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Theresa May Delays Brexit Vote as Negotiations Get Really, Really Messy

The Slatest

By Joshua Keating Dec 10, 2018

British Prime Minister Theresa May leaves No. 10 Downing Street on Dec. 5.
Dan Kitwood/Getty Images

“Quite frankly a bit of a shambles” was the understated response from one of Theresa May’s coalition partners to the news Monday that the prime minister seeks to delay a vote on her Brexit deal, which had been planned for tomorrow.

The delay reflects May’s acknowledgement that she doesn’t have the votes for the controversial deal she negotiated with Brussels, which would keep Britain in a customs union, at least for a time, with the EU, in order to avoid the imposition of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The deal is opposed not only by the opposition Labour and Scottish National parties but also by her coalition partners, the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party and many hard-line Brexiteer members of her own Conservative Party. Both Labour and the Scottish National Party have suggested that a motion of no confidence in May’s government could be put forward this week.

According to the Guardian, “the vote could take place next week or even be delayed until early January, although this would allow less time for the ensuing Brexit legislation to be passed through parliament before 29 March,” when Britain is due to leave the EU, deal or no. Time is running short, and the delay raises the likelihood of a “no-deal” Brexit in which Britain would revert to trading with Europe under WTO rules, a prospect that experts have warned would have dire consequences for the British economy. The pound fell 0.5 percent against the dollar Monday in response to the news.

The delay will give May some more time to lobby reluctant lawmakers, and she has also suggested that the so-called “Northern Ireland backstop” could be modified.

An EU spokesperson insisted, however, that the deal on the table is “the best and only deal possible” and would not be renegotiated. Given the knottiness of the Irish border problem, it’s not quite clear what an alternative arrangement would even be.

But the important thing to remember in the Calvinball world of Brexit is that no one actually knows what the rules are because no one has ever done this before. The EU has already compromised more than many expected in agreeing to the customs union arrangement. After insisting for months that “Brexit means Brexit,” May also agreed to a much closer future economic relationship between Britain and the EU than was anticipated. Both sides also seem to be making quiet preparations for postponing Brexit past March, after long insisting that the deadline was nonnegotiable.

At the moment, a host of scenarios—including a no-deal Brexit, some alternative compromise on the Irish question, a delayed Brexit, a new “people’s vote” referendum on the deal, and an ouster of May leading to who knows what—all seem entirely plausible.

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Theresa May said at the lord mayor’s banquet that there remained ‘significant issues’ to resolve in the Brexit talks.

Brexit: time running out as Theresa May claims talks in ‘the endgame’

PM says negotiations with EU ‘immensely difficult’ as summit deadline comes under threat

Theresa May said at the lord mayor’s banquet that there remained ‘significant issues’ to resolve in the Brexit talks.
Theresa May said at the lord mayor’s banquet that there remained ‘significant issues’ to resolve in the Brexit talks. Photograph: Dominic Lipinski/PA

Theresa May’s efforts to secure a Brexit deal by the end of March have suffered a serious setback after it emerged that UK and European Union negotiators were struggling to bridge the gap over the Irish border backstop in time for a November summit.

The prime minister was forced to admit that “significant” issues remained despite talks that went on until the early hours of Monday morning. Unless there is dramatic progress by the end of Wednesday, the exit timetable will become increasingly squeezed.

Cabinet members, who had been expecting to sign off the final Brexit negotiating position on Tuesday, were told that the issue would hardly be discussed at the meeting beyond an update of the UK’s preparedness for no deal.

Negotiators stayed up until 2.45am on Monday in pursuit of a breakthrough that did not come as the EU made a series of last-minute demands by attaching fresh conditions to the customs backstop, which is designed to come into force if no long-term free trade deal can be signed by the end of 2020.

That failure to progress the talks almost certainly delays agreement at an EU level until a summit scheduled for 13/14 December and makes it increasingly difficult for the critical “meaningful final vote” of MPs on May’s deal to be held before Christmas.

Addressing the lord mayor’s banquet at the Guildhall in London on Monday night, May said: “The negotiations for our departure are now in the endgame”. But in remarks aimed at Brussels negotiators, she added that they could not expect concessions this week just to keep the idea of a November Brexit summit alive.

