Global powers lobby to stop special Brexit deal for UK

The Observer reports: Theresa May’s hopes of securing a unique post-Brexit trade deal with the EU were under threat on Saturday night as Brussels said it was coming under international pressure to deny Britain special treatment.

After a week that saw May reach a deal with the EU that will allow Brexit talks to move forward on to future trade relations, EU officials insisted a bespoke deal more favourable to the UK than other non-EU nations was out of the question.

One EU source close to the talks said: “We have been approached by a number of [non-member] countries expressing concerns and making it clear that it would constitute a major problem for them if suddenly the UK were to get better terms than they get.”

The official said that once the UK is out of the single market and customs union in March 2019, there could be no replication of the terms of the current trading relationship, or anything close to it, and no special treatment.

“It is not just an indication of some strange rigid principle. It is because things won’t work,” he said.

“First and foremost we need to stick to this balance of rights and obligations, otherwise we will be undermining our own customs union and single market. Second, we cannot upset relations with other third countries,” the official said. [Continue reading…]

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Britain and EU clinch divorce deal to move Brexit talks onto trade

Reuters reports: Britain and the European Union struck a divorce deal on Friday that paves the way for talks on trade, easing pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May and boosting hopes of an orderly Brexit.

The European Commission said “sufficient progress” had been made after London, Dublin and Belfast worked through the night to break an impasse over the status of the Irish border that had scuppered an attempt to clinch a deal on Monday.

PM May, speaking in Brussels, said the deal opened the way for talks that would bring certainty to Britain’s future after quitting the EU.

European Council President Donald Tusk cautioned, though, that while breaking up was hard, building a new relationship would be even harder.

“So much time has been devoted to the easier part of the task,” Tusk said. “And now, to negotiate a transition arrangement and the framework for our future relationship, we have de facto less than a year.”

One senior banker said the deal signaled Britain was heading toward a much closer post-Brexit relationship with the EU than many had feared, indicating that trade will keep flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and its sixth-largest national economy. [Continue reading…]

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Ireland has just saved the UK from the madness of a hard Brexit

Fintan O’Toole writes: Let’s not understate the import of what Ireland has just achieved. It has not just secured an outcome that minimises the damage of Brexit on this island. It has radically altered the trajectory of Brexit itself, pushing that crazy careering vehicle away from its path towards the cliff edge.

This saga has taken many strange turns, but this is the strangest of all: after one of the most fraught fortnights in the recent history of Anglo-Irish relations, Ireland has just done Britain a favour of historic dimensions. It has saved it from the madness of a hard Brexit. There is a great irony here: the problem that the Brexiteers most relentlessly ignored has come to determine the entire shape of their project. By standing firm against their attempts to bully, cajole and blame it, Ireland has shifted Brexit towards a soft outcome. It is now far more likely that Britain will stay in the customs union and the single market. It is also more likely that Brexit will not in fact happen.

Essentially what this extraordinary deal does is to reverse engineer Brexit as a whole from one single component – the need to avoid a hard Irish border. It follows the Sherlock Holmes principle: eliminate the impossible and whatever remains, however improbable, must be the solution. The Irish Government, by taking a firm stance and retaining the rock solid support of the rest of the EU, made the hard border the defining impossibility. Working back from that, the Brexit project now has to embrace what seemed, even last Monday, highly improbable: the necessity, at a minimum, for the entire UK to mirror the rules of the customs union and the single market after it leaves the EU. And this in turn raises the biggest question of all: if the UK is going to mirror the customs union and the single market, why go to the considerable bother of leaving the EU in the first place? [Continue reading…]

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Not much remains of Theresa May’s red lines after the Brexit deal

Dan Roberts writes: If the EU referendum was the moment the British electorate clashed with the establishment, 8 December 2017 was the day that the legal and economic consequences collided with its political promises. The joint divorce agreement hammered out in the intervening 528 days makes clear that little remains of the many red lines set out by Theresa May in her Lancaster House speech or party conference address of 2016.

The first, and biggest, concession is buried in paragraph 49 of the 15-page report published early on Friday morning. Its implications will be anything but quiet in the weeks to come, for it undermines the prime minister’s previous insistence that Britain will be leaving the single market.

