|Paris Gourtsoyannis, The Southern Reporter|AIWA! NO!|Borders MP David Mundell has threatened to resign over a European Union exit deal set to be signed off by the UK Government as soon as next week. The Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale and Tweeddale MP and Scottish Conservative leader Ruth Davidson have both issued a threat to quit over compromises to that Brexit deal over the Irish border ibeing proposed in a bid to get it agreed.
UK prime minister Theresa May’s cabinet meets today, October 16, amid widespread disquiet among Conservatives and their allies in the Democratic Unionist Party about plans to keep Britain in the EU customs union and boost regulatory checks on goods crossing the Irish Sea between Britain and Northern Ireland. Downing Street has sought to calm speculation that the compromises will form the basis of a breakthrough on the UK’s Brexit withdrawal aMrs Maythe Prime Minister not to do a “dodgy deal” undermining Northern Ireland’s standing in the union.
A joint letter from Ms Davidson and Scottish Secretary Mr Mundell to Mrs May warns that the issue of special status in the EU single market for Northern Ireland would be a red line for both of them, it has emerged. Under existing treaties including the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, Northern Ireland already has separate regulatory regimes shared with the Republic of Ireland over matters including electricity and animal health.
However, the EU says that under a commitment set to agreed by Mrs May to prevent a hard border being created on the island of Ireland, the north would have to effectively remain within the single market. Checks on goods travelling between the north and Britain would need to be enhanced, affecting all livestock and agricultural products, many of which come from Scotland.
“Having fought just four years ago to keep our country together, the integrity of our United Kingdom remains the single most important issue for us in these negotiations,” the letter from Ms Davidson and Mr Mundell states.
“Any deal that delivers a differentiated settlement for Northern Ireland beyond the differences that already exist on an all-Ireland basis – for example, agriculture – or can be brought under the provisions of the Belfast Agreement, would undermine the integrity of our UK internal market and this United Kingdom. “We could not support any deal that creates a border of any kind in the Irish Sea and undermines the union or leads to Northern Ireland having a different relationship with the EU than the rest of the UK beyond what currently exists.”
As many as eight cabinet ministers are said to be considering their positions over plans to keep the UK in the customs union to ensure goods continue to be traded over the Irish land border whatever the future relationship between London and Brussels without a firm date for when that arrangement would end.
Theresa May has sought to reassure worried Tory MPs by insisting that the UK will not be permanently “trapped” in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
|Kevin Schofield,PoiliticsHome|AIWA! NO!|The Prime Minister is facing the threat of Cabinet resignations over fears that a “backstop” arrangement aimed at avoiding a hard Irish border will effectively keep the UK locked into the bloc’s trading regime forever.
Tory minister warns on Brexit customs backstop end date
Theresa May: My backstop Brexit proposal is ‘unpalatable’
Theresa May facing threat of Cabinet resignations over Brexit customs plan
It is also understood that Andrea Leadsom, Penny Mordaunt and Esther McVey are considering their positions on the frontbench over the row.
In an attempt to calm tensions in the Conservative ranks, a Downing Street spokeswoman insisted any backstop deal would be “temporary”.
However, she stopped short of saying that any agreement will continue a specific date for when it will come to an end.
She said: “When we published our plans in June for a UK-wide customs backstop, we were absolutely clear that the arrangement would be temporary and only in place until our future economic relationship was ready. Our position is that this future economic relationship needs to be in place by the end of December 2021 at the latest.
“The Prime Minister would never agree to a deal that would trap the UK in a backstop permanently.”
Meanwhile, Philip Hammond has risked a fresh Cabinet row by suggestion that a backstop arrangement is inevitable, despite Downing Street insisting it remains unlikely.
Speaking to Bloomberg, he said: “We are not going to remain in anything indefinitely, we are very clear this has to be a temporary period. But it is true that there needs to be a period probably following the transition period that we’ve negotiated before we enter into our long-term partnership, just because of the time it will take to implement the systems required.
“It is very important to us that business doesn’t have to make two sets of changes. That there will effectively be continuity from the current set up through the transition period into any temporary period and then a single set of changes when we move into our long-term new economic partnership with the European Union.”