“We are working extremely hard, through the night, to make progress on the remaining issues in the withdrawal agreement, which are significant,” the prime minister said. “Both sides want to reach an agreement, but what we are negotiating is immensely difficult.”

May’s remarks came as No 10 tried to accuse the EU of trying to bounce the UK into a deal. There had been a brief flurry of speculation at lunchtime, following a report in the Financial Times, that a deal could be close, based on one account of a briefing given by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, to European ministers. One witness said that Barnier had said “the parameters of a possible agreement are very largely defined”, but No 10 said any suggestion that a deal was close should be taken with “a bucket of salt”.

Labour, meanwhile, is to step up the pressure on the government by launching a bid on Tuesday to force ministers to publish the government’s legal advice on May’s Irish backstop plan before MPs vote to approve her Brexit deal, saying it would be unacceptable for MPs to be kept “in the dark” on how any agreement was reached.

In Brussels, Barnier told European affairs ministers for the 27 EU members that the negotiators had so far failed to make the decisive progress. “Barnier explained that intense negotiating efforts continue, but an agreement has not been reached yet,” a statement said.

No 10 is faced with a series of emerging demands from the EU, which wants to attach new conditions to the backstop.

Brussels wants the UK to sign up to “dynamic” alignment with state aid and future environmental, social and labour regulations, which would in effect force parliament to cut and paste EU rules into British law.

A commitment on the side of the British to provide the European fishing fleet with access to UK seas after Brexit has also been proposed by member states as a condition for agreement on the customs union.

It is not yet agreed how the backstop can be terminated and there are growing concerns across the Conservative party that it could be used to keep the UK in a long-term customs union with the EU without a say in its regulation. More than 50 hard Brexiters have said they will vote against the Chequers plan, which proposed to keep the UK aligned with EU rules on food and goods after Brexit.

Jo Johnson, the former rail minister who resigned from the government on Friday to support a second referendum , will speak to a rally in Westminster on Tuesday opposing the prime minister’s plan to take Britain out of the EU.

“I am concerned that a Conservative government is preparing to leave the British people ill-informed over the consequences, with the decision not to publish evidence showing this is a worse deal that the one we already have inside the EU,” Johnson wrote in an article for the Times.

Earlier on Monday, Penny Mordaunt, the international development secretary, became the second cabinet minister in two days to warn that the prime minister did not have a completely free hand in her negotiations with Brussels.

“The important thing is that there’s two checks on this deal – there’s cabinet and there’s parliament. And so cabinet’s job is to put something to parliament that is going to deliver on the referendum result. We need to work together as a cabinet to do that,” Mordaunt said.

Brexiter Andrea Leadsom said on Sunday that she was “sticking in government” to ensure the UK was not trapped in a customs arrangement against its will.

UK sources said last week that they hoped Dominic Raab, the Brexit secretary, could make a visit to Brussels on Tuesday to unveil a deal and prepare the way for a Brexit summit. But No 10 said on Monday that there were no plans for him to make that journey.

EU capitals also want time to examine any agreement made between the European commission and the UK before it is published. France and Germany are understood to have made the point forcefully to Barnier.

The withdrawal agreement, the draft exit treaty, is already running to more than 400 pages of dense legal text. It is expected to be published when a deal is agreed in principle between the UK and the EU, accompanied by a political declaration about the future trade relationship between the two.

Michael Roth, Germany’s minister for the EU, said the member states had made “many compromises but the room for manoeuvre is very much limited and our British friends know exactly where our discussions are”.

Belgium’s deputy prime minister, Didier Reynders, told reporters: “We have time but not so much, so for this moment it’s very difficult to make real progress but before Christmas I’m hoping that it will be possible”.

Simon Coveney, the Irish deputy prime minister and foreign minister, said it was “a very important week for the Brexit negotiations”.

“There is clearly work to do between the two negotiating teams and I think we need to give them time and space now to finish that job,” he said.