It states clearly: “In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom will maintain full alignment with those rules of the internal market and the customs union.” In other words, the UK may not be a member of the single market, or have any direct ability to shape its rules in future, but it could yet have to play by them in perpetuity.

Much will be made of the “in the absence of agreed solutions” caveat, yet what it means in practice is that the UK hopes to flesh out this pledge through a wider free trade agreement with the EU. If the other 27 members were reluctant to allow any wriggle room in the first phase of talks, they are even less likely to budge now that this principle is established as a back-stop.

When the agreement was first drafted on Monday, there was much concern that the promise of maintaining regulatory “alignment” might only apply to Northern Ireland, but the Democratic Unionist party has succeeded in removing any ambiguity and forced Downing Street to spell out that alignment stretches right across the Irish sea. [Continue reading…]

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It’s time for Britain to act more like France in its relations with the U.S.

Jonathan Freedland writes: The focus now is on May’s invitation to Trump to come to Britain on a state visit. You will recall she made that offer – usually extended only late in a presidency – on that lightning trip to Washington, when the prime minister thought it would be smart to be the first foreign leader to visit the new president, and to come bearing extravagant gifts. How she must regret that move now: Trump can’t possibly be given the red carpet, gold-coach-on-the-Mall treatment, not in the current climate.

But to rescind an invitation – one that officially comes from the Queen – would be an enormous insult that would only escalate tensions further. So May must hope the current state of limbo will persist indefinitely: the invitation will remain suspended in the air, as the Americans avoid setting a date for fear that, were Trump to come, he would be humiliated by the sight of 65 million Brits giving him a two-fingered salute.

Still, the very fact that this ludicrous situation even exists points to a larger problem: the absurdity that is the so-called special relationship.

So-called because it’s only the Brits who call it that. The Americans never use the phrase unprompted. When they do, it’s only out of an embarrassed obligation to accommodate British neediness. A former state department official, Jeremy Shapiro, admitted in October that his bosses were always careful to use the phrase when the Brits were in town, “but really we laughed about it behind the scenes”.

And yet it matters to us desperately – and the Americans can smell our desperation. How much time does a visiting British prime minister get with the president? What kind of gift do they hand over? Is the body language warm or chilly? All these questions have obsessed the political class, policymakers and journalists alike, for decades. But this is not diplomacy: it’s neurosis.

Perhaps one could laugh off this behaviour, dismissing as mere pathos the notion of a country that thinks it alone has a special relationship with Washington, unaware that a 2009 study found that 14 of 25 EU nations surveyed all believed they too were special to the Americans. But this fetish has real-world consequences.

It was the driving spirit behind Tony Blair’s catastrophic decision to support the US-led invasion of Iraq in 2003. Blair’s judgment was that the paramount strategic objective was to be at Washington’s side: “With you, whatever.” All other considerations were subordinate to that goal.

That same urge propelled May to visit Trump in Washington too soon, where she “put her career, her reputation and the national interest in the hands of someone who can land almost anywhere on any topic and be on the opposite side the very next day”, says Mark Leonard, director of the European Council on Foreign Relations.

We are, says Leonard, over-invested emotionally in the fantasy we call the special relationship. Yes, there is shared history; and, yes, intelligence and special forces cooperation is intensely close. But for the rest, we need to end the neurotic neediness – and be a bit more like the French. [Continue reading…]

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Theresa May under growing pressure to cancel Trump state visit as minister claims U.S. President has ‘crossed a line’

The Telegraph reports: Theresa May is facing pressure from within her own Government to cancel Donald Trump’s state visit to the UK after one of her ministers said the US President had “crossed a line”.

Sam Gyimah, the Justice Minister, said he would feel “deeply uncomfortable” if the visit went ahead after an unprecedented row broke out between Mrs May and Mr Trump over the latter’s decision to retweet far-Right anti-Muslim propaganda.

Mrs May said that Mr Trump was “wrong” to have promoted the material originally posted by Britain First to his millions of Twitter followers.

