Archive for the ‘Trade’ Category

Boris Johnson: ‘Bags of time’ to negotiate post-Brexit EU relationship

Boris Johnson has said that one year is “bags of time” to negotiate a new free-trade agreement and post-Brexit relationship between the U.K. and EU.

“There is absolutely no reason why between January and the end of next year, we shouldn’t complete that free-trade deal and have a wonderful new partnership with the EU based on zero tariffs, zero quotas,” the prime minister said on BBC Breakfast this morning.

“On developing the free-trade partnership, we’ll have bags of time to do it,” he added. “The deal that we’ll be doing with the EU is unlike any other deal they have ever done. They’re doing it with a state that is already in perfect harmony with their arrangements.”

If Johnson wins the election and gets his Brexit deal through parliament in January, that leaves a one-year transition period in which the U.K. and EU can negotiate their future trading relationship.

If the U.K. wants to ask to ask for more time, it must do so by July 1, 2020. But Johnson has repeatedly ruled that out. “I don’t want an extension,” Johnson told the BBC, and said he won’t ask for one if he wins a parliamentary majority in the upcoming election.

His stance has sparked fears that the U.K. could leave the EU without a deal at the end of 2020, if no agreement on the future relationship has been reached by then. Experts have said one year is not enough time for a complex new trading agreement to be negotiated.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Major trade partners seek compensation from UK and EU over Brexit

Leading trade partners are seeking compensation from the U.K. and EU over Brexit uncertainty that has disrupted pre-Christmas trade.

Some 15 countries — including heavyweights such as Australia and the U.S. — raised concerns over their commercial losses at today’s meeting of the World Trade Organization’s goods council, according to a Geneva-based official in the room.

Australia said the extension of the U.K.’s withdrawal caused “significant commercial disruptions” for their businesses. “Many Australian businesses ceased exports of commercially valuable beef and sheepmeat in the lead up to Christmas,” Australia said in the meeting.

The countries pressed the EU and the U.K. to offer better market access as compensation for the trade disruptions caused by Brexit.

Canada, New Zealand and the U.S. also expressed their concerns, even though Britain is trying to style its former colonies as natural strategic and commercial allies after it has quit the EU. They have already warned Britain and the EU to not just shuffle tariff rate quotas between each other.

TRQs define the volume of sensitive goods — such as beef and dairy products— that members of the World Trade Organization can export to the European Union at zero or low tariffs.

The EU said in the meeting that it had published “detailed information to reduce commercial uncertainties” and that it was willing to continue negotiations with WTO members regardless of the scenarios for the U.K.’s withdrawal. The discussion will continue Friday.

Nigel Farage hands Boris Johnson an election boost

LONDON — Nigel Farage today stood his Brexit Party troops down in every seat the Conservatives won at the 2017 general election.

The MEP and long-standing campaigner for Brexit said he wanted to avoid splitting the anti-EU vote and allowing a hung parliament that might lead to a second EU referendum.

“This announcement today prevents a second referendum from happening and that to me is the single most important thing for our country,” he told activists at a rally in Hartlepool. “In a sense we now have a Leave alliance, it’s just that we have done it unilaterally. We have decided that we will put country before party and take the fight to Labour.”

The announcement means the Brexit Party will not fight in 317 seats across the country, the number the Tories won under Theresa May. Farage had previously insisted he would contest 600 seats in a bid to pressure Johnson into going for a harder Brexit.

“I’ve genuinely tried for months to put about the idea that putting country before party at a moment like this is the right thing to do, but that effectively has come to nought,” he said.

But he said he had been buoyed by comments from the U.K. prime minister last night that he would not extend the Brexit transition period, which is due to end in December 2020. “We can get the fantastic new free trade agreement with the EU by the end of 2020. And we will not extend the transition period beyond the end of 2020. There’s absolutely no need to do that,” Johnson said in a Twitter video.

Farage also said he would trust the prime minister in his promise to strike a “super Canada” free-trade deal with the EU.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

How to watch the UK election like a pro

LONDON — British voters will go to the polls again on December 12, to vote in the country’s third general election in five years.

Here’s POLITICO’s guide to what many say will be the most significant U.K. election in a generation.

Why is this election happening?

When Boris Johnson succeeded Theresa May as prime minister in July, he knew he would have to face the electorate soon.

