A top aide to Jean-Claude Juncker warned today the EU would not give the legal guarantees on the Irish border backstop demanded by Brexiteers. The EU commission’s top official Martin Selmayr – whose nickname in Brussels is ‘The Monster’ – also delivered a thinly-veiled threat by boasting that Brussels had ‘done well’ to start its no deal preparations in December 2017. But in a sign of possible splits, Angela Merkel insisted the ‘riddle’ of the Irish border could be solved by compromise on both sides. The German Chancellor said she was determined to do ‘everything’ to avoid the UK crashing out, saying it could be done if ‘everyone shows goodwill’.
Several senior European politicians and bureaucrats spoke out Monday to pour cold water on British hopes of achieving even modest changes in the Brexit ‘deal’ arranged by Prime Minister Theresa May, as the nation closes in on the March 29th departure date. The UK Parliament voted for the Prime Minister to go back to Brussels last week to get a new agreement on the controversial Irish border backstop — a mechanism which in its present form would keep the United Kingdom locked into the customs union with no option to leave without Brussels’ permission. But top EU bureaucrats, negotiators, and political leaders insist there can be no Brexit ‘deal’ without it, pushing the UK closer to a full, no agreement withdrawal — either inadvertently or by design. One senior EU figure to speak out was power behind the throne Martin Selmayr, a lesser known figure who as the recently appointed Secretary-General of the European Commission is one of the most powerful men in Europe [pictured above, right].
Europe’s top official offered Britain a legal guarantee that it would not be trapped by the Irish backstop last night but was immediately rebuffed by Brexiteer MPs. Martin Selmayr, the European Union’s most senior civil servant, spent 90 minutes with members of the Brexit select committee, who emerged saying that he was prepared to make significant concessions on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. Mr Selmayr offered to give the prime minister a legally binding assurance that the backstop would not lock Britain into a permanent customs union with the EU, the MPs said. Any such shift would allow Mrs May to say that she had secured fundamental changes to her deal, which fell to a heavy defeat in the Commons last month.
Brussels is ready to reopen the withdrawal agreement to get the Brexit deal through the House of Commons but won’t change the substance of the Irish border backstop, it emerged after a meeting of MPs and senior EU officials. Rather than accept British demands to time-limit the backstop, the European Commission would simply add a protocol that would repeat the promises made in letters already sent by Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to Theresa May, MPs said. The commission and EU-27 have repeatedly ruled out any reopening or renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.
THERESA May was given fresh hope of small changes to toughen up the Brexit deal yesterday as Brussels, Angela Merkel and Hungary all opened the door to a compromise. Cracks emerged within the bloc as hardliners like Ireland and EU negotiator Michel Barnier were pitched against those who want to show more flexibility. Top eurocrat Martin Selmayr suggested to a group of MPs that Brussels was ready to give legal assurances on the backstop if it would seal the deal. Meanwhile the German Chancellor called for “creativity” and “good will”. And Hungarian premier Viktor Orban became the latest to break ranks with Brussels.
The European Commission has ruled out giving Theresa May legally binding concessions to help get her Brexit deal through parliament, as the prime minister prepares to go to Brussels to plead for changes. Speaking after a meeting with British MPs in the Belgian capital, Martin Selmayr, the European Commission’s feared general secretary who is in charge of no-deal preparations, said “nobody” on the EU side was considering backing down – and that the bloc was right to prepare for no deal. The warning comes after MPs told the prime minister to go back Brussels and ditch the controversial Northern Ireland backstop, despite repeated warnings from the EU that it was not up for negotiation. A European Commission spokesperson on Monday morning said they were not in a position to confirm any upcoming visits by Ms May to the EU capital, though they did not rule one out in future.
Downing Street has admitted there are no imminent meetings planned between Theresa May and EU leaders, despite the prime minister hoping to secure concessions on the Northern Ireland border by next week. Ms May’s spokesman said there had been no further talks between the prime minister and her counterparts since last week, as the EU continues to insist that negotiations on the withdrawal agreement cannot be reopened. The prime minister will travel to Northern Ireland on Tuesday to reassure businesses that the government is committed to maintaining an open border after Brexit.
Jacob Rees-Mogg has warned that Remainer MPs’ discussion of delaying Brexit is “code for stopping” the UK from leaving the EU. The chairman of the influential European Research Group (ERG) told LBC listeners Monday, “I think delay is a proxy for stopping and that is being proposed by people who never liked Brexit in the first place and are seeking to prevent it taking place. “So delay is code for stopping and all your listeners should be aware of that. “If we can’t get any deal we have to leave without a deal.” The Conservative MP for North East Somerset also hit back against “bizarre” Project Fear predictions regarding leaving the EU without a deal.