But the US President hit back and said Mrs May should not “focus on me” but on the “destructive Radical Islamic Terrorism that is taking place within the United Kingdom”.

The comments prompted a diplomatic storm with UK politicians from various parties lining up to criticise Mr Trump and to call for his state visit to be cancelled.

Mrs May remained tight lipped yesterday on the issue as she refused to say the visit could be cancelled and instead said an invitation had been “extended and accepted by the President”.

But Mr Gyimah suggested that invitation should be withdrawn. [Continue reading…]

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Britain furious, Trump unapologetic as fallout swells from anti-Muslim videos

The Washington Post reports: The British revolt against President Trump swelled Thursday with Parliament members openly deriding him and Britain’s prime minister standing by her denunciations of Trump’s retweets of a fringe group’s anti-Muslim videos.

Prime Minister Theresa May blasted Trump for crossing a line by posting the inflammatory videos on his Twitter page Wednesday — and then warning May to essentially mind her own business and focus on Islamist terrorism instead of him.

But officials were careful to note that ties with the United States are stronger than the current flare-up with the White House.

“It’s increasingly clear that any official visit from President Trump to Britain would not be welcomed,” tweeted London’s mayor, Sadiq Khan, the first Muslim to hold the office. Khan has repeatedly called for Britain to withdraw an invitation for Trump to visit — and his stance appeared to gain backing amid the outrage against the president.[Continue reading…]

 

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Donald Trump is a merchant of hatred who stews in his own toxicity

Brendan Cox, whose wife Jo was murdered by a supporter of Britain First, writes: If you’re like me, you check the news each morning with the worry that Donald Trump might have tweeted his way to the third world war. So in some ways, the fact that “all” he did this morning was to retweet the world-view of a far-right extremist from the organisation Britain First is something of a relief. At least we’re not waking to gifs of mushroom clouds over Korea. But that is to take false comfort. That shouldn’t be where we set the bar for the president of our closest ally.

It is fair to say that all of us who spend too much time on social media have probably retweeted people we might not be aware of, or who have dubious views on other issues. If this were a one-off, I might give President Trump the benefit of the doubt. But it’s not. Trump, from the beginning, throughout his campaign and since the election, has used hatred and bigotry to mobilise support.

He’s done so from calling Mexicans rapists to pledging a ban on all Muslims entering the country, to failing to disavow the neo-Nazis in Charlottesville. On Twitter he’s retweeted far-right activists following Charlottesville, shared antisemitic memes against Hillary Clinton and shared content from @WhiteGenocideTM – an account featuring dozens of racist memes.

In short, what his track record shows is that this isn’t a mistake, it’s a strategy. The impact of this strategy is to legitimise those driven by hatred. It makes them think that their views are mainstream, when in fact they are not – and makes those already driven by hatred more likely to act on it. [Continue reading…]

Jayda Fransen, deputy leader of Britain First tweeted:

THE PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES, DONALD TRUMP, HAS RETWEETED THREE OF DEPUTY LEADER JAYDA FRANSEN’S TWITTER VIDEOS! DONALD TRUMP HIMSELF HAS RETWEETED THESE VIDEOS AND HAS AROUND 44 MILLION FOLLOWERS! GOD BLESS YOU TRUMP! GOD BLESS AMERICA!

Former Grand Wizard of the Ku Klux Klan, David Duke tweeted:

This is why WE LOVE TRUMP and WHY the FAKE NEWS MEDIA HATES TRUMP. He brings to light what the lying, Fake News Media Won't. The truth is the media covers up horrific numbers of racist hate crimes against White people!

Sadiq Khan, Mayor of London, tweeted:

Britain First is a vile, hate-fuelled organisation whose views should be condemned, not amplified. https://t.co/Qf8plF4wOx

Justin Welby, Archbishop of Canterbury, tweeted:

I join the urgent call for President @realDonaldTrump to remove his Britain First retweets and make clear his opposition to racism and hatred.

These are the neo-fascist Islamophobes that Trump is promoting:

 

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Special relationship? Theresa May discovers she has no friend in Donald Trump

Julian Borger writes: It was some poor official’s job this morning to tell Theresa May that while she slept, the relationship with the US became special for all the wrong reasons.