Within days of taking office, his working majority in parliament was reduced to one as the Conservatives lost a by-election in Brecon and Radnorshire. He later lost it altogether when he expelled 21 of his MPs (though he later allowed 10 to rejoin).

It will be the first U.K. general election held in December since 1923.

The lack of a parliamentary majority prevented both May and Johnson from passing their Brexit deals through parliament. Johnson had been fruitlessly pressing for a snap poll for weeks, but on October 29 opposition parties backed a bill to trigger the national ballot on December 12.

It will be the first U.K. general election held in December since 1923.

How many seats are being contested?

There are 650 parliamentary constituencies in the U.K., each of which is represented by an MP. They are all up for election.

If all parties fall short of a majority, Britain has a hung parliament and deals must be done to form a government.

The vast majority of seats — 533 — are in England, while 59 are in Scotland, 40 in Wales and 18 in Northern Ireland.

By convention the major parties stand aside for the speaker of the House of Commons — currently Lindsay Hoyle, the MP for Chorley. That means the number of seats really in play is 649.

How does the British electoral system work?

U.K. elections use a “winner takes all” system called first-past-the-post. In each constituency, the candidate that receives the most votes of those cast wins the seat.

The leader of the party that wins at least half the 650 constituencies — the magic number is 326 — becomes prime minister. That party then governs the country alone.

If all parties fall short of a majority, Britain has a hung parliament and deals must be done to form a government. These can take the form of a coalition between two or more parties — like the one between the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives in 2010 — or a more informal confidence-and-supply agreement, like the one between the Conservatives and the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party struck in 2017.

Britain’s Prime Minister Boris Johnson visits a whisky distillery on a campaign visit near Elgin, Scotland on November 7, 2019 | Pool photo by Daniel Leal-Olivas/AFP via Getty Images

Another possibility is a minority government, where the largest party governs with the help of ad-hoc deals with opposition parties on specific policies. Given the political impasse over Brexit, a minority government after December 12 is unlikely to be very stable.

How many MPs are standing down?

More than 60 current MPs have so far declared that they will stand down, and the number is growing.

Those retiring include the Education Secretary Nicky Morgan, former Home Secretary Amber Rudd, longest continuously serving MP Ken Clarke, former Labour leadership candidate Owen Smith, Labour Brexiteer Kate Hoey and Labour’s deputy leader Tom Watson.

Who can vote?

All British and Irish citizens resident in the U.K. and over the age of 18 can vote. Citizens of the Commonwealth countries — including Australia, Canada, India and Kenya — who have the right to live in the U.K. are also eligible. U.K. citizens who have moved abroad can vote for 15 years after they have left the country.

The deadline for registering to vote is November 26 — and applications to vote by post must be received by the same day.

EU citizens cannot vote, except if they are nationals of Cyprus or Malta, which are in the Commonwealth. You can’t vote if you’re in prison, a member of the House of Lords or of the royal family.

What are the key dates in the run up to election day?

Parliament was dissolved on November 6, kicking off the campaign in earnest. The deadline for candidates who want to stand to put themselves forward is November 14. At this point, the process of printing voting ballots begins.

The deadline for registering to vote is November 26 — and applications to vote by post must be received by the same day. Those who want to vote by proxy for the first time must apply by December 4.

On polling day itself, December 12, people can cast their ballots between 7 a.m. and 10 p.m.

Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks at a campaign launch event at the Invisible Wind Factory on November 7, 2019 in Liverpool | Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images

What are the key moments to watch out for in the campaign?

After the initial campaign skirmishes, the first main event will be the publication of the parties’ manifestos setting out their proposed programs for government.

In 2017, Labour’s manifesto was leaked before the party could release it, which ended up being a boon to the party as it got far greater coverage than it otherwise would have.

TV debates, the only place where the party leaders take each other on directly during the course of campaign, will also form a key part of the story. A head-to-head debate between Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and Johnson will be screened on ITV on November 19, and more events on other channels are likely.

U.K. election campaigns are very unpredictable, and the key turning points — good or bad — are impossible to foresee. For Gordon Brown in 2010, it was him getting caught on mic calling a Labour supporter who challenged him over the economy and immigration a “bigoted woman.” For Theresa May in 2017, it was her U-turn over her social care policy — successfully branded by the opposition as a “dementia tax.”