Theresa May has sought to reassure worried Tory MPs by insisting that the UK will not be permanently “trapped” in a customs union with the EU after Brexit.
|CRIMSON TAZVINZWA|AIWA! NO!|Theresa May will on Thursday ask her Brexit “war Cabinet” to agree a backstop plan that would keep Britain in a customs union with Brussels until a permanent trade deal can be agreed.
British and EU negotiators are understood to have agreed in principle to an all-UK backstop plan to avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland that would remove the final major obstacle blocking a withdrawal agreement.
Boris Johnson said the deal would turn the UK into a “permanent EU colony” and the DUP angrily threatened to break its confidence and supply deal with the Conservatives and potentially bring down the Government if the Prime Minister goes through with the plan, which it described as a “sell out”.
A cabinet meeting will be held ahead of May’s trip to Brussels, slated to start on October 17, where she hopes to outline a plan for a compromise deal on the Irish border.
Theresa May will reportedly discuss an obligation to keep the country in an effective customs union with the European Union following Brexit, but having “a clear process” for steps to end it later.
The cabinet meeting will take place on October 16, the Times reported.
“I remain confident we will reach a deal this autumn … [It is] time for the EU to match the pragmatism we have shown,” BREXIT Secretary Dominic Raab said, as quoted by the Sky News broadcaster
A source in the British government has said that ministers feared they could be bounced into accepting several potential changes to the customs arrangement and the areas of EU law that the UK must follow after Brexit. The Times reports that some ministers, including Home Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Brexit Minister Dominic Raab might refuse to accept the proposed changes.
However, later on Tuesday, ITV reported that the PM’s Europe Advisor, Oliver Robbins, managed to achieve substantial progress with EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, which might be an indirect confirmation of The Times report, as since the UK and Northern Ireland would remain within the Customs Union, there would be no obstacles preventing the free movement of goods and labor between the two Irelands.
In June 2016, the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union. Although Brexit is scheduled for late March 2019, London and Brussels still cannot agree on a number of key issues, including the Irish border and customs arrangements, making a no-deal scenario a possibility.
The country so many Irish people came to looking work is on the cusp of rationing
|PETER FLANAGAN,THE IRISH TIMES|AIWA! NO!|I left university in 2011, part of the generation that had entered third level education at the height of the Celtic Tiger, only to graduate into economic purgatory. It was disorientating. A few friends and I soon found ourselves living in London. There was still plenty of work in the city, which made it easy to forget Britain was struggling too.
One night the English caretaker of our hostel confessed to me that he felt immigrants were to blame for the hardship. It took me a moment to tell if he was being serious – we were after all sitting in a hostel bar being served by a girl from Spain and surrounded by other international guests, while the owners of the premises – his employers – were Irish too. But he wasn’t joking.
“You realise I’m an immigrant, right?” I finally said. He considered this, and followed, “Ah, the Irish are alright”. It was a breath-taking double standard, and my first insight into the psychology that would sow the seeds of the Brexit referendum five years later. While in Ireland emigration was seen as the solution to the economic pain, in Britain, immigration was viewed by a significant proportion as the cause.
Seven years later, I’m back living in the UK again. Luckily my life has moved on since the backpacker existence that defined my first London experience, and Ireland’s economy is up from its knees. But as talk grows of food shortages in the event of a no-deal Brexit, it feels as though Britain is lurching even further backwards.
The economic crises in both the UK and Ireland were caused by the same thing – financial malpractice by people who should have known better. But while in Ireland the man on the street blamed “the Bankers”, in the UK, “mass immigration” has been the punching bag of choice. The great paradox is that by tackling the imagined cause of the initial hardship, Brexit will likely trigger a brand-new economic calamity.
Of course xenophobia was not the only reason people voted for Brexit, although I do believe that the result was carried by it. A spike in hate crimes in England and Wales followed the referendum, though barring the usual potato/Irishman jokes, I cannot say I’ve experienced any real hostility. Rather, what I’ve encountered more frequently is confusion as to whether I’m a foreigner at all.
After the England team’s victory over Sweden in the World Cup, a small group of England fans heard my accent in the supermarket and asked if I’d been supporting England that day. The group were young, giddy and boozed up, and it was clear that the wrong answer could provoke an ugly response. Channelling my inner Michael D., I told them I’d watched the game, and that England had played very well. Unfortunately, they picked up on my lack of enthusiasm and the tone of their questioning quickly turned.
