Splits have been emerging among the 27 EU member states over Brexit negotiating tactics, with several smaller members indicating they want the European Commission to begin early trade talks with Britain. The European Commission, led by Jean-Claude Juncker, has been adamant that Britain must finalise a “divorce deal” costing up to €60billion before they will begin talks over the future EU-UK trade relationship. It comes as David Davis told MPs that Britain’s border controls are not up for negotiation in EU talks. The Brexit Secretary made it clear that the Government will decide how its immigration system will look before presenting the option to Brussels leaders. His comments, a clear sign that Britain intends to completely leave the EU’s freedom of movement for workers system, come as Theresa May on Thursday travels for tense negotiations with her counterparts.
A post-Brexit UK-EU trade deal might take 10 years to finalise and still fail, Britain’s ambassador to the EU has privately told the government. The BBC understands Sir Ivan Rogers warned ministers that the European consensus was that a deal might not be done until the early to mid-2020s. He also cautioned that an agreement could be rejected ultimately by other EU members’ national parliaments. No 10 expressed confidence in reaching a deal to suit the UK and the EU. In October, Sir Ivan, who conducted David Cameron’s negotiation over the UK’s relationship with the EU, advised ministers that the view of the 27 other countries was that a free trade agreement could take as long as a decade. He said that even once concluded, the deal might not survive the process of ratification, which involves every country having to approve the deal in its own parliament.
Britain and the EU could take 10 years to reach an agreement on trade in the wake of Brexit, the UK’s top ambassador to Brussels has reportedly warned ministers. The consensus among European leaders was that the best Britain can hope for is a UK-EU free trade deal, rather than membership of the single market, and that negotiating such terms might take a decade. Even if a deal was to be reached, it would have to be ratified by each of the 27 remaining member states – meaning there is a strong chance it could fail. According to the BBC, Sir Ivan Rogers delivered the bleak prognosis for a post-Brexit deal in a private meeting with ministers in October.
Britain will not have a Brexit plan until February but should be able to complete talks within 18 months and then go through a transitional phase of leaving the EU if necessary, David Davis has said. The Brexit secretary gave the clearest indications so far of the government’s thinking on how to leave the bloc, including that it will refuse to allow the EU any control over the UK’s immigration policy, as he appeared before the House of Commons committee on exiting the European Union. He said triggering article 50 before the end of March would set Britain on a straight path towards Brexit that would be “very, very difficult to revoke” but he also acknowledged the possibility of reversing the decision. Government lawyers have argued that the article 50 process is irreversible and the UK would be legally bound to leave after that point. However, Davis suggested it could be feasible, though the chance is remote.
Theresa May’s promised plan for Brexit will not be published before February at the earliest, MPs have been told. Asked if the plan would be issued in January, Brexit Secretary David Davis said: “It won’t be next month” – adding that a number of policy decisions were still to be made. Among those areas was issues relating to justice and home affairs, Mr Davis told the Commons select committee scrutinising the exit process. Mr Davis also admitted that Britain’s government does not know whether it could halt the process of leaving the European Union once it has begun but it does not intend to change course in any case. “We don’t intend to revoke it. It may not be revocable. We don’t know,” Davis said. British government lawyers have argued that once the formal divorce talks on leaving the EU are triggered there is no going back. But EU leaders have suggested Britain could still change its mind.
Supreme Court judges are set to rule in favour of giving Parliament a say on the country leaving the EU. Before the start of the four day hearing Brexiteers thought all judges would vote with the Remain side and grant power to Parliament to discuss Article 50. But sources now think it will be a 7 to 4 split vote against the Government when the decision is announced next month. The case is at the Supreme Court after the Government appealed a High Court ruling that meant ministers could not enact Article 50 – the formal process of leaving the EU – without Parliament’s consent. One source told the Telegraph: ‘It is difficult to predict how the case is going to go but the thinking of those in the room is that there might be a sizeable minority who are with the Government. ‘The understanding is that it is unlikely to be a slam dunk either way; even if a majority agree with Gina Miller there will be a sizeable minority who don’t.’
