Brexit News for Wednesday 17 May

Brexit News for Wednesday 17 May
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Boost for Brexit free trade deal chances after landmark EU court ruling…

Britain’s ambition to sign a quick Free Trade Agreement with the European Union after Brexit has received a significant boost after a landmark ruling by the European Court of Justice handed expanded trade negotiation powers to Brussels. The much-anticipated decision from the court in Luxembourg surprised experts by ruling that on key areas – including financial services and transport – the European Union does not need to seek ratification of a trade deal by the EU’s 38 national and local parliaments. – Telegraph

In a long-awaited test case that had been expected to complicate the Brexit process, the court instead ruled that EU officials had exclusive powers to negotiate international trade deals without ratification by national and regional parliaments. Ratification is still required in specific areas, such as inward investment and dispute resolution, but the definition of the EU “competences” is much broader than had been expected… The ECJ ruling concerning the EU deal with Singapore was in part a victory for EU institutions and is likely to help the British government. This is because the court also decided the power to negotiate the core of a trade agreement – goods, services and public procurement – is allowed without individual national consultation. – Guardian

…which is given a broad welcome in the UK

The Institute of Directors, one of Britain’s leading business organisations, welcomed the decision. “This ruling will probably make it easier for the EU to conclude trade deals without fear of as many hold-ups from national and sub-national legislatures,” said Allie Renison, head of EU and trade policy. Linklaters, the UK law firm, hailed “the most significant ECJ case on EU trade policy for 20 years” and added that Britain would now want to consider whether to moderate its ambitions for a future UK-EU trade deal so as to secure agreement by qualified majority voting rather than unanimity. – FT (£)

  • Euro ruling smooths way for Brexit trade deal without veto – The Times (£)
  • Court ruling makes Brexit harder. Or easier. – Hans von der Burchard and Simon Marks for Politico
  • An easier path for EU trade agreements, but the European Court of Justice ruling has little impact on Brexit – FT editorial (£)

Spain sets post-Brexit citizens deal as top priority but rejects bilateral solution…

Spain will push for a post-Brexit deal on citizens as close as possible to the status quo, according to the country’s foreign minister, who expressed frustration that London was overcomplicating the issue… Alfonso Dastis said citizens’ rights is Spain’s top priority for the negotiations, adding: “We want the agreement to be as broad as possible … and as similar as possible to the situation we have now.” … Dastis also said the agreement should be reciprocal but would never be handled bilaterally — it would remain under the auspices of the EU. Any deal would also have to be “tied to a financial settlement,” he added, meaning that it will be contingent on the U.K. settling its accounts with the EU… Another potential sticking point concerns the role of the European Court of Justice. The European Parliament’s Brexit negotiator, Guy Verhofstadt, said last week that the protection of citizens’ rights must be guaranteed by “the oversight of the European Court of Justice” — a point reiterated by other European leaders. Prime Minister May has said that the U.K. cannot in any way remain under the ECJ’s jurisdiction post Brexit. – Politico

>Hugh Bennett previously on BrexitCentral: The EU’s attempts to crowbar the ECJ into the deal on citizens’ rights will wreck the negotiations

…as Merkel ally signals EU is open to compromise on UK’s Brexit bill

A middle way should “easily” be negotiated between Britain’s claims to have no divorce bill to settle when it leaves the EU and Brussels’ position that the country could owe as much as €100bn, the leader of the largest group in the European parliament has said. In the first significant sign of a willingness on the EU side to compromise on the highly contentious issue, Manfred Weber, chair of the centre-right European People’s party, of which Angela Merkel is a leading light, suggested the bloc could be open to reducing its initial demands… He made his comments after being asked to respond to an attack by a Belgian MEP, Philippe Lamberts, the leader of the Green group in the European parliament, on the EU’s current stance on Brexit talks… “If we say the UK has to share its part of the liabilities, we can’t at the same time say the UK has no claim on any of assets,” Lamberts said. “That can’t be said. If they have the one, they have the other.” – Guardian

  • Fuming Green MEP Philippe Lamberts rips into Brussels for denying UK share of EU assets – Express
  • Top German MEP Manfred Weber says UK’s opposition to EU military plans could derail talks – Express
  • EU foreign affairs chief Mogherini sees way past UK spat over military HQ – EurActiv