When will we know the result?

We’ll have a clear picture of the result by breakfast time on Friday December 13. But a good idea of how the parties have fared and who is on course to win a majority will start to emerge earlier, as key bellwether seats declare around 1 or 2 a.m.

Each party can spend up to £30,000 for each constituency it is contesting in the election.

POLITICO will live blog the election action through the night.

The BBC exit poll, which has a strong track record of closely mirroring the actual result, is announced as soon as the polling stations close at 10 p.m.

What are the rules on election spending?

Each party can spend up to £30,000 for each constituency it is contesting in the election. Parties that are fielding candidates in all 650 seats can spend a maximum of £19.5 million in total. This covers all campaign spending including advertising — from posters and flyers to YouTube videos — organizing rallies and press conferences, and producing manifestos.

Parties must check where all donations of over £500 are coming from. Permissible donations must come from individuals on the U.K. electoral register or U.K.-based companies, trade unions and building societies.

Parties have to send information on their donations to the Electoral Commission every quarter.

Liberal Democrats politician Heidi Allen speaks at a press conference announcing a “remain alliance pact” with the Liberal Democrats, Green and Plaid Cymru on November 7, 2019 in London | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

What are the rules around online campaigning?

There have been repeated warnings that U.K. electoral laws are not fit for purpose in the digital era. They were last updated in 2000, but the nature of digital campaigning is changing and the amount of cash that goes into it is growing. According to the Electoral Commission, the proportion of campaign money being spent on digital rose from 23.9 percent at the 2015 election to 42.8 percent in 2017.

Yet there is no requirement for digital advertisements to state who produced them, as printed leaflets must. The ads can be microtargeted at very specific groups, making it hard to see or regulate what’s being said.

Independent investigations by the Electoral Commission and Information Commissioner’s Office have concluded that there is potential for misuse of people’s personal data by campaigners looking to target them on social media.

The Electoral Commission recommends that digital campaign material should have an imprint saying who created it; that spending on campaigns by foreign organizations should be banned; and that the maximum fine for those who break the rules should be increased. Fines are currently capped at £20,000.

Johnson has said his party’s No. 1 priority is to get his Brexit deal through parliament if he wins a majority.

What are the big issues and how are the main parties framing them?

This election was triggered to resolve the Brexit deadlock, but the two main parties are already talking about lots more than Brexit. After years of austerity, the Conservatives and Labour are both keen to get the message out that they want to invest more in public services including health, education and transport.

Johnson has said his party’s No. 1 priority is to get his Brexit deal through parliament if he wins a majority. Corbyn, the opposition Labour leader, has pledged to negotiate a new deal within three months and put it to a referendum within six — with remaining in the EU as the alternative option. Jo Swinson of the Liberal Democrats has promised to cancel Brexit entirely, without holding a referendum, if she wins a majority.

A major theme of the campaign, on which Labour has set the agenda, is health. Corbyn argues a Johnson government would strike a trade deal with the United States that would open up the U.K. National Health Service to privatization by U.S. companies, and drive up the price of medicines.

Another theme could be immigration. Johnson has pledged to introduce an Australian-style points-based immigration system and claimed that Labour would introduce “uncontrolled and unlimited immigration.” He wrote to Corbyn this week challenging him to say whether he would continue freedom of movement with the EU.

What do the polls say?

The Tories are enjoying a healthy 12-point lead, according to POLITICO’s poll of polls, with 38 percent of the vote to Labour’s 26 percent.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

The Liberal Democrats are in third place with 16 percent, ahead of the Brexit Party with 10 percent.

If this were mirrored in the eventual result, the election should produce a majority for the Conservatives. But there are six weeks of campaigning ahead, with all to play for and predicting voting patterns in such a fragmented political landscape is extremely difficult.

A loose alliance of Remain parties — the Greens, Liberal Democrats and Welsh nationalists Plaid Cymru — hope to boost the chances of Remain-supporting MPs with a pact that involves them not fielding candidates in 60 constituencies to allow one of the other parties a clear run. Tactical voting along Brexit lines in other constituencies could also have a major impact.

And the polls themselves can be unreliable: In 2017, most of them significantly underestimated Labour’s vote share. Where several pollsters had been predicting a Conservative landslide, Labour ended up taking seats off the Tories and depriving them of a majority in parliament.

