Still enough time to negotiate a Brexit deal with Brussels before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019; Prime Minister Theresa May

Boris Johnson accuses PM May of ‘dithering’ on Brexit in resignation speech. Johnson is known to have designs on leading the party, but it’s unclear how far his allies will go to see this happen.

Boris Johnson leaves his residence near Buckingham Palace in London en route to making his first speech after resigning from government last week. He said the government has ceded too much control to the EU in its Brexit plan. (Dan Kitwood/Getty Images)

Boris Johnson, in his first public comments since resigning last week as Britain’s foreign secretary, urged his party in the House of Commons on Wednesday to not abandon a hard Brexit approach while there’s still time.

“We have changed tack once, and we can change again,” said Johnson.

“We must try now, because we will not get another chance to get it right.”

Johnson said he was fully supportive of Prime Minister Theresa May in January 2017 when she laid out in an ambitious speech a desire to strike the right deal for Britain with the European Union after a majority of the public supported the break in a referendum months earlier.

But, Johnson said, “in the 18 months that have followed, it is though a fog of self-doubt has descended” on the government.

He referred to a “miserable permanent limbo of Chequers,” a reference to the country residence of the prime minister, where she emerged earlier this month with a plan to go forward that sought to strike a balance of the desires from both the pro-Brexit and pro-EU wings of her party.

Within three days of that party retreat, Johnson and the minister responsible for Brexit negotiations with the EU, David Davis, resigned from their cabinet posts. It brought the total of resignations from the May government in the last seven months, for various reasons, to seven.

May said Wednesday that talks had already started with Brussels based on the proposal set down in a white paper policy document earlier this month.

“The Chequers agreement, the white paper are the basis for our negotiation with the European Union and we have already started those negotiations,” she told Parliament.

May said her government has begun negotiations with the European Union based on her hard-won Brexit plan and that there was still enough time to negotiate a Brexit deal with Brussels before Britain leaves the EU in March 2019.

In Johnson’s view, the government has ceded too much authority to Brussels, pointing specifically to a €40 billion ($61.6 billion Cdn) exit bill Britain agreed to with the EU.

“We dithered and burned through our negotiating capital,” he said.

Asked by the head of a parliamentary committee whether she would warn the public about the consequences of a “no deal” Brexit, May answered: “You have based your question on an assumption that said we were getting closer to a no deal scenario. I don’t believe that is the case. We have put forward a proposal for what the future relationship should be … and we are in negotiations on the basis of that.”

Trump in explosive attack on May as protesters set to descend on London

Melania Trump with President Trump and Theresa May at Blenheim Palace on Thursday evening. © AFP/Getty Images Melania Trump with President Trump and Theresa May at Blenheim Palace on Thursday evening.

Donald Trump’s incendiary newspaper interview on the eve of his first official visit to the UK, in which he took aim at Theresa May’s Brexit plans and suggested Boris Johnson would make a great prime minister, has been met with outrage by MPs, who have accused him of “disrespecting” the nation and suggested Theresa May should show him the door.

Trump, who is due to meet Theresa May for bilateral talks at her Chequers residence on Friday, was heavily critical of the Brexit deal and called into question any future UK-US trade deal. “If they do a deal like that, we would be dealing with the European Union instead of dealing with the UK, so it will probably kill the deal,” he told the Sun.

LIVE: Trump in explosive attack on May as protesters set to descend on London

Conservative MP Sarah Wollaston said Trump was “determined to insult” May and added that “The divisive, dog-whistle rhetoric in his Sun interview is repulsive. If signing up to the Trump world view is the price of a deal, it’s not worth paying.”

Donald Trumps low-profile Tory rebels

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London after attending the weekly cabinet meeting on July 10, 2018. (Photo by Isabel INFANTES / AFP)        (Photo credit should read ISABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty Images) © Getty Britain’s Prime Minister Theresa May leaves 10 Downing Street in central London after attending the weekly cabinet meeting on July 10, 2018. (Photo by Isabel INFANTES / AFP) (Photo credit should read ISABEL INFANTES/AFP/Getty Images)

Theresa May was no doubt expecting a few more low-profile resignations and no-confidence demands amid the fallout of the Boris Johnson and David Davis bombshells.

But she won’t have been expecting President Trump to lob not one, not two, but three Exocet missiles timed to explode on the eve of a NATO summit and ahead of his visit to the UK.