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Brexit and housing crisis combining to cause exodus from London, think tank finds

Brexit and housing crisis combining to cause exodus from London, think tank finds

Information that should be of vital interest particularly to the Montserrat discourse

Caitlin Morrison
 
 

A combination of unaffordable housing and Brexit has led to an “exodus” from London, with an increasing number of young people moving elsewhere to live and work, according to new research.

Analysis by think tank Centre for London showed that job numbers in the capital reached 5.9 million at the end of June this year, up 1.9 per cent compared with the same month in 2017 – and the highest level since records began in 1996.

However, the group warned that this was driven by a “significant growth” in the number of people moving away from London to rest of the UK, and a slowdown in international migration, suggesting that the city is become a less desirable place to live and work.

London recorded the slowest rate of population growth in over a decade, at almost half the rate of the previous year, the research revealed.

A spokesperson for Centre for London said: “The continuing affordability crisis and the prospect of Brexit are dampening the city’s appeal, with the former seen as driving the rise in the number of people in their mid-twenties to thirties leaving the capital.”

In July the average rent for London rose above £1,600 for the first time on record, according to the latest Homelet Rental Index, and while house price growth in London has slowed in recent months, the average price in the second quarter of this year was £468,845 – more than double the national average of £214,578.

Meanwhile, the think tank said there were other factors spurring people on to leave the capital, with quality of life indicators such as crime and pollution worsening over the last year.

Figures showed that a balance of 106,000 people moved away from London in the 12 months to mid-2017, up 14 per cent on the previous year, which “suggests that people are looking for an alternative to London to live and work”, Centre for London said.

Net international migration dropped by 34 per cent year-on-year, to the lowest level since 2013.

The research also showed a 16 per cent decline in the number of foreign nationals registering for national insurance numbers, with a 25 per cent drop among EU citizens.

Vicky Pryce, a board member of the Centre for Economics and Business Research, said the news on job creation in the capital was “very welcome” but added: “For London, long believed to be better able to absorb shocks like Brexit due to its diversity, housing affordability and rising living costs in the capital [it is] encouraging an exodus.

“Any loss of EU workers and the likelihood of services not being covered by any Brexit deal would leave the City particularly vulnerable.”

The prospect of a no-deal Brexit has become more likely in the last few weeks, with Bank of England boss Mark Carney last week admitting that the chances of the UK leaving the EU with no agreement in place were “uncomfortably high”, and the pound has fallen to 11 month lows against the dollar and the euro off the back of no-deal concerns.

Meanwhile, Silviya Barrett, research manager at Centre for London, said: “While some might interpret the drop in migration and population growth as easing the pressure on infrastructure and public services, in the longer term it has the potential to threaten their viability and significantly damage our economy.”

She added that although unemployment data was encouraging, falling 0.4 per cent to 255,000 since last year, “declining pay levels and stalling productivity are signs that there could be stumbling blocks on the horizon”.

Figures from the Office for National Statistics last month revealed that UK wage growth had slowed to its weakest pace in six months.

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Map of world

Montserrat, OTs and Caribbean – the UK – leave or remain EU

(Adapted)

Following our presentations and enquiry to which we have received scant response, we observed that we sparked discussion of sorts on the UK – EU referendum.

The Governor’s office on June 2 said, “…the UK has now entered a period of purdah in advance of the referendum, and there is to be no public discussion on our part.”

Reaction from another source at that time  said: “It seems obvious that a UK in the EU is a stabler environment for aid, and frankly it would be on the whole better for the UK and the world too. For instance if UK leaves, the Scottish exit will re-open and that on very different terms. None of which will be happy.

Either case, the miss on drawing on DFID during the time its budget grew from 5 to 10 billion, is going to hurt us…Has been hurting us.”

Meanwhile, a few days later, Minister of Agriculture, Trade and Environment Claude Hogan said in an early response, explained: “The current agreement for the EU programmes and projects for Overseas Countries and Territories (OCTs) is directly with each OCT and the EU, including Montserrat, up to 2020. Naturally, because of our status, the UK Administration is involved in our negotiations and conclusion of such agreements.  If the UK were to exit the EU arrangement this agreement is unlikely to be affected at least up until 2020.

