EU executive says ‘significant’ differences in Brexit talks – Reuters

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union’s executive said on Thursday that “significant divergences” persisted in its talks with Britain on their new relationship from 2021.

Britain left the EU in January and is in a standstill transition period with the bloc to give the two sides time to forge a new relationship on everything from trade to security.


Source: EU executive says ‘significant’ differences in Brexit talks – Reuters

With the EU in need of friends on the world stage, conditions are ripe for Boris to pull off a Brexit deal : The Telegraph

A charm offensive from the unlikely figure of Boris Johnson could be all it takes to win the concessions we need

Of all the tall stories that Boris Johnson has told, his latest – about how he’ll secure a Brexit deal by Hallowe’en – is seen as the most laughable. There is a million-to-one chance of his failing to negotiate a Brexit deal, he says. Most Tories think it’s the other way around, that he stands a million-to-one chance of success. They back him because they think he’d leave without a deal if he had to. But the mood music in Europe is changing and there’s a decent chance of a breakthrough – for a Prime Minister sharp enough to take it.

The EU still likes to say the deal it offered to Theresa May cannot be “reopened” but this is a bit of a verbal trick. No one is seriously expecting a new 585-page deal to be negotiated. If a few sentences were added to the end, giving either  side the ability to walk away – in the way EU members and Nato members can walk away – then Parliament would probably vote it through.  The Northern Irish backstop is a problem, but alternatives are there. Agreement is tantalisingly close.

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Meanwhile, the cost of not doing a deal is becoming clearer. Leo Varadkar, the Irish Taoiseach, had been saying that no-deal – however painful – would be better than more compromise with the Brits. But this week his finance minister spelt out what no-deal would mean for Ireland: three years of pain, 85,000 job losses, economic growth crushed and billions of euros in extra borrowing. Why go through all this if it could be avoided, by a bit of goodwill?

Crucially a new argument against no-deal is coming from Berlin. Forget the economic cost, it says: something far more important is at stake. The trade war between America and China is turning into a wider cold war, placing Europe under pressure from both sides. Europe can resist this pressure, but it needs scale. And Britain. With a Brexit deal, the EU and UK would be close and could act as a diplomatic block – deciding together, for example, what to do about Huawei’s 5G services or other suspiciously lucrative Chinese contracts. In short, how to fight the trade-and-tech wars.


Source: With the EU in need of friends on the world stage, conditions are ripe for Boris to pull off a Brexit deal : The Telegraph

Theresa May Brexit deal hammered in parliament, but be wary of prospects of a new ‘consensus’ approach : The Conversation

Another day, another record. The 230 majority against the motion to approve Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement on the UK’s exit from the EU smashes pretty much any parliamentary record one cares to discover.

That May’s immediate response was to make time for the house to debate and vote on Labour’s motion of no-confidence in her the day after her loss was thus hardly a surprise: how else to respond to such a heavy blow against the central platform and policy of the government?

And yet the abiding impression of these events was of avoiding a resolution, for as long as possible. Most obviously, May did not offer her resignation. That was a reflection not of her principles but rather her analysis of the situation. As she noted in her statement, a lack of majority for her deal doesn’t mean there’s a majority for another course of action. Without that alternative majority, she clearly feels there is still everything to play for and she is the right person for the job.

In essence, what May offered parliament was a “put-up or shut-up” proposition. Should the government win the confidence motion – which looks very likely indeed – she will hold a series of cross-party talks, inviting parliament to bring ideas and suggestions about how to build a majority position. The results will then be put to the EU for negotiation and agreement.


Source: Theresa May Brexit deal hammered in parliament, but be wary of prospects of a new ‘consensus’ approach : The Conversation

Would a Norway option break the Brexit stalemate? Here’s what new polling tells us : The Conversation

The Labour politician Jim Callaghan famously remarked to his colleagues in 1970 that a referendum on Europe might end up being “a little rubber life raft” into which they all might one day have to climb. Just five years later they did so, holding a vote that ensured the UK remained a member of what was then the EEC for more than four decades.