He said the UK was in “turmoil”, that meeting Vladimir Putin would be “easier” than the NATO summit or his UK visit and that he might speak to his “friend” Boris Johnson while he’s here.

According to No 10, the president was being humorous in his Putin remark

The emergency siren is whirring, but few are taking much notice.

The most fundamental Brexit truth right now is this: Unless there is a concession from Brussels over the next few months, a full-blown political crisis in the U.K. is inevitable.

And right now, that concession is nowhere in sight.

That is the reality facing Theresa May as she prepares for the most important Cabinet meeting of her premiership at her Chequers country retreat on Friday, where she hopes to forge a consensus on the government’s preferred future relationship with the EU after Brexit, which could form the basis of a breakthrough in the negotiations with Brussels.

All signs suggest it will involve a lot of British give. But without any EU take it will be pointless.

Fundamentally, both sides have until March 29, 2019 to sign a withdrawal agreement which settles the terms of the divorce and sketches out “a framework” for what the future EU-U.K. relationship will look like.

In that document, there must be a binding “backstop” clause which sets out a series of measures ensuring the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic stays open.

This clause must be legally enforceable “unless and until” a better solution can be found — i.e. it could last forever. Even more importantly, it must also be “Northern Ireland-specific.” In other words, it can’t apply to the whole of the U.K.If Brussels does not relent on this second point it means that for the U.K. to reach a deal with the EU — any deal — it must sign a legally enforceable treaty binding part of its territory (and not the rest) to EU rules in perpetuity.

The EU’s position means that if the U.K. wanted to break from EU rules and strike its own trade deals, a customs border must be erected within its own single market — between Northern Ireland and Great Britain.Here’s the crux. Brussels insists that there is only one way to stop that — no cherry-picked third way options: The whole of the U.K. must remain in the single market and customs unionThese are the only two options now on the table, EU officials say. (Assuming we put aside no deal or no Brexit.

To accept either option guarantees a political crisis in Britain. But refuse the choice and the clock ticks down to a no-deal crisis all of its own. All signs point to crisis — unless the EU relents. To accept either option would be the end of the U.K. prime minister, aides say. “She’d be gone in two minutes,” one senior government official said.

Why? Both breach every Brexit promise she has made — and everything Vote Leave promised.

Staying in the single market and customs union means accepting all the rules and regulations that come with them — including freedom of movement. It would also mean no independent trade deals and large annual contributions to the EU budget.

Known as “Norway Plus” in the Brexit patois, this is the dream option for Brussels. It is, essentially, the terms of the transition extended in perpetuity.

But many in Brussels believe whatever May’s “red lines” in the negotiations — no freedom of movement, no European Court of Justice and no “vast” annual payments to Brussels — a full-scale British capitulation is under way.

This is the reason the Norway Plus option is explicitly left on the table by Brussels despite repeated U.K. government warnings that it is a nonstarter.

If London insists on sovereignty, “so be it” says the European Commission — but it must lose control of Northern Ireland. This is the only other option which protects the integrity of its market and the open border in Ireland. May has said “no U.K. prime minister” could agree such terms.

The EU has offered two options, both equally unacceptable. Both mean a full-scale political crisis in the U.K., unless the EU compromises and allows some U.K. cherry-picking.

What emerges from the Chequers summit on Friday will be Britain’s last chance to tempt the EU away from forcing that scenario.

Prime Minister Theresa May insists UK will leave EU customs union and single market

Theresa May held talks with the DUP and made a statement to the House of Commons on Brexit
Theresa May held talks with the DUP and made a statement to the House of Commons on Brexit
British Prime Minister Theresa May has told the DUP that the UK will not remain in the European Union customs union or the single market after Brexit, its deputy leader Nigel Dodds has said.She said there would be no breaking up of the UK “economically, politically or constitutionally” following Brexit, Mr Dodds told reporters after he and party leader Arlene Foster spent almost 90 minutes in talks with Mrs May in London.A new customs plan to solve the Irish border issue was discussed but Mrs May “didn’t go into any details”, he added.

Mr Dodds also accused Taoiseach Leo Varadkar and other European leaders of attempting to “bully and intimidate” the UK into agreeing a deal of their liking.