It is at least historic. No US president in modern times has addressed a UK prime minister with the open peevishness and contempt of Donald Trump’s tweet telling May to mind her own business.

George W Bush’s offhand “Yo Blair”, caught on an open mic in 2006, did not show much respect either, but at least it was meant to be friendly. We are a very long way away from such halcyon partnerships as Churchill-Roosevelt and Reagan-Thatcher.

Trump could not even be bothered to get May’s Twitter handle right. The diss had to be corrected.

There are many layers of humiliation here for May to get her head around over breakfast. Not only is it personally demeaning, it is also politically toxic.

The prospect of a successful or at least survivable Brexit is posited on a strong relationship with Washington. In that regard, May’s successful rush to Washington in January to become the first foreign leader received at the Trump White House was presented as a coup.

Under EU rules, the two countries are not allowed even to start negotiating a trade deal until the UK is truly out of Europe, but the warm words and the pictures of the Trump and May holding hands at least struck an encouraging tone. The prime minister got to Washington in time to help the state department and Congress stop the president lifting sanctions on Russia, and squeezed out of him his first grudging words of support for Nato.

It has been downhill since then. [Continue reading…]

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Irish warn Theresa May: Change course or risk Brexit chaos

The Observer reports: Ireland’s European commissioner has urged Theresa May to change her Brexit plans dramatically to prevent a mounting crisis over the Irish border from derailing her hopes of an EU trade deal.

The threat of a hard Irish border has emerged as the major obstacle to the prime minister’s aim of securing the green light for Brexit trade talks at a crucial summit only weeks away. She has effectively been handed just days to give stronger guarantees over the issue.

Phil Hogan, the EU’s agriculture commissioner, told the Observer that it was a “very simple fact” that remaining inside the single market and customs union, or allowing Northern Ireland to do so, would end the standoff.

Hogan warned there was “blind faith” from some UK ministers that Britain would secure a comprehensive Brexit free trade deal. He warned that Ireland would “continue to play tough to the end” over its threat to veto trade talks until it had guarantees over the border.

“If the UK or Northern Ireland remained in the EU customs union, or better still the single market, there would be no border issue,” he said. “That’s a very simple fact. I continue to be amazed at the blind faith that some in London place in theoretical future free trade agreements. First, the best possible FTA with the EU will fall far short of the benefits of being in the single market. This fact is simply not understood in the UK. Most real costs to cross-border business today are not tariffs – they are about standards, about customs procedures, about red tape. These are solved by the single market, but not in an FTA.”

The Irish government wants a written guarantee that there will be no hard border with Northern Ireland, something Dublin believes can only be achieved, in effect, by keeping the region within the single market and customs union. However, the Democratic Unionist party, whose support is propping up May’s government, warned on Saturday it would never accept a post-Brexit deal that would effectively see a customs border pushed back to the Irish Sea. May has repeatedly made clear Britain will leave the single market and customs union. [Continue reading…]

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Can Britain get a quickie divorce then help rebuild a stronger Europe?

Simon Jenkins writes: War was once politics by other means. Now the converse may be the case, and thank goodness. But there is such a thing as dangerous politics. The centre is not holding. Leaders are digging into their national subconscious to unearth, if not guns, then a means to populist power.

The times when Britain has been summoned to “come to the aid of Europe” have been few. But they have been preceded by British blindness towards a sudden shift in politics on the continent. When the Catholic church, Louis XIV or Napoleon threatened the peace of Europe, Britain hesitated. It might send a Marlborough or a Wellington to fly the flag for British soldiering, but its heart was rarely in it.

The same casualness infuses the present Brussels negotiations. It may be dismaying to see the EU’s Barnier treat David Davis as might a counter-reformation cardinal some pesky Lutheran princeling. Barnier clearly cares nothing for Europe, only for the Holy Brussels Church and its budget. But in response Britain seems devoid of interest. It shows no vision of an endgame, as if it did not mind about Brexit either way. This is precisely how Europe slithered to war in centuries past.