“Of course there could be considerations arising if say the UK budget contribution to the EU were to decrease, but that is for a later discussions, especially as the basis for EU development assistance has been linked to the needs of people and not there political affiliation, but we are truly in new territory here with this Brexit drive from within the UK.

“In trade terms, Montserrat is unlikely ‎to be immediately affected any more than its CARICOM neighbours as it also enjoys an Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) equivalent to that between CARICOM and the EU.

“We would need to deal with any impact to services trade say in financial services or to tourism with the rest of the region.

“There could be a lot of speculation about this question of Brexit, but it should be generally greeted with concern as it asserts political autonomy over the economic needs and expectations of people and the global market, especially those in the British Overseas Territories who have no vote on the matter, but will suffer the potential and real effects of a Brexit.”

From the Independent (UK) Newspaper:

How will the Passport Office cope if we vote for Brexit?

One reader wonders how the passport office will deal with every UK citizen trying to change their passport from EU to UK (Getty Images)

One reader wonders how the passport office will deal with every UK citizen trying to change their passport from EU to UK (Getty Images)

I have read and heard much talk from both the Leave and Remain campaigns, but neither has pointed out the simple fact that if Britain votes to leave the EU we will all have to apply for new passports.

Given the backlog of passport applications that already exist at HM Passport Offices, one wonders how they will cope when 42 million passport holders apply to exchange their EU passports for UK-only.

Mick Hall
Grays 

Some reactions to the debate:

It may seem a little over-dramatic to suggest that if, on 24 June, I wake up to a Remain victory then I will no longer be British but European. But there is an adjustment to be made, and that is as good a time as any to make it.

We can’t go on forever complaining that we’re not allowed to favour “our own people” in jobs and housing. If we now fail to change our political reality then we must instead change our sense of who we are. We need to resolve our identity dysphoria one way or the other.

This would be unfortunate for the poorer of the formerly-British, for who then will feel any particular responsibility towards them? We have so far helped by subsidising them in work that can’t otherwise generate a viable income. But what is the point of our continually trying to mop up unemployment when the labour taps are open and the European sink is overflowing?

Once we are all Europeans we can tell the unemployed to get on their bikes, or onto the Eurostar, to find a job, or a cheaper place to be jobless, in another part of our European homeland.

Everyone who matters will be happy. Conservative businessmen can import new workers to keep their profits up. Labour politicians and trade union leaders can import new voters to keep them in well paid jobs.
John Riseley
Harrogate

Any chance of Michael Gove providing examples of the EU as a constraint on 1) ministers’ ability to do things they were elected to do, or 2) using their judgement about the right course of action for the people of this country? Should be illuminating.

Brian Phillips
Ilkley

Caribbean Overseas Territories could suffer Britain votes to leave European Union.

Map of worldCMC – Britain’s Caribbean Overseas Territories could suffer significantly if it votes to leave the European Union in the June 23 referendum, according to a report released in London.

The report commissioned by the United Kingdom Overseas Territories Association (UKOTA) on the benefits of the European Union (EU) to the United Kingdom Overseas Territories (UKOTs) notes that the  UKOTs have benefitted “in several important ways from their relationship with the EU, and many of these will be placed at serious risk if the UK decides to leave the EU”.

The UKOTA said that the overall aim of the report is not to force the UKOTs onto the campaign agenda but to demonstrate the value of the EU to the UKOTs and the prospects for their future relationship with the EU pending the referendum outcome.

There are 14 UKOTs spread across the globe, of which nine are directly associated with the European Union (EU) via the Overseas Association Decision (OAD) adopted by the EU in 2013. These are Anguilla, Bermuda, British Virgin Islands (BVI), Cayman Islands, Falkland Islands, Montserrat, Pitcairn, St Helena and Turks and Caicos Islands. Ascension and Tristan da Cunha fall under St Helena in the OAD.

The report notes that the UKOTs benefit currently from economic and environmental cooperation with the EU, as well as development assistance and policy dialogue.

Practical aspects of cooperation are welcomed by the UKOTs. For example, Bermuda’s financial services industry with its focus on insurance is aided by its close links with the EU, both in terms of it being a large market, but also as the EU recognises Bermuda’s regulatory system as equivalent to its own.