Asked by reporters after the talks about whether his party – which has a supply and demand deal with Mrs May’s Conservative Party – would support her regardless of what happened at a meeting of cabinet ministers on Friday, he said: “We don’t give blank cheques to anybody and I think it is very clear that we don’t. “On Brexit we want to see a proper Brexit which fulfils the referendum result. We have been very clear that has to be on the basis that the whole of the UK leaving the EU as one. I’m confident the PM will deliver on that,” he added.

Meanwhile, Mrs May has told the House of Commons: “There remain some real differences between us and the European Commission on Northern Ireland.

“On the protocol on Northern Ireland I want to be very clear: we have put forward proposals and will produce further proposals, so that if a temporary backstop is needed there will be no hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

“We are absolutely committed to the avoidance of such a border and we are equally committed to the avoidance of a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK.

“Northern Ireland is an integral part of our country and we will never accept the imposition of a border within our United Kingdom.”

She said that EU leaders had “all agreed that we must now urgently intensify and accelerate the pace of negotiations” on the future relationship.

“I warned EU leaders that I did not think this Parliament would approve the withdrawal agreement in the autumn unless we had clarity about our future relationship alongside it,” she said.

Mrs May said the white paper, which will be produced next week after Friday’s cabinet meeting, would set out “detailed proposals for a sustainable and close future relationship” between the UK and EU and mark “an important step in delivering the decision of the British people”.

“The EU and its member states will want to consider our proposals seriously,” she said.

“We both need to show flexibility to build the deep relationship after we have left that is in the interests of both our peoples.”

Mrs May again stressed that the UK would leave the single market and customs union.

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn noted Mrs May’s statement to the Commons was nearly 2,000 words, adding: “All the Prime Minister says on Brexit is ‘we need clarity about our future relationship’.

“Yes we do – we’ve been waiting for over two years for any clarity from this Government.”

Mr Corbyn added: “I don’t envy the Prime Minister as she prepares for her Chequers sleepover. She has many loud and competing voices in her Cabinet – not competing to do the best for this country but to do the best for themselves.

“The Prime Minister’s primary duty is not to manage the latest division in her Cabinet, but to negotiate a deal that will safeguard jobs and living standards for decades to come.”

Mrs May, in her reply, said Mr Corbyn had wanted to trigger Article 50 immediately after the EU referendum in 2016 and now is “refusing to rule out a second referendum”.

She said: “It’s not just a question of who in the Labour Party agrees with who else, (Mr Corbyn) can’t even agree with himself.”

Ahead of the crucial cabinet talks on the UK’s exit strategy, Mr Rees-Mogg said Mrs May and her team must decide at their cabinet meeting if they would stand by her pledges or reduce “a once-proud country” to a “tremulous state that sees Brexit as mere damage limitation”.

 

Earlier, leading Brexiteer Jacob Rees-Mogg warned that Mrs May must deliver the Brexit she promised or risk collapsing the UK government.

Mr Rees-Mogg said she and her team must decide at Friday’s cabinet meeting if they would stand by her pledges or reduce “a once-proud country” to a “tremulous state that sees Brexit as mere damage limitation”.

Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Mr Rees-Mogg warned Mrs May she was in danger of splitting the party like Robert Peel, who plunged it into the political wilderness for nearly three decades following bitter divisions over trade reforms.

The chairman of the European Research Group of Brexit-backing Tories said: “Theresa May must stand firm for what she herself has promised.

“One former Tory leader, Sir Robert Peel, decided to break his manifesto pledge and passed legislation with the majority of his party voting the other way.

“This left the Conservatives out of office for 28 years. At least he did so for a policy that works.”

“At Chequers [Mrs May] must stick to her righteous cause and deliver what she has said she would, she must use her undoubted grace to persevere,” he added.

UK Business Secretary Greg Clark and Commons leader Andrea Leadsom both refused to rule out an extension to transition arrangements in the face of demands from Tory backbenchers for the timetable to be maintained.

UK tolerated ‘inexcusable’ treatment of detainees by the US

The UK tolerated “inexcusable” treatment of detainees by the US during the war on terror following the 9/11 attacks in 2001, a parliamentary committee has found.

detainees
UK tolerated ‘inexcusable’ treatment of detainees by the US

The Intelligence and Security Committee found no “smoking gun” indicating that security and intelligence agencies had a policy of deliberately overlooking reports of mistreatment and no evidence that UK officers directly carried out physical mistreatment of detainees.