A NO-DEAL Brexit could have “serious consequences” for the entire European Union, the governor of Italy’s central bank has warned. Ignazio Visco has cautioned all EU countries they will not be able to avoid “major repercussions” if the Withdrawal Agreement is not ratified before Brexit day, March 29.In a keynote speech at the 25th annual Assiom Forex Congress, a meeting of 450 of Italy’s financial institutions with over 1,400 members, Mr Visco advised EU leaders they should not underestimate a no-deal Brexit simply because the impact on international trade would hit Britain. The economist said the Italian government has already prepared “contingency measures” but urged European banks to take it upon themselves to play an “active role” in preparing for the possibility that a deal may not be reached between Brussels and the UK.
GOODS shipped to Britain from the EU are to be waved through 20 UK ports without checks in a No Deal to avoid huge jams – HMRC has declared. In official advice released today, HM Revenue & Customs said that “for a temporary period” it would allow “most” shipments into the country before companies have even informed them they’ve arrived. Exporters would have just over 24 hours to then fill in an electronic declaration. The revelation comes just months after HMRC bosses warned the UK’s post-Brexit customs system would not work properly for two years in a No Deal. HMRC chief John Thompson told MPs last year that the Government would have a choice to make – whether to keep trade moving, ensure security at the border, or collect revenues. Insiders said it appeared that HMRC had decided it was essential to keep trade moving rather than risk huge queues on the way to ports such as Dover or at Eurotunnel terminals.
HMRC have announced Transitional Simplified Procedures for customs if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal, a move welcomed by the British Chamber of Commerce and Brexiteer MPs. The measures will mean that lorries and goods will be able to arrive from the EU into the UK without full custom declarations at the border whilst also allowing the postponement of paying import duties. This would last for an initial period of one year to allow businesses to prepare for usual import processes. The British Chamber of Commerce responded by saying: “In the case of No Deal, it is reassuring that HMRC are introducing these Transitional Simplified Procedures, which will make importing easier by simplifying the declarations at the border and postponing the payment of import duties that would otherwise be due.”
Former Northern Ireland First Minister David Trimble plans to take the government to court over the Northern Ireland backstop. Lord Trimble, now a Tory peer, jointly won the Nobel peace prize in 1998 for his work on the Good Friday Agreement. “The Nobel Peace Prize winner and architect of the Good Friday Agreement plans to initiate judicial review proceedings to ensure that the Protocol is removed from the Withdrawal Agreement,” a spokesman said. Lord Trimble said that alternative arrangements should be put in place instead, along the lines suggested in the documents ‘A Better Deal and A Better Future’ produced by eurosceptic group Global Britain, who are opponents of Mrs May’s agreement.
THE GOVERNMENT is being taken to court by the architect of the Good Friday Agreement who claims the hated backstop breaks the landmark deal which secured peace in Northern Ireland. David Trimble has announced he and fellow instrumental negotiators of the Good Friday Agreement will initiate judicial review proceedings aimed at removing the backstop from Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement. The Prime Minister has said her focus is on coming up with an alternative arrangement to take to Brussels in an effort to get a deal without a backstop.
The architect of the Good Friday Agreement is to take the British government to court over the proposed Brexit backstop arrangement, claiming it breaches the peace deal. Lord Trimble announced he planned to initiate judicial proceedings as Theresa May confirmed she will visit Northern Ireland on Tuesday in a bid to calm fears about a hard border being put in place after Brexit. The prime minister will give her “absolute commitment” to avoiding one, despite failing to get a deal with the EU to prevent such a scenario through parliament. She will also meet local businesses on the trip that foreshadows her return to Brussels.
One of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process is backing a legal challenge against Theresa May’s Brexit deal on the grounds that it undermines the Good Friday Agreement. Lord Trimble, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the agreement, is working on the plans to challenge the deal in the High Court in London. The news came as the Prime Minister flies to Belfast for two days of talks with local businesses today and meeting with local politicians tomorrow. A crowd-funding page is set to be launched this morning, with £5,000 already raised from private donors in Northern Ireland.
IRELAND has again rejected Britain’s demands to renegotiate the Brexit backstop as a compromise between the UK and EU looks increasingly unlikely. Irish deputy prime minister Simon Coveney branded hopes of alternatives to the controversial border arrangement “wishful thinking”. He said Mrs May’s Brexit deal already allows for alternatives to the backstop, adding: “The problem is that none of those ideas around alternative arrangements stand up to scrutiny, we have certainly not seen any that have.” MPs last week voted in favour of scrapping the backstop and replacing it with an as yet unspecified alternative. But it emerged today that Mrs May has yet to ask Brussels to remove the arrangement from her Brexit deal.
Jeremy Corbyn‘s hostility towards the European Union has been laid bare in a newly-unearthed video recording. In the extraordinary footage, the Labour leader attacks the Brussels club, branding it a ‘European empire of the 21st century’ and a ‘military Frankenstein’. The footage will be a severe blow to Labour Remainers hoping to overturn Britain’s decision to leave the EU by staging a second referendum. Dating from 2009 and obtained by Left-wing website The Red Roar, the video shows Mr Corbyn mocking the concept of holding repeated votes on the same issue.