Britain will not negotiate with Europe over immigration, David Davis said yesterday, as he pledged that control of the country’s borders would be brought “back here” after Brexit. The Brexit secretary’s tough stance will reassure Conservatives who are worried the government may concede higher immigration levels in return for better access to European markets. Mr Davis said immigration levels would be set “in the national interest” and could not be subject to any guarantees or promises in return for a better economic deal. That included any promises for European citizens to get preferential access to UK markets, he said.
UNEMPLOYMENT has dropped again as Britain continues to shrug off uncertainty from the referendum result and the economy powers through. And average weekly earnings are up 2.6%, according to new stats from the Office for National Statistics. Despite the doom and gloom predictions for the UK economy after the referendum result, the number of women in work reached a record high of 15 million this quarter – the best result since records began in the 1970s. The number of people out of work fell by 16,000 in the last three months, and the UK now has one of the lowest employment rates in the EU. In total there were 31.7 million people in work – 74.4% – almost beating all-time records.
The Brexit vote appears to have damaged the UK’s reputation among some European Union countries – though people in Commonwealth countries appear to back quitting the bloc, research has found. A British Council-commissioned survey of 40,000 people living in G20 countries suggests the seismic vote is viewed differently depending where people live. The poll, carried out by Ipsos MORI and to be released in full next year, detected negative shifts in sentiment in France, Germany and Italy. But people in Australia, Canada, South Africa and India had a more positive view of the impact of the vote. When questioned on ‘overall attractiveness’, 36 per cent of people in EU countries said Brexit had a negative impact – compared to 17 per cent who said positive. However, in Commonwealth nations 33 per cent saw Brexit as having a positive impact compared to 20 per cent who had negative.
Leaked plans from Brussels to make protecting customers’ privacy the default for web services puts the future of the internet into question, experts have warned. The proposed changes appear to threaten the business models of companies such as Google and Facebook that rely on collection of personal data and tracking users’ online activity to sell targeted advertisements. Under the draft European Commission regulations, users would have to proactively opt in for companies to track their browsing and other personal data, such as their location. Web companies could not make the provision of services conditional on opting in. Companies that break the new rules would face fines of up to 4 per cent of global turnover, translating to ten-figure penalties for the biggest players.
EUROPE’S widely self-publicised sense of unity was in tatters this morning as MEPs kicked off a bitter struggle for power and influence over Brexit by tearing into the leaders of member states. Guy Verhofstadt, the EU Parliament’s chief negotiator, savaged representatives from the European Council and threatened to start up his own talks with the UK if MEPs are not given a leading role in the Brexit process. His astonishingly blunt ultimatum will alarm European leaders and signals the start of a long and acrimonious war between the Council, which represents the interests of the individual member states, and the Parliament which speaks for the euro elite in Brussels. Former Ukip leader Nigel Farage said the proposal showed that the EU had become “so unworkable” that Britain should ditch triggering Article 50 and instead just walk away from the troubled bloc. The row erupted after Mr Verhofstadt accused EU Council chiefs of trying to sideline the EU parliament and hand MEPs only the most minimal role in the Brexit negotiations.
A bitter row has erupted between eurocrats as they battle for influence over the Brexit negotiations with Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, threatening to start separate breakaway talks. Speaking in the parliament chamber on Tuesday, Mr Verhofstadt hit out at representatives from the European Council, who he accused of trying to side-line MEPs and give them only a minimal representation in Brexit talks. “What they are proposing is simply to say we go forward with the Brexit negotiations without the parliament,” Mr Verhofstadt said, adding: “Are you not aware that we have to approve these arrangements?” He warned that if MEPs are frozen out, he may be tempted to start his own simultaneous negotiations. “Do you want that we open separate negotiations with the British authorities? You can get it – if that’s what you want we’ll do it. It’s time that you also involved the parliament from day one.” He then quoted former U.S. President Lyndon B. Johnson, saying it is “probably better to have him inside the tent p***ing out, than outside the tent p***ing in.” The European Parliament will have to vote on any Brexit deal reached between the European Union and the British government, but Mr Verhofstadt’s outburst is a sign that MEPs want even more influence over proceedings.