But it said it was “beyond doubt” that British intelligence agencies knew at an early stage that the US was mistreating detainees.

And “more could have been done” by both security agencies and ministers in Tony Blair’s Government to try to influence US behaviour, the report found.

In 232 cases, UK personnel continued to supply questions or intelligence to allies after they knew or suspected mistreatment, said the ISC.

And in 198 cases, they received intelligence obtained from detainees who they knew or should have suspected had been mistreated.

There were at least 38 cases in 2002 alone of British officers witnessing or hearing about mistreatment.

The committee rejected agencies’ claims that these amounts to no more than “isolated incidents”, stating: “They may have been isolated incidents to the individual officer witnessing them, but they cannot be considered ‘isolated’ to those in Head Office.

“It is difficult to comprehend how those at the top of the office did not recognise the pattern of mistreatment by the US.

“That the US, and others, were mistreating detainees is beyond doubt, as is the fact that the Agencies and Defence Intelligence were aware of this at an early point.”

The report found three cases when the Secret Intelligence Service (MI6) or MI5 made or offered payment towards the “extraordinary rendition” of detainees to states where they were under real risk of torture or cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment (CIDT).

In 28 cases, UK agencies suggested, planned or agreed to rendition operations, in a further 22 SIS or MI5 provided intelligence to enable a rendition operation and in 23 more they failed to take action to prevent a rendition.

The report also found evidence of UK officers making verbal threats in nine cases, as well as two cases in which UK personnel were party to mistreatment administered by others.

One of these has yet to be fully investigated and the committee raised the question of whether it should now be reopened.

In a written statement responding to the report, Prime Minister Theresa May acknowledged that the alleged threats to detainees by intelligence officers and troops was “clearly unacceptable”, adding that improvements have since been made to provide enhanced oversight of operations where this is a risk.

“With the benefit of hindsight, it is clear that UK personnel were working within a new and challenging operating environment for which, in some cases, they were not prepared,” said Mrs May.

“It took too long to recognise that guidance and training for staff was inadequate, and too long to understand fully and take appropriate action on the risks arising from our engagement with international partners on detainee issues.

“The agencies responded to what they thought were isolated allegations and incidents of mistreatment, but the ISC concludes that they should have realised the extent to which others were using unacceptable practices as part of a systematic programme. The agencies acknowledge that they did not fully understand this quickly enough and they regret not doing so.”

She added: “Working closely with international partners is an essential part of keeping this country and its people safe. In doing so UK personnel seek assurances from those countries on their treatment of individuals and make clear the UK’s position on torture and CIDT.

“Detainee-related work remains important and at times difficult, but intelligence and Armed Forces personnel are now much better placed to meet that challenge.”

The report found no evidence that any US rendition flight transited the UK with a detainee on board, but two detainees are known to have transited through the Indian Ocean UK territory of Diego Garcia, where records of the conditions under which they were held are “woefully inadequate”.

“In our view the UK tolerated actions, and took others, that we regard as inexcusable,” said committee chairman and former attorney general Dominic Grieve.

“That being said, we have found no ‘smoking gun’ to indicate that the agencies deliberately overlooked reports of mistreatment and rendition by the US as a matter of institutional policy.

“The evidence instead suggests a difficult balancing act: the agencies were the junior partner with limited influence, and concerned not to upset their US counterparts in case they lost access to intelligence from detainees that might be vital in preventing an attack on the UK.”

Mr Grieve acknowledged the pressure the agencies were operating under at a time when they feared an attack on the scale of 9/11 could be imminent in the UK.

“We wish to be absolutely clear that we do not seek to blame individual officers acting under immense pressure,” he said.

But he added: “More could have been done at an agency and ministerial level to seek to influence US behaviour.

“More could also have been done to distance themselves from mistreatment of detainees.”

In a three-year inquiry, the ISC reviewed 40,000 documents and interviewed former detainees and three ex-officials.

But it was denied access to intelligence officers who were involved in the events.

Mr Grieve said the Government’s refusal to allow agents to give oral evidence forced the committee “reluctantly” to cut its investigation short.

G7 to launch rapid response unit against ‘hostile’ states

donald-trump-0
Donald Trump left the G7 early, protesting ‘We are like the piggy bank that everyone is robbing’ ( Reuters )

Leaders of G7 countries have agreed the creation of a rapid response unit to combat hostile state activity, warning that “interference by Russia and other foreign states” would not be tolerated.