“It’s all the British Isles mate. What’s your problem?” one of them said seriously, and I was reminded of the Irish government’s increasingly frustrating task of explaining to the Brexit negotiators that they have a border with Ireland to consider. “Well, you live here now. So you should be supporting England,” said another, effectively policing my nationalism and echoing the “Love it or leave it” sentiment often espoused by nationalists in the US.
I took this comment as my cue to leave; the mood was more terse than hostile, but was certainly one of the more uncomfortable conversations I’ve had while living here.
Perhaps a bigger concern for migrants of any nationality here, the Irish included, should be their prospects if they stay. It’s incredible to think that the country so many Irish people have come to looking for work now finds itself on the cusp of rationing food and medicine, while Ireland’s economy grows.
More remarkable still is the rate at which big business is fleeing to the continent. Thanks to Brexit, foreigners can now take British jobs from the comfort of their own home countries. While Irish citizens will be entitled to stay in the UK after it leaves the EU, we could be better off at home.
Peter Flanagan is writer and comedian based in London. He has performed across Ireland, the UK and Australia, and has appeared on Newstalk and BBC Radio
The EU has negotiated 35 trade agreements for its member states, with another 22 pending.
But it says “the most ambitious trade agreement that the EU has ever concluded” is with Canada.
It’s called the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
Signed in October 2016, it provisionally came into force last September. The only remaining step is for all the countries to ratify it, which could take several years.
But exporters and importers have been working under its rules for a year, and many now believe the CETA model could be a template for the UK’s trading relationship with the EU after Brexit.
What does CETA do?
Some 98% of all tariffs on goods traded between Canada and the EU have become duty free. Most tariffs were removed when the agreement came into force a year ago. All will be removed within seven years.
It means Canadian importers will not have to pay €590m (£529m) in taxes on the goods they receive from the EU, and European importers will see tariffs reduced to zero on some 9,000 Canadian products.
The EU and Canada will open up public contracts at local, regional and federal levels to each other’s contractors – that means Canadian companies, say, pitching to build French railways or British builders bidding to construct an Ontario school.
It protects EU “geographical indications”, meaning you can only make prosciutto di Parma ham in Italy and camembert cheese in France, and Canada can’t import something that calls itself camembert from any other country inside or outside the EU.
How will trade change?
These are the kinds of changes CETA brought in:
EU tariffs on Canadian goods reduced to zero – frozen mackerel (previously 20%), oats (51.7%), maple syrup (8%), auto parts (4.5%)
Canadian tariffs on EU goods reduced to zero – chocolate (previously 10%), textiles and clothing (16%), medical equipment (8%), machinery (9.5%)
Tariff-free quotas (limits) on EU cheese exports to Canada: raised from 18,500 tonnes to 31,972 tonnes
Tariff-free quotas on Canadian sweet corn exports to the EU: raised from zero to 8,000 tonnes over five years.
Does CETA affect services?
It offers more protection for intellectual property rights. So for instance a European artist can obtain royalties from a Vancouver cafe or department store that plays music to attract new customers.
The EU and Canada will co-operate on standards, so that a piece of equipment made in an EU country can go through all its safety and quality checks there without needing to have them repeated in Canada – and vice versa.
CETA will also allow professional qualifications to be recognised both in Canada and the EU, making it easier, for example, for architects or accountants to work in both places.
What CETA doesn’t do
It is not a customs union or single market so the two parties are free to do trade deals with any other country.
It does not remove border controls, but it encourages the use of advanced electronic checking to speed customs clearance.
CETA does little for trade in financial services that is not covered by World Trade Organization rules that both sides are already signed up to.
Canadian financial companies will not get “passporting”, which would allow them to sell their products across the 28 nations of the EU. The same limitations apply for EU banks in Canada.
Tariffs will remain on poultry, meat and eggs. Several other agri-products will be given quotas. For instance, the EU will allow Canadians to export increasing amounts of duty-free meat to the EU – up to 80,000 tonnes of pork, 50,000 tonnes of beef – as well as 100,000 tonnes of wheat.
But the EU insists those products meet its quality standards – so that’s no hormone-treated beef, and tightly controlled GM cereals.
Is it popular?
Politicians like it, some businesses are taking advantage of it but a lot of civil liberties and environmental groups are less happy.