Twenty Labour MPs and up to five Tories are ready to quit their parties and sit as a centrist group alongside the Liberal Democrats, Sir Vince Cable claimed yesterday. The Lib-Dem leader said a group of Labour MPs opposed to Jeremy Corbyn planned to resign the party whip and sit as independents by the spring. A number of anti-Brexit Tories are also ready to quit and form a breakaway group, he claimed, adding that these MPs would then strike an informal alliance with the Lib-Dems, with Sir Vince acting as the leader. He said: ‘If things play out in a certain way it might become a big bandwagon that even more people jump on.’
A review of the armed forces’ retention crisis has been ordered by the prime minister to stem the flow of thousands quitting each year. Theresa May’s top military adviser has commissioned Mark Francois, a former defence minister and member of the Commons defence select committee, to lead a report into the problem, which is compounding the forces’ personnel shortage. It comes after 5.6 per cent — 7,500 personnel — quit the military in 2017, the latest year for which there are official figures, up from 3.8 per cent in 2010. The trend correlates with a decreasing proportion of personnel recording satisfaction with service life: from 60 per cent in 2010 to 41 per cent last year, according to the annual armed forces continuous attitude survey.
The creeping convention that Parliament gets to vote on deploying British forces to war will harm military effectiveness, a former Chief of the Defence Staff (CDS) has said. The suggestion that any future significant deployment of the Armed Forces would now be impossible without recourse to parliament has caused “unease within military ranks”, according to General the Lord Houghton. The former CDS, in post from 2013 to 2016, believes it would be “highly undesirable” for any constitutional convention to come into existence for the Government to seek Parliamentary approval prior to committing British forces to conflict
Ministers pulled £60 million of promised government investment in Nissan yesterday, calling the Japanese carmaker’s future in Britain into question. After the company scrapped plans to build a new model at its plant in Sunderland, Greg Clark, the business secretary, said that it would have to resubmit its application for financial support. Mr Clark also told MPs that unless a deal was agreed with the European Union that maintained close trading links then it could be “ruinous” for manufacturing investment in Britain. The money for Nissan was promised by ministers to encourage it to invest in its Sunderland plant after the EU referendum result in June 2016.
Ministers last night revealed details of a secret deal to offer Nissan tens of millions of pounds after the Brexit vote to keep making cars in the UK. Business Secretary Greg Clark yesterday told the Japanese car maker it could lose out on a £61million support package after it axed plans to build a new model at its Sunderland plant. His warning came as he finally disclosed details of promises made to the firm in the months after the EU referendum. At the time, Downing Street said there was ‘no special deal’ and Mr Clark insisted ‘no chequebook’ was used to tempt Nissan into building its X-Trail SUV and a new version of its popular Qashqai in the UK.
The business secretary has been forced to admit the existence of a previously secret package of state aid to Nissan that could have been worth up to £80m had the carmaker gone ahead with plans to manufacture a new model X-Trail in Sunderland after Brexit. Greg Clark released a letter dated October 2016 in which he pledged tens of millions of taxpayer support and promised the Japanese company it would not be “adversely affected” after the UK left the EU. Yet, at the time the commitments were first made, Downing Street had said “there was no special deal for Nissan” and Clark refused six times to answer a question about what was on offer when interviewed on the BBC. He even appeared to suggest no money was involved. Asked on BBC One’s Question Time about the deal, he said: “There’s no chequebook. I don’t have a chequebook.”
Ministers have been condemned for keeping secret a £61m aid package for Nissan to build new cars in the UK after Brexit, after insisting there had been no “special deal”. Greg Clark, the business secretary, came under fire as he announced the Japanese giant would have to reapply for the cash, after its shock decision to abandon production of the X-Trail SUVat its Sunderland plant. A letter revealing the package – originally set to be up to £80m – was finally released, but only “after the press had got hold of it”, senior Conservative MP Nicky Morgan protested. Yet, when rumours of a “sweetheart deal” first broke in October 2016, Theresa May’s deputy spokesperson had insisted “there was no special deal for Nissan”.
The Business Secretary Greg Clark was on Monday night facing criticism after it emerged that he offered Nissan an £80million Brexit sweetener despite previously insisting there had been “no chequebook” involved in the deal. Details of the offer emerged in a previously unseen letter from October 2016 in which Mr Clark said that Nissan would receive the funding as long as it built two new models at its plant in Sunderland. The letter was leaked after Nissan revealed that it was breaking its pledge to build the X-Trail SUV in the UK and switching production to Japan.
Russia has fitted two warships with an optical interference weapon that induces hallucinations and vomiting among its adversaries. The 5P-42 Filin is a ‘non-lethal’ device that releases a dazzling strobe-like beam to disrupt an enemy’s eyesight – causing them to miss their targets but also inducing deliriousness and vomiting. Both the Admiral Gorshkov and Admiral Kasatonov warships have been fitted with a Filin weapon, according to the state-operated Russian news agency RIA Novosti. Developed by Ruselectronics, the device was tested by volunteers shooting various weapons – including assault rifles, snipers and machine guns – at targets under the Filin’s protection. All the participants saw their accuracy reduced because of impaired vision. Around half of the participants in the tests noted signs of disorientation, nausea and dizziness, RIA reported.