Lib Dems to put fighting ‘Bad Brexit’ at heart of 2017 General Election manifesto

Tim Farron will put fighting Theresa May’s “extreme” version of Brexit at the heart of the Liberal Democrat manifesto, which the party publishes on Wednesday. The Lib Dems have pledged to hold a second referendum on the eventual deal the prime minister negotiates with Brussels – which would allow the public to vote to remain inside the EU… Farron has bet his election campaign on convincing many of those who voted Remain last year to back his party on June 8… The Lib Dems said a “bad” Brexit deal, which leaves the UK outside the single market as May has proposed, would “wreck the future for our children, our economy and our schools and hospitals”. – HuffPost

  • Farron denies Lib Dems are being squeezed in election campaign – Sky News
  • The Liberal Democrats’ strong anti-Brexit message is struggling to find an audience – Sebastian Payne for the FT (£)
  • Only 22 per cent of voters are now set against Brexit – Stephen Pollard for the Express
  • Andrew Neil catches out Nick Clegg’s lies over the single market – Guido Fawkes

>On BrexitCentral’s YouTube channel: Nick Clegg exposed over the Single Market

Labour immigration plan suggests ‘mix of visas and work permits’ for EU workers

Labour has outlined its vision for immigration controls after Brexit, suggesting migration could be controlled by a “tailored mix” of work permits, visas and employer sponsorship. The party’s manifesto says it “will not discriminate between people of different races or creeds” but that “freedom of movement will end when we leave the European Union” and “Britain’s immigration system will change”… In addition to the new framework, Labour says it will protect EU citizens who are already here, end indefinite immigration detention, and scrap the income threshold for bringing foreign spouses in the country. – Independent

  • Labour’s Brexit aims on trade are ‘unachievable’, says pro-EU Open Britain group – Independent
  • Corbyn ‘ready to negotiate away UK’s migrant control’ – Express
  • Labour adopts ‘cake and eat it’ position on single market and free movement – Alex Greer for Open Europe

>Hugh Bennett on BrexitCentral: What Labour’s manifesto says about Brexit

Plaid Cymru manifesto promises to protect Wales after Brexit

Plaid Cymru has launched a manifesto based around more devolution and a fight to protect funding and rights after Brexit, with its leader, Leanne Wood, saying only her party can protect Wales against an otherwise dominant Conservative government. The 51-page manifesto, titled Action Plan 2017, calls for Wales to maintain free trading links with the rest of Europe after departure from the EU, and for guarantees over the £680m of annual funding a year from EU sources. It also seeks a unilateral pledge on the rights of overseas Europeans living and working in Wales, and a proper post-Brexit deal for Welsh agriculture and industry. – Guardian

>Darren Grimes on BrexitCentral: What Plaid Cymru’s manifesto says about Brexit

>Havard Hughes yesterday on BrexitCentral: Brexit has shattered the Welsh Nationalist illusion of “Independence in Europe”

UK needs trade watchdog to fight protectionist vested interests, says Institute for Government

Britain needs to set up an independent trade office to fight the uncompetitive businesses which will campaign for the Government to protect them from foreign competition, analysts believe. An independent watchdog could also keep focused on making good trade policy even when the Department for International Trade (DIT) is bogged down with complex negotiations, according to a report from the Institute for Government (IFG)… The report said: “In the politics of trade, liberalisation is opposed by less competitive domestic industries which benefit from protection. These industries often form powerful, entrenched interests, and UK policymakers have been insulated from these pressures while trade policy has been run from Brussels. Government will find it easier to challenge these entrenched interests using analysis that has the credibility of independence.” – Telegraph

  • Brexit ‘labyrinth’ calls for UK business task force, says CBI boss – Bloomberg

Oliver Ilott: Unless we are smart about trade, we will squander a Brexit opportunity

In that long-ago time before the referendum, there were just 50 officials in the UK government who worked on trade. They lobbied the EU, ensuring that the UK’s interests in areas like financial services were reflected in the bloc’s trade deals with Canada, Mexico or South Korea. That group of 50 people has now morphed into a new department – the Department for International Trade (DIT) – with 300 staff responsible for making trade policy. Getting people in post and putting in place the basics of running a department is important. Now the department is entering a critical phase which will determine whether we make a success of trade or not in the foreseeable future… The headline is that the UK is still a long way from being ready for negotiations. Pieces of the UK’s trade machine are still sitting on the factory floor, waiting to be assembled. – Oliver Ilott for The Times (£)