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 per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

Spend now to rescue economic growth, Dombrovskis says

European Commission Vice President Valdis Dombrovskis Thursday urged governments to spend now to boost eurozone growth after monetary policy has struggled to stimulate business.

The Latvian issued the call as part of the Commission’s latest economic forecast, which downgraded projections made in July for both 2019 and 2020.

Eurozone gross domestic product is now set to come in at 1.1 percent this year, then 1.2 percent in 2020 and 2021. In July, Brussels said GDP would increase by 1.2 percent this year and 1.4 percent in 2020.

Uncertainty from Brexit and global trade tensions between the U.S. and China are chiefly to blame for the downturn.

Dombrovskis especially called on countries with extra cash, such as Germany and the Netherlands, to start spending to counter the slowdown.

“Those Member States that have fiscal space should use it now,” Dombrovskis said in a statement. “I urge all EU countries with high levels of public debt to pursue prudent fiscal policies and put their debt levels on a downward path.”

Eurozone gross domestic product is now set to come in at 1.1 percent this year. In July, Brussels said GDP would increase by 1.2 percent this year.

The calls come almost two months after the European Central Bank cut its target interest rates deeper into negative territory and restarted its multi-trillion-euro bond-buying program to boost prices and stave off an economic downturn.

The Commission projected eurozone inflation of 1.2 percent this year and next, rising by 0.1 percentage points in 2021.

That’s far below the ECB’s inflation target of just under 2 percent, giving the Frankfurt-based institution little reason to change its policies anytime soon.

Unemployment stands at its lowest level since the start of the century and is forecast by the Commission to keep falling to 7.3 percent in 2021.

This article has been updated.

Boris Johnson rallies the troops after tough day 1 of election race

BIRMINGHAM, England — Boris Johnson has already had to try and get the Conservative Party’s election campaign back on track — and it’s only a day old.

The British prime minister rallied the troops on Wednesday night as he promised to push his Brexit deal through parliament from “day one” if he wins the general election on December 12.

“If I come back with a working majority in parliament, then I will get parliament working for you. On day one of the new parliament in December, we will start getting our deal through so we get Brexit done in January and put the uncertainty behind us,” he said.

At an event in Birmingham, his first of the campaign, Johnson also issued a thinly veiled jibe at Brexit Party chief Nigel Farage, taking aim at “some people” who have attacked his deal (Farage has urged the PM to ditch his plan and go for a no-deal Brexit).

“My friends, they are like candle-sellers at the dawn of the electric light bulb,” he said. “Or the makers of typewriters on beholding their first laptop computer. They have a terrible sense that they are about to lose their market. This deal delivers everything that I campaigned for.”

Boris Johnson’s speech came at the end of a tough day for the Tories.

Johnson was speaking to hundreds of Tory activists while flanked by Cabinet ministers in a conference center campaign hall that was far too big even for a prime minister to fill. With its giant screens and enormous banners, as well as Tories in T-shirts bearing campaign slogans and waving placards, it felt at times like a Donald Trump rally.

Miles Power, a 45-year-old Tory association chairman in North Wales, was on Johnson’s side when it comes to Farage, saying the Brexit Party leader’s pledge to fight the Tories on Brexit at the election was “really not in the best interests of the country.”

Ellie King, 24, from Leamington, warned her fellow Tory activists: “It’s going to be a long month and we shouldn’t get ahead of ourselves like we did last time [when Theresa May lost her majority in 2017]. It’s always a gamble but we are here to take risks.”

Tough day

Johnson’s speech came at the end of a tough day for the Tories.

Andrew Bridgen was forced to apologize for comments about victims of the Grenfell Tower fire | Niklas Halle’n/AFP via Getty Images

As the prime minister was on his way to meet the queen and formally trigger the election on Wednesday morning, a Cabinet minister was resigning.

Alun Cairns stepped down as secretary of state for Wales after it emerged he knew his former aide had been accused of sabotaging a rape trial before he endorsed him as a candidate for the Welsh Assembly. Cairns had previously said he was unaware of the allegation, which was made by the judge in the case.