The decision taken two-and-a-half years ago in the 2016 referendum reversed the verdict the public arrived at back in 1975. But so controversial has it become, and so difficult to implement, that many are calling for what would be a third “people’s vote”.

Opposition to another referendum is intense – and not just among those desperate to see the UK leave the EU. Many who would, in their heart of hearts, prefer to remain in the EU worry that seeking to overturn the 2016 result would send a damaging message to “the people”.

For some, the so-called Norway-plus option, which would see the UK remain in the customs union and the single market, is now the safest life raft available. Prime Minister Theresa May has lost the meaningful vote, and it is increasingly clear that parliament, by hook or by crook, is going to do its damnedest to prevent a no-deal departure. We can therefore expect to hear a lot more in the coming days about Norway-plus – and about the EEA, EFTA, “cross-party consensus”, and a so-called “soft” (or “softer”) Brexit.

Whether any of this is feasible – at least in the time available and with May still prime minister – who knows? But what we do know is that, if it is to stand any chance of working, then advocates of the Norway-plus option are going to have to work very hard and very fast to persuade both the public and the members of Britain’s two biggest political parties that it’s something worth trying. How much chance do they have?

Party members

Just before Christmas, Our ESRC-sponsored Party Members Projectsurveyed 1,034 Labour Party members and 1,215 Conservative Party members, together with a representative sample of 1,675 ordinary voters. We asked all three groups of respondents how they would feel if Britain “ended up leaving the European Union but remaining in the single market and customs union – an arrangement that is sometimes called Norway-plus”. Their answers suggest the latter won’t necessarily be an easy sell – but that it shouldn’t be written off.


Source: Would a Norway option break the Brexit stalemate? Here’s what new polling tells us : The Conversation

What happens after Brexit vote? Four possible scenarios explained : The Conversation

MPs have started to debate the final Brexit withdrawal agreement ahead of a “meaningful vote” at the end of the day on December 11. That is about the only part of the current situation about which we can be sure. There are various possible scenarios that might play out after that vote, some of which are outlined below.

1. MPs vote in favour of the deal

This is possibly the easiest outcome in terms of pushing forward with Brexit, but the hardest to obtain, given the sheer number of Conservative MPs who have said they will vote against the deal. A vote in favour would give the prime minister the power to tell the EU that the deal has been ratified by parliament.

But the government would still need to pass a hefty amount of legislation as the Brexit process continues. This would begin with the EU (Withdrawal Agreement) Bill – a piece of legislation which the House of Commons Library thinks could happen before Christmas.

In the event that this first option doesn’t happen (which seems increasingly likely), the future is all a bid muddled. This is partly because it depends if MPs vote in favour of any amendments to the motion on December 11. Here, the possible outcomes would be:

2. MPs vote against the deal but in favour of an amendment

The House of Commons speaker, John Bercow, can select up to six amendments to a proposed bill to also be debated and voted on by the house. In this case, the proposed amendments include one by Labour MP Hilary Benn to reject both the Brexit deal and a no-deal scenario in an attempt to enhance the power for MPs to find an alternative. Labour and the SNP have said they will support the amendment. Other amendments include extending the Article 50 deadline to give more time to decide how to proceed.

If MPs vote against the main motion on the deal, the government would give a statement to the House of Commons within 21 days setting out how it plans to proceed, as specified in the EU Withdrawal Act 2018. This would bring us to January 1, 2019. Parliament would be given a week to debate the contents of this statement, before a further round of ministerial statements reporting on progress by January 21.


Source: What happens after Brexit vote? Four possible scenarios explained : The Conversation

Bernard Ingham: My open letter to European leaders – it is time to save the EU from itself – Yorkshire Post

With British politics in a febrile, mutinous state over Brexit, I have written this open letter to the governments of most – but not all – of the EU’s 27 member states. It is only copied to Paris, Berlin, Brussels, Luxembourg and Dublin since, in my judgment, they are beyond redemption.