Theresa May will be absent from a meeting of the European Union’s 27 other leaders later as they thrash out their plans for handling Brexit talks. The discussion, which will take place in Brussels after the Prime Minister has left a summit meeting of all EU leaders, will decide how the bloc will organise itself for the talks which will follow Mrs May triggering Article 50. A Downing Street spokeswoman said the talks showed that Brussels is “facing up to the reality that the UK is leaving the EU” and that Mrs May would trigger Article 50 by the end of March. She said: “That means they are going to need to know how they are going to handle the process where they have got to work out the position of 27.”
HEARTLESS European Union finance ministers have suspended much needed debt relief for Greece because the country’s prime minister wanted to give a Christmas bonus to pensioners. Greek premier Alexis Tsipras said £520million would be distributed as Christmas bonuses to 1.6million pensioners who live on £700 or less a month – the same pensioners who had their life savings claimed by the government during the recent banking crisis. But Eurogroup chairman Jeroen Dijsselbloem said it would be postponing aid to the Mediterranean nation because bringing Christmas cheer to the elderly “appears to not be in line with our agreements”. The Germans are the main opposition force to Greece’s bailout and ministers from Europe’s economic powerhouse clearly believe bringing festive cheer to old people who have felt the full force of the failing Eurozone. In a Twitter statement, Mr Dijsselbloem said: “Some member states see it this way also and thus no unanimity now for implementing the short-term debt measures.” The Eurogroup believes Mr Tsipras is “disrespecting” their generosity.
Council tax bills are to rise by an average of £90 to fund social care, it was revealed yesterday as the leader of the NHS suggested scrapping triple-locked pensions and free bus passes to pay for the crumbling system. Councils will be allowed to bring forward tax rises of 3 per cent in April and a further 3 per cent in 2018 to pump money into social care. Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, will confirm the plans today after they were revealed by The Times this week. After a 3 per cent rise in council tax the annual bill for an average Band D property in England would go up from £1,530 to £1,575.90 — an increase of £45.90.
Details of how councils in England will be able to raise hundreds of millions of pounds to spend on social care in the next two years are to be outlined. Communities Secretary Sajid Javid is expected to sanction a rise in council tax bills to 2018-2019 to pay for more frail and elderly people and dementia patients to be cared for at home. Theresa May says it will help relieve immediate pressures on the system. But Labour and councils say such a funding boost would be inadequate. Campaigners have been calling for investment to be brought forward to tackle what they say is a funding crisis in services for the elderly and disabled. The government was criticised after the annual £20bn adult social care budget was not mentioned in last month’s Autumn Statement, and local authorities have complained about cuts to the funding they receive from Whitehall.
Furious Jeremy Corbyn demanded Theresa May ‘get a grip’ on the social care funding crisis. And he exposed the “con” at the heart of the Tory plan to palm the cost of care on to local councils. He challenged Theresa May to cancel the tax cuts for corporations and use the money to properly fund Britain’s creaking care system. And MPs from all sides of the house took turns to pile on to the Prime Minister, demanding she do something to plug the £4billion funding black hole. George Osborne introduced the ‘social care precept’ – an optional charge that can be added to Council Tax bills for local authorities to pay for social care. But the former chancellor introduced the wheeze at the same time as Town Halls faced savage cuts to their budgets and national funding for care was all but eliminated.
Council tax bills will be allowed to rise by 3 per cent next year and the year after, to help tackle the social care crisis, The Independent has been told. Theresa May has sanctioned the inflation-busting increases after admitting – for the first time – that vital services are “under threat”. But the move was immediately attacked as too little, too late, as local authorities wrestle with the nightmare of a likely £2.6bn funding black hole by 2020. Town halls will be able to levy a “social care precept” of 3 per cent – higher than the 2 per cent announced last year, by former Chancellor George Osborne. A 3 per cent increase to the average Band D property bill of £1,530 would be £45.90 next year – and a rise of more than £90 in 2018-19, compared with this year.
