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte will likely attend the summit after his government collapsed. Angela Merkel is facing a weakening German economy.

And that’s without even getting into the deep international disagreements over issues as diverse as Iran and climate change.

In his marathon briefing, Macron declared that France has a “particular responsibility” in a pivotal reshaping of the global liberal order. Otherwise, “Europe is at risk of fading … and losing its sovereignty,” or worse — “becoming vassals.”

Here are some of the key points in Macron’s strategy for handling the G7.

Trump containment

Though Macron conceded he and the U.S. president “don’t think the same thing about the global order, we don’t have the same objectives,” (which are pretty fundamental disagreements), he highlighted that “President Trump hasn’t been to any country as often as he has been to France. The G7 will be his fourth visit since the beginning of my term, [this] is useful to coordinate things because otherwise, divergences grow.”

And while Macron is aware that “with President Trump, when it’s a campaign promise, you can’t convince him otherwise,” as was the case with the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate agreement, the Iran nuclear deal, and waging a trade war with China, all of which have had destabilizing effects on Europe, he chose to focus on when they’ve “been able to achieve real things together.” As examples he cited convincing Trump not to pull all U.S. troops out of Syria and the U.S. president’s decision to carry out joint airstrikes in Syria in 2018 with the U.K. and France in response to a reported chemical weapons attack by the Syrian government.

No backing down on Brexit

Macron, who is having a working lunch with Johnson in Paris on Thursday, didn’t mince his words on the possibility of a no-deal Brexit.

“A hard Brexit … will be the responsibility of the British government,” he said.

“It was the British people who decided on Brexit, and the British government has the possibility up to the last second to revoke Article 50,” Macron continued.

He said a renegotiation of the Brexit deal to remove the Irish border backstop provision, as suggested this week by Johnson, “is not an option … because what Johnson suggests in the letter he sent … is to choose between the integrity of the European market and the respect of the Good Friday Agreement. We wouldn’t choose between these two.”

And as for the much-vaunted trade deal the U.K. would make with the U.S., Macron argued it will not compensate for the cost of Brexit, and would come at “the cost of a historic vassalization.”

“I don’t think it’s the will of the British people … to become the junior partner of the U.S.”

Russia rebuff

A day after the White House claimed Macron suggested that Trump invite Russia to the G7 next year, Macron rebuffed that claim.

He said major progress in the conflict in Ukraine would have to be found before Moscow could be welcomed back into the fold.

“It’s pertinent that, eventually, Russia be able to return to the G8 but … the indispensable preliminary condition … is that a solution be found, in connection with Ukraine, on the basis of the Minsk Agreement to resolve the issue,” he said.

He went further, in what could have been a dig at Trump, who has expressed support for reinstating Russia to the G8, apparently without conditions.

“I think saying that Russia can return to the table without any conditions is enacting the weakness of the G7,” he said. “It would be a strategic mistake and a profound injustice.”

Nevertheless, Macron said he is cautiously optimistic that conditions can be met to hold a summit in the coming weeks in Paris between Ukraine, Russia, France and Germany to negotiate the end to the conflict in Ukraine.

“We can go forward on an exchange of prisoners, I had a long conversation with [Vladimir Putin] on this and he is ready, we can move forward on the Donbass [region], on demilitarization,” he said. “The [Russian and Ukrainian] presidents seem ready to go forward.”

Doubling down on tech tax

Macron said it was a “crazy” system that allows giant companies like Google or Facebook to avoid paying taxes in countries where they operate, giving them access to a “constant tax haven.”

But he stressed that the 3 percent digital tax he spearheaded —  adopted by nine other European countries after failing to get it adopted on the EU level — did not exclusively target American companies, but rather companies with a certain level of revenue.

The tax drew Trump’s ire, and prompted him to threaten to impose a 100 percent tax on French wine. But Macron pointed out that Trump’s treasury secretary had, along with other G7 finance ministers, signed on last month to the principle of tech companies being taxed in the countries where they make money.