Fellow Europeans:

As Brexit comes to the crunch I invite you to consider the EU’s standing in the world and, by extension, that of your own governments because of the EU’s handling of the negotiations.

Source: Bernard Ingham: My open letter to European leaders – it is time to save the EU from itself – Yorkshire Post

No-deal Brexit: survey reveals 44% of people expect the UK to crash out of EU : The Conversation

As the Brexit negotiations grind on, and with a withdrawal agreement still seeming elusive, the British people are becoming more pessimistic about what Brexit might mean. A major new survey by the Policy Institute at King’s College London and Ipsos MORI reveals that nearly half (44%) expect the UK to leave the EU in March 2019 without a deal in place. Only three in ten expect a deal to be worked out.

If we break the population down by party support and preference on Brexit, other fascinating distinctions become apparent. The majority of Remain-backing Labour voters think the UK is heading for a no-deal Brexit, while the majority of Conservative-Leave supporters think the country will leave with a deal.

Strikingly, whatever the outcome of the negotiations, few see much personal economic benefit flowing from Brexit. Only 14% of the public expect that leaving the EU will result in an increase in their own standard of living in the next five years, with twice as many expecting their standard of living to decrease. The public have become more pessimistic since we last asked this question in May 2016, just before the referendum


Source: No-deal Brexit: survey reveals 44% of people expect the UK to crash out of EU : The Conversation

Brexit news: May is about to tell EU leaders to be ‘more creative’ | Politics | News |

The Prime Minister has asked for the opportunity to address her European counterparts as a group of 28 when they are in the Belgian capital for June’s European Council summit on Thursday.

European-level Brexit discussions are normally held by the remaining EU27, but Donald Tusk, the European Council’s president, agreed with the Prime Minister she should be given the chance to brief her counterparts.

Mr Tusk, the EU’s most senior official, granted Mrs May’s request despite Brexit’s diminishing importance at the crunch summit, which will be used by heads of state to heal growing divisions between member on migration.

Britain will be told by Europeans to “intensify” its efforts in the negotiations in order for both parties to reach an agreement on the withdrawal agreement in time for the October deadline


Source: Brexit news: May is about to tell EU leaders to be ‘more creative’ | Politics | News |

A customs union would free the UK to strike trade deals – but it doesn’t solve every Brexit problem : The Conversation

The debate around the UK’s level of involvement in the EU single market after Brexit may lead to a significant u-turn in government policy. Having initially said it would not seek a customs union with the EU after Brexit (after leaving the full, existing customs union), it looks as though the UK government’s position is softening. Given the alternatives  to the single market that are available to the UK, a potential u-turn is welcome.

Leaving the single market but agreeing to a customs union doesn’t rule out the UK making its own trade deals. However, it should be careful what it wishes for. Freedom comes at a price. A customs union only covers trade in goods, so the UK would need an umbrella agreement to cover its other arrangements with the EU.

The World Trade Organisation (WTO) sets out the basics in Article XXIV of the General Agreement of Tariffs and Trade (GATT). In essence, a customs union is where tariffs are removed between members of the union, and the tariffs charged on imports coming from outside the union are harmonised across members of the union. This definition seems straightforward but when you dig deeper into Article XXIV, you find that while these rules apply to trade in goods, they say nothing about services – which are of course very important for the UK.


Source: A customs union would free the UK to strike trade deals – but it doesn’t solve every Brexit problem : The Conversation

Michel Barnier to be SACKED? EU Brexit chief sidelined by ‘furious’ Jean-Claude Junker

Earlier this week Mr Barnier announced he was not open to a free trade agreement including financial services.

However, senior Brussels figures, including President of the EU Commission Jean Claude Juncker, are said to be “not happy” with the announcement which was unauthorised.

A senior Government source said: “Nobody pays any attention to what Barnier says in Brussels, yet in Britain, it is oddly taken as EU gospel when it is not.


Source: Michel Barnier to be SACKED? EU Brexit chief sidelined by ‘furious’ Jean-Claude Junker