Daniel Hannan: Even Remainers don’t like it when unpatriotic Lib Dems back Brussels against Brexit

This election was meant to be the Liberal Democrat resurrection. Reduced under Nick Clegg from 57 to eight MPs, the Lib Dems believed they had found a cause. With Theresa May offering unequivocal Brexit, and Jeremy Corbyn waffling incomprehensibly on the subject, they would be the unapologetic Europhiles… In practice, there is no sign of it working. Opinion polls suggest that the Lib Dems are, at most, two or three points above where they were in 2015… Why not? Two reasons. First, and most obviously, we are a democratic country. We don’t see votes as an irksome technical necessity, in the way that, say, Vladimir Putin does… The bigger problem for the Lib Dems, though, is that their stance on Brexit appears not just anti-democratic but unpatriotic. They give the impression of wanting the Brexit talks to fail, even if that means a worse outcome for everyone. They gleefully repeat and retweet predictions of an economic downturn, while studiously ignoring evidence of an economic upturn. Whenever Britain and Brussels clash during the talks – even on the issue of financial liabilities – they side with Brussels. You don’t have to be a Leave voter to find this off-putting. – Daniel Hannan MEP for IBTimes

Brendan O’Neill: This election is about just one thing: Brexit

Can we please stop pretending this is a normal election? Everyone’s at it… Corbyn says Brexit is ‘settled’, yet the tragic look in his eyes says something else. It says: ‘This is all about Brexit, isn’t it? And I have to choose between Labour’s metropolitan supporters who hate Brexit and its working-class supporters who love it, don’t I?’ Yes, Jeremy, you do. Because you and your party, like the rest of us, have been thrown into glorious disarray by Brexit… Even Tim Farron, promiser of a second referendum, the last hope of irritated bourgeois voters who still can’t believe Brexit happened, is getting antsy about this being a Brexit Election. Perhaps because he’s discovered that being anti-Brexit, being anti the 17.4m, is not popular: the Lib Dems aren’t doing well. Be brave, Tim, be honest: your party wants seats in parliament so that it can stymie Brexit… This election is about whether Brexit should happen, how it should happen, and more fundamentally whether people or experts, plebs or Brussels, should shape Britain’s future. – Brendan O’Neill for the Spectator Coffee House

Brian Monteith: We are in the Brexit phoney war – and Theresa May is nailing it

It is a mistake to swallow the lazy accusations that Theresa May and David Davis are unprepared and making no progress. They have achieved what was required to be done and on time… The new Prime Minister had to establish a settled position inside a heavily divided government and party about what constituted Brexit – and then design a routemap and timeline for achieving it. To her credit, she reasoned that, without regaining full control of taxes, legislation and the judiciary, Brexit would be meaningless, and that to do this meant leaving the grasp of the European Court of Justice, the Single Market and practically all aspects of the Customs Union. This was also the best position to maximise the global trading opportunities that should more than replace any downside from the risk of not having tariff-free access to the Single Market… We are, however, only in the phoney war period. Until Germany decides who its chancellor should be on 24 September, nothing serious shall happen. – Brian Monteith for City A.M.

Brexit comment in brief

  • Get ready for the Franco-German revival – Paul Taylor for Politico
  • Emmanuel Macron’s new third way – Gavin Mortimer for the Spectator Coffee House

Brexit news in brief

  • Matthew Elliott calls on Government to use Trump state visit to push for trade deal – Express
  • FTSE 100 closes above 7,500 for first time ever after UK inflation jumps to highest level since 2013 – Telegraph
  • Brexit to benefit African exporters in long-term, says Ecobank – Bloomberg
  • ‘Tory MPs will rubber-stamp whatever May wants for extreme Brexit’ claims Sturgeon – Express
  • Brexit minister has secret meeting with Luxembourg – Express
  • Republicans fall at Macron’s feet in rush for plum jobs in cabinet – The Times (£)