The UK, who spearheaded the initiative, said a more coordinated approach was needed in the wake of a series of aggressive behaviour attributed to Russia, including the attempted murder of former Russian spy Sergei Skripal in Salisbury and the 2017 ‘NotPetya’ cyber-attack.

The ransomware which was initially targeted at Ukraine, spread around the world impacting major multinationals. Russia denies being behind either of these attacks.

“There is no doubt that foreign interference in our democratic institutions and processes, and other forms of hostile activity, pose a strategic threat to our shared values and interests,” British Prime Minister Theresa May said at the G7 Summit on Saturday.

“Today’s announcement shows that the G7 will not tolerate foreign interference in any one of our democracies, that we are getting organised, and that we will take coordinated action against those who seek to violate the rules-based international system.

The agreement is based on greater intelligence sharing between the countries of the G7 group of industrialised nations — Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, UK and the US — and aims to identify, prevent and respond to hostile state activity including cyber-attacks. It also calls for co-ordinated attribution of hostile activity and the improvement of physical and digital infrastructure.

May also lobbied for additional measures including measures to stop illicit money flows undermining democracies and more information-sharing so that Russians expelled from one country do simply enter another.

A rapid response unit to combat hostile state action ranging from cyber-attacks to poisonings has been agreed by G7 members meeting in Québec.

The launch of the initiative, which has been led by Theresa May, was at odds with Donald Trump’s call to readmit Russia to the G7. May said her view on dealing with Russia was to “engage but beware”.

“We should remind ourselves why the G8 became the G7 – it was because Russia illegally annexed Crimea,” she said. “We have seen malign activity from Russia in a whole variety of ways, of course including on the streets of Salisbury in the UK.

“So we need to say, I think, before any such conversations can take place, Russia needs to change its approach.”

Downing Street sources indicated later that although there were points of difference between May and Trump, the president had been robust in attributing blame for Russia’s hostile actions in the US and the UK.

May discussed details of the proposals for the rapid response unit in bilateral meetings with France’s Emmanuel Macron and Germany’s Angela Merkel as the G7 summit got under way.

The plans amount to a formalisation of the response that May worked hard to achieve after the Russian former spy Sergei Skripal was targeted in an assassination attempt in Salisbury in March.

May persuaded more than 20 allies to expel Russian diplomats, although the response varied significantly – the US expelled 40, Germany just four. The patchy response reflected May’s struggle to build a united front against Russia.

One of the objectives of the initiative is described as “improving understanding of partner countries’ polices and thresholds for taking action”.

May said the announcement in Québec showed the G7 was united in its intolerance of foreign interference. “We are getting organised, and … we will take coordinated action against those who seek to violate the rules based international system,” she said.

The proposals include greater sharing of intelligence around potential threats and techniques to combat them.

May said calling out such activity would “help to end hostile states’ false sense of impunity, demonstrate our awareness of their activity and underline our unwavering willingness to defend ourselves”.

More coordinated action with the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons, which spearheaded the independent investigation into the Skripal poisoning, is planned. There will be a meeting in London in the coming weeks to consider ways of strengthening the OPCW’s role.

May has called for more cooperation to understand and detect illicit money flows and to agree on concrete action “to stop dirty money undermining our democracies”.

Last month the cross-party foreign affairs committee of MPs said the government was putting national security at risk by allowing “kleptocrats and human rights abusers to use the City of London to launder their ill-gotten funds to circumvent sanctions”.

The MPs said that despite May’s rhetoric in the wake of the Skripal affair, nothing had changed. “These assets, on which the Kremlin can call at any time, both directly and indirectly support President Putin’s campaign to subvert the international rules-based system, undermine our allies and erode the mutually reinforcing international networks that support UK foreign policy.”

On the day the report was published in May, it emerged that the Chelsea owner Roman Abramovich, regarded as a close Putin ally, had not had his visa renewed. He has since put on hold plans for £1bn investment in the football club’s new stadium, and the future of his ownership of Chelsea is thought to be in doubt.

But with Trump calling for Russia to be readmitted to the G7, from which it was suspended after the Crimea invasion, and the new Italian government questioning sanctions against Russia, there is still a rough road ahead for May’s plans. They will come up at a bilateral meeting between May and the Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conti, on the margins of the G7 summit.