Theresa May has pledged to seek a “long-term solution” to the challenge of funding social care for older people, as she confirmed that local authorities would be allowed to bring forward increases in council tax to ease the pressures on the creaking system. Challenged by Jeremy Corbyn on what he called the crisis in social care, May said her government would give councils more flexibility to raise more money in the short term – but would also seek a sustainable funding model. “You cannot look at this question as simply being about money in the short term. If we’re going to give people the reassurance they need in the long term, it’s about finding a way forward that will give a sustainable solution for the future,” she said. Sajid Javid, the communities secretary, is expected to announce on Thursday that local authorities will be allowed to increase council tax by up to 3% next year and the year after, with the money ringfenced to pay for social care.
ISIS fighters are entering the UK disguised as migrants, the head of the British Armed Forces has warned. Air Chief Marshal Sir Stuart Peach, Chief of Defence Staff, revealed terrorists are destroying identity documents – such as passports and birth certificates – in order to enter the UK and other countries. He has also warned ISIS’s global reach on social media put the world was at risk of “copycat terrorists” who could “pop up anywhere”. Sir Stuart added: “They are losing territory rapidly, foreign fighters are being killed and displaced but they are moving in migrant flows, hiding in plain sight. “How we manage identity in a world where people are deliberately trying to destroy their identity documents and move in migrant flows is a very important subject.” He also described international peace as “under threat” as he cited the head of MI5, Andrew Parker, warning of “a potential network of combat experienced terrorists”.
Islamic State terrorists are “moving in migrant flows, hiding in plain sight”, the head of the Armed Forces has warned. In comments that could reignite the debate around ID cards, Sir Stuart Peach said Britain should think about how it “manages identity” due to the global reach of IS militants who deliberately destroy their identity documents to travel illegally into other countries. Sir Stuart warned that IS, also known as Daesh, represents the closest danger. Speaking at the Royal United Services Institute, he said: “I worry about the global reach of Daesh as an idea – copycat, using the internet – more than the internet – using social media, popping up all over the world. “The Chinese state has accepted they have a problem. This is not now a localised phenomenon, it is now a wider phenomenon. “And of course we face…a potential network of combat-experienced terrorists”.
British Airways passengers are facing significant disruption over Christmas and the new year after cabin crew voted in favour of strikes in a row over pay. Unite said its members backed walkouts at Heathrow by four to one, raising the threat that strikes could be launched in the middle of next week. The union is deliberating over possible strike dates, although it has to give only seven days’ notice of a walkout. It is claimed that some cabin crew earned barely above the minimum wage and well below the national average. Low pay rates have forced many employees to take second jobs or turn up for work when ill because they could not afford to be sick, the union said.
British Airways cabin crews joined rail workers and Post Office staff in threatening strikes last night in what was described as a ‘co-ordinated attempt to inflict misery at Christmas’. The giant Unite union said BA cabin crew had voted overwhelmingly to strike over pay, with walkouts potentially starting as soon as December 21. The move threatens to wreck the holiday plans of thousands of families. Post Office workers are planning five days of strikes starting next week. And rail workers on the troubled Southern network inflicted another day of misery on hundreds of thousands of travellers yesterday. In the Commons, Theresa May rounded on Jeremy Corbyn over the ‘appalling’ strikes on Southern Rail – and urged the Labour leader to tell his union cronies to back down. And, as the Unite union threatened walkouts at BA, senior Tories demanded emergency legislation to tackle what one MP called a ‘co-ordinated attempt to inflict misery at Christmas’.
World War 3
OFFICIALS in Sweden have been told to prepare for WW3 with Russia – returning to a Cold War footing. The Swedish government has sent letters to all local authorities, warning they must be ready for war to break out. The message tells civil servants to speed up decision-making, get better at keeping information secret – and improve “crisis communication”. The new instruction comes after Sweden station troops on its island Gotland – across from Russia in the Baltic Sea – to ward off any invasion. Vladimir Putin is primed to start World War 3 by invading Europe in 2017, military experts warned. The officials said the Baltic states of Lithuania, Latvia and Estonia – which are NATO members – are most at risk. Magnus Dyberg-Ek, of Sweden’s Civil Contingencies Agency, said: “What is new is that the security situation in our region has deteriorated and that therefore we must prepare ourselves in terms of war and of conflict.