Also on Wednesday morning, a second Tory candidate was forced to apologize for comments about victims of the Grenfell Tower fire. Andrew Bridgen, fighting to hold the seat of North West Leicestershire, had suggested Cabinet minister Jacob Rees-Mogg would have survived the fire because he is “cleverer” than the victims.

Rees-Mogg had earlier apologized after suggesting the victims should have used “common sense” and ignored fire brigade advice to stay in their flats — although he later insisted he meant fleeing would have been the right thing to do in hindsight.

Alun Cairns stepped down as secretary of state for Wales  | Chris J Ratcliffe/Getty Images

King, the activist from Leamington, said the first day of campaigning for the Tories was “not looking good.” She added: “I think what Jacob Rees-Mogg said was awful and should not have been said. But he’s apologized, which is a good thing.”

Elsewhere, the Tories were taken to task after it emerged staff had doctored a video of Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer to give the impression he had been unable to answer a question about Brexit. However, the party refused to take the video down, and it was played on news shows throughout the day.

The party also found itself in a row with Sky News after presenter Kay Burley insisted party chairman James Cleverly had backed out of an interview. They filmed an empty chair in the studio in his place. A Tory official insisted Cleverly had not been booked to appear.

Sue Markle, 61, a Tory from Birmingham, said at the campaign rally that maybe the various members of the Tory top brass “shouldn’t have said anything,” telling them “keep your gobs shut.”

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn had a much more positive start to his campaign. After several days focusing on the alleged risks to the NHS from a trade deal with the U.S., he has been gaffe-free.

UK NATIONAL PARLIAMENT ELECTION POLL OF POLLS

For more polling data from across Europe visit POLITICO Poll of Polls.

Speaking to activists in Telford in the West Midlands on Wednesday morning, Corbyn promised to be a “very different kind of prime minister” who would seek power in order to share it.

“A good leader doesn’t just barge through a door and let it swing back in the faces of those following behind,” he said. “A good leader holds open the door for others to walk through. Because everyone has a contribution to make.”

The biggest news from the Labour camp came late Wednesday when deputy leader Tom Watson announced he was stepping down as an MP to “start a different kind of life.”

Watson and Corbyn have frequently been at loggerheads and earlier this year the former set up a group of center-left Labour MPs who felt excluded from the party’s policymaking, while activists unsuccessfully attempted to oust Watson on the first day of the Labour party conference in Brighton in September.

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 per industry, email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

Jeremy Corbyn defends 6-month plan to end Brexit debate

HARLOW, England — Jeremy Corbyn Tuesday insisted his timetable for holding a second referendum on Brexit is “realistic and doable.”

Speaking at a general election campaign event in Harlow in Essex, where Tory Robert Halfon secured a majority of 7,000 in 2017, the Labour leader said he would not promise a fresh vote within six months of taking power if it were not possible.

Labour has pledged to renegotiate the Brexit deal with the EU — which would see the U.K. remain in a customs union with the bloc — in three months, and then put that agreement to a public vote.

Asked whether his timetable amounts to a fixed deadline, Corbyn said: “The deadline is a realistic one.”

“[Shadow Brexit Secretary] Keir [Starmer] and I have spent many hours in Brussels and EU capitals going through our process with governments, with officials and with fellow socialist parties across Europe,” he said. “We wouldn’t be saying this if we didn’t think it was realistic and doable.”

The Labour leader added that it would take Prime Minister Boris Johnson longer to sort Brexit, because he would have to negotiate a future deal with the EU including a more distant trading relationship.

Corbyn said he wants to allow the public to “sign on the dotted line” when it comes to Brexit and defended himself against critics who accuse him of appealing to both Leave and Remain supporters.

“People sometimes accuse me of trying to talk to both sides at once in the Brexit debate; to people who voted Leave and Remain,” he said in his speech. “You know what? They’re right. Why would I only want to talk to half the country? I don’t want to live in half a country.”

He added: “Anybody seeking to become prime minister must talk to and listen to the whole country.”

Elsewhere, Corbyn said Boris Johnson would pursue “Thatcherism on steroids” after Brexit by seeking a trade deal with U.S. President Donald Trump that would lower environmental, working and consumer standards.

“Given the chance, they’ll slash food standards to match the U.S., where what are called ‘acceptable levels’ of rat hairs in paprika, and maggots in orange juice are allowed and they’ll put chlorinated chicken on our supermarket shelves,” he said.

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