The report, titled “The United Kingdom Overseas Territories and the European Union: Benefits and Prospects,” notes that the EU market is a major one particularly for Bermuda, with its focus on insurance. Service sector imports from Bermuda to the EU amounted to Euro21.7 billion (One Euro =US$1.29 cents) in 2014 according to the European Commission.

“In addition, Bermuda benefits from the EU’s recognition that the standard of the island’s insurance regulation is equivalent to its own. Second, within the institutional structures highlighted previously the OCTs (Overseas Caribbean Territories) are able to discuss financial services and tax issues and initiatives with the EU before they are implemented. “

The report also noted that the British Virgin Islands (BVI) is the Co-Chair of the OCT/EU Financial Services Partnership Working Party (PWP), which brings together technical experts from the OCTs and EU to discuss issues of mutual concern.

“This platform is important for mutual understanding and to make sure that the interests of the OCTs are taken into account by the EU in its decision making.”

The report said that a number of the UKOTs are highly dependent on a small number of industries, and this increases their vulnerability.

“Thus several are investigating ways in which they can diversify their economies. For instance, BVI is exploring the commercial expansion of its fisheries industry, with the EU as a potential export market,” the report added.

It said that funding from the EU is also having a positive impact on the UKOTs, amounting to at least Euro 80 million between 2014-2020.

The report notes that recent and ongoing projects are focusing on supporting their economies, and helping the territories to address environmental challenges such as climate change, disaster preparedness and the conservation of their biodiversity.

“Beyond the policy benefits, the deepening institutional links between the UKOTs and the EU, particularly via the European Commission, have been supported by the Territories, providing as they do more direct access to EU policy makers.

“In addition, the growing cooperation between the UKOTs and Dutch, French and Danish territories in the Overseas Countries and Territories Association (OCTA) has brought real gains, including greater political visibility of the territories in Brussels and a higher international profile,” the report added.

More on the debate

It is unfortunate that, as part of the Brexit debate, you repeat the myth that leaving the EU would prevent workers from coming to the UK, which would indeed be bad for many parts of the economy, especially the NHS.

But there would, in fact, be nothing to stop the UK allowing or even encouraging immigrants. The difference is that we could decide the basis on which they came, and where from, opening up the available pool rather than being forced to accept anyone from EU countries.

Mike Margetts
Kilsby

Universal benefits are not the answer to disadvantage

An education charity, the Sutton Trust, says that those from deprived backgrounds are still far less likely to get to university in Scotland than elsewhere in the UK, with the rich four times more likely to go to university in Scotland than the poor.

Once again we see that universal benefits, in this case free tuition, are not a miracle cure. Overcoming the attainment gap is a complex and difficult task, not least because, at its core, you are trying to address the effects of poverty, which has proven to be a huge challenge for any government, no matter where they sit on the political spectrum.

In Scotland, the SNP has thrown its lot in with universal benefits in many areas where progressive-sounding initiatives might actually take funding away from those who need it most. By favouring the majority with “free” universal benefits, there is less scope for valuable targeted support for those who need it most.

No government ever has a bottomless pit of funding. The SNP has to decide if electoral popularity will continue to be prioritised above focusing help and funding where the need is greatest.

Keith Howell
West Linton

How do we define elitism?

Beulah Devaney’s piece on literary festivals must be one of the most sneering and patronising pieces you have run in a long time. Yes, the Hay Festival may be rather cosy and a bit stuck in its ways, but the rest of her arguments about literary festivals as a whole are undermined by her own examples. She talks about elitist literature and Michael Palin in almost the same breath, when his travel books were popular television tie-ins which sold in huge numbers. This raises questions about her definition of elitism.

Her second point, about charging as a sign of exclusion, is also irrelevant when my local third tier football club, Port Vale, charges three times as much for a 90-minute game. Would she attack the club, or a working class father taking his children to see a match there, as elitist?

As for the comment about a quarter of the population not reading for pleasure, this is actually one of the lowest figures in the developed world.

Jim Radcliffe
Newcastle under Lyme

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