Macron is standing firm on the issue, even if Trump says his European allies blame the French leader when they get criticized for the measure.

“That’s what President Trump told me last night — ‘they all say it’s you,'” Macron recalled. “OK, well I own it.”

Merkel to Johnson: Let’s find a Brexit plan in 30 days

BERLIN — Angela Merkel told Boris Johnson on Wednesday she sees “possibilities” to solve the Irish backstop problem and avoid a no-deal Brexit but said it is up to the U.K. to come up with a workable plan.

“I see possibilities, shaping the future relationship to address this point,” said Merkel of the contentious backstop — meant to ensure there is no return to a hard border on the island of Ireland — in the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the EU and the U.K. under Johnson’s predecessor, Theresa May.

“We can maybe find it in the next 30 days,” the chancellor said, standing alongside Johnson at a brief press conference before the two leaders held talks over dinner.

Despite such hopeful rhetoric, Merkel’s comments indicated she continues to oppose reopening the Withdrawal Agreement and is sticking to the EU line that any changes should come in the political declaration that sets out the future relationship between Britain and the bloc.

Hosting Johnson for talks on his first overseas visit as prime minister at her Berlin chancellery, she put the responsibility on Westminster to come up with a solution.

“Britain should tell us what kind of ideas it has. It is not the core task of a German chancellor to understand [the relationship of Ireland and Northern Ireland],” she said. “We have shown imagination and creativity in the past as the EU.”

Johnson was given military honors on arrival at the chancellery, during which both the two leaders were seated following Merkel’s recent health troubles. While the Bundeswehr band played the national anthems, a small group of protesters shouted “stop Brexit!” during interludes.

“Of course I think there’s ample scope to do a deal,” said Johnson alongside the chancellor, before offering a mangled “wir schaffen das” — a reference to a phrase used by Merkel during the 2015 migration crisis.

The chancellor offered a wry smirk in response.

Merkel gave no indication she is about to make a big concession on the backstop to avoid a no-deal Brexit. “We have said time and again that we are prepared for a no deal,” she said.

Johnson is scheduled to travel on to Paris for talks with French President Emmanuel Macron over lunch on Thursday. But officials in the French capital warn the position will be the same on the other side of the Rhine.

“There is not the thickness of a cigarette paper between [the German and French positions],” an Elysée official said.

Rym Momtaz contributed reporting.

Corbyn calls cross-party meeting to ‘do everything’ to stop no-deal Brexit

LONDON — British Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn today called for a cross-party meeting of senior politicians, urging them to work with him to “do everything we can to stop” a no-deal Brexit.

Corbyn invited 10 politicians — including Tory backbenchers Dominic Grieve and Oliver Letwin, as well as Liberal Democrat leader Jo Swinson and the Green Party’s Caroline Lucas — to attend the meeting, scheduled for August 27.

He wrote in his invitation letter that the U.K. is “heading into a constitutional and political storm, so it is vital that we meet urgently, before Parliament returns.”

He also cited a leaked U.K. government report, dubbed Operation Yellowhammer, that lays out a “base scenario” for the impacts of a no-deal Brexit. Prime Minister Boris Johnson insists the U.K. will leave the EU on October 31, deal or no deal, and has pushed Brussels this week to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement to discard the backstop mechanism for the Irish border.

“The chaos and dislocation of Boris Johnson’s No Deal Brexit is real and threatening, as the government’s leaked Operation Yellowhammer dossier makes crystal clear,” Corbyn wrote in the letter.

The letter is also addressed to Ian Blackford, the Scottish National Party leader in Westminster; Plaid Cymru MP Liz Saville Roberts; former Tory Nick Boles, who now sits as independent; Change UK leader Anna Soubry, as well as Tory MPs Guto Bebb and Caroline Spelman.

CORRECTION: A previous version of this article misstated Caroline Lucas’ position in the Green party.

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