Critics argue it will erode labour laws, not enforce environmental standards and allow multinational companies to dictate public policy.
CETA does change the way trade disputes are settled, using a new type of tribunal, the Investment Court System (ICS). But not everyone is convinced.
Protesters took to the streets in Brussels as the deal was about to be signed.
The French-speaking Walloon region of Belgium brought the whole process to a virtual halt by objecting to the way dispute settlement procedures were to be conducted.
Even now Italy has threatened not to ratify it because it claims it does not sufficiently protect some of its “geographical indications”.
The threat could theoretically scupper the deal but the European Commission has said as a last resort it may settle the matter in court. Meanwhile the EU (including Italy) and Canada have been trading under the terms of CETA for over a year.
Could it work as a Brexit model?
There are big differences between the EU-Canada and the EU-UK trading relationship.
Firstly, there is a difference in the value of goods and services traded.
Only 10% of Canada’s external trade goes to the EU. Total trade between the two is worth about C$85bn (£50bn).
The UK exports goods worth £236bn to the EU across a wider range of industries than Canada. Motor vehicles and parts worth £18bn are the largest single sector followed by chemicals and chemical products worth £15bn.
Does CETA work?
It is early days but most observers say it’s good for business.
Exports to the EU during the six months to July rose about 6% on the same period a year earlier, to C$19.7bn (£11.6bn), according to Statistics Canada.
Jim Carr, Canada’s Minister of International Trade Diversification said: “At the Port of Montreal alone, we have seen 20% more traffic in goods headed across the Atlantic.
“This enormous step in growth for Canada and the EU has been the reason why new shipping lanes have been added to accommodate container traffic.”
The European Commission is equally ebullient about the deal, pointing out the successes of small companies such as Belgium’s Smet Chocolaterie which is opening shops across Canada, or Italy’s San Daniele ham producers who have increased sales to Canada by 35%.
It estimates exports to Canada are up by over 7% year-on-year.
“Overall, the Chequers proposals represent the intellectual error of believing that we can be half-in, half-out: that it is somehow safer and easier for large parts of our national life to remain governed by the EU even though we are no longer in the EU,” he writes.
“They are in that sense a democratic disaster. There is nothing safe or ‘pragmatic’ in being bound by rules over which we have no say, interpreted by a federalist court.
“The Chequers proposals are the worst of both worlds. They are a moral and intellectual humiliation for this country. It is almost incredible that after two years this should be the opening bid of the British government.”
Johnson, who quit the cabinet in July, also argues for a new withdrawal agreement which states that the Irish border question will be settled as part of the deal on the future economic arrangements.
His trade deal proposal is based on the agreement Canada has with the EU, the EU-Canada Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA).
CETA allows Canada to access the European market on improved terms while not being a member, so it does not have to pay into the EU budget, follow ECJ laws or adopt freedom of movement.
Nearly all tariffs are being eliminated on imports and exports between the countries, while there are increased opportunities for companies to do business and workers to move between the territories.
As a result, Johnson has christened his proposal “SuperCanada” and says the UK should spend the Brexit implementation period negotiating the agreement.
He adds: “This is the time to get it right. This is the approach that allows this country really to exploit the opportunities of Brexit, to diverge and legislate effectively for the new technologies and businesses in which the UK has such a lead.
“This is an opportunity for the UK to become more dynamic and more successful, and we should not be shy of saying that – and we should recognise that it is exactly this potential our EU partners seek to constrain.”
Johnson concludes with a rallying cry to the his fellow Conservative MPs, saying “this is the moment to change the course of the negotiations and do justice to the ambitions and potential of Brexit”, and warning “that future generations will not lightly forgive us if we fail”.
His comments come just two days before the start of the Conservative Party conference in Birmingham where Brexit is expected to feature heavily.
Just days ago, the current Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt called for calm over the current Brexit impasse – claiming there was always going to come a point in negotiations “where everyone was looking into the abyss”.
Hunt also backed the prime minister’s resolve and warned the EU and doubters in the UK that “underestimating Theresa May is one of the biggest mistakes that you could make right now”.
May’s Chequers plan was publicly rejected by EU leaders in Salzburg last week and both Labour and Tory Eurosceptics said they would vote against any such proposal.