Europe is not going to war. But its internal-government relations are ever more brittle. The prospect is of another credit crunch, the crippling of the Greek economy, mass unemployment in Italy and Spain, and a critical need for a deal with Russia.

Europe needs a leader. If Merkel is not to be one, then who? Surely not the egotistical Emmanuel Macron? It would have been a golden opportunity for Britain to seize the helm, if only it had not abandoned ship.

Britain has clearly to proceed with Brexit. But it must get the item off the negotiating table as soon as possible. It should seek a quickie divorce: pay the money and marry Norway. It could then hurl itself into a revived “concert of Europe”, and convince the EU’s council of ministers to convene a conference on reform. There could then be a fresh start, a new treaty for a future Europe of sovereign states. That is the treaty Britain can help to write and join, starting now. [Continue reading…]

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London loses EU agencies to Paris and Amsterdam in Brexit relocation

The Guardian reports: London is losing the European Medicines Agency to Amsterdam and the European Banking Authority to Paris, in one of the first concrete signs of Brexit as the UK prepares to leave the European Union.

The two cities won the agencies after tie breaks that saw the winner selected by drawing lots from a large goldfish-style bowl.

The Dutch capital beat Milan in the lucky dip after three rounds of Eurovision-style voting on Monday had resulted in a dead heat.

Paris won the race to take the European Banking Authority from London, beating Dublin in the final, after the favourite Frankfurt was knocked out in the second round.

The EU’s 27 European affairs ministers, minus the UK, took less than three hours to decide the new home of the medicines agency, which employs 900 people in Canary Wharf, London. The decision on the banking authority, which employs 150 and is also based in Canary Wharf, was made in little more than an hour. [Continue reading…]

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‘Leadership means knowing when it is time for change,’ says Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams

Reuters reports: Gerry Adams, a pivotal figure in the political life of Ireland for almost 50 years, said Saturday that he would step down as leader of Sinn Fein, the main Irish Republican party, after more than three decades.

Reviled by many as the face of the Irish Republican Army during its campaign against British rule in Northern Ireland, Mr. Adams reinvented himself as a peacemaker in the troubled region and then as a populist opposition member of the Irish Parliament.

At a packed party conference in Dublin, Mr. Adams said that he would be replaced as its president at its next annual gathering and that he would not run for re-election to Parliament.

“Leadership means knowing when it is time for change,” he said in an emotional speech. “That time is now.”

Mr. Adams stayed on stage as the 2,500-strong crowd, some in tears, gave him a standing ovation and sang a traditional Irish song about the road home.

Mr. Adams will almost certainly be succeeded by someone with no direct involvement in the decades of conflict in Northern Ireland, a prospect that would make Sinn Fein a more palatable coalition partner in the Irish Republic, where it has never been in power.

Sinn Fein’s deputy leader, Mary Lou McDonald, an English literature graduate from Trinity College Dublin who has been at the forefront of a new breed of politicians transforming the party’s image, is the clear favorite to take over. [Continue reading…]

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Ireland will block progress of Brexit talks without border guarantee

The Guardian reports: Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar, issued a stark warning that the progress of the Brexit negotiations was at great risk of even further delay, during a day of stinging public rebukes for Theresa May as she met sceptical EU leaders at a Swedish summit.

The Irish taoiseach emerged from a frosty bilateral meeting with May at the European social summit and said: “I can’t say in any honesty that it’s close – on the Irish issue or on the financial settlement.”

Varadkar said he would not be prepared to back progress of the Brexit negotiations to trade talks at the summit in December without a formal written guarantee there would be no hard border in Ireland. Britain, he said, “wants a divorce, but an open relationship the day after”.

At the summit in Gothenburg, the president of the European council, Donald Tusk, gave the UK government an ultimatum that progress needed to be made on the Irish border and the financial settlement. Tusk also hit back at suggestions by the Brexit secretary, David Davis, that the UK needed to see more compromise from Brussels: “I appreciate Mr Davis’s English sense of humour.” [Continue reading…]

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British cybersecurity chief warns of Russian hacking

The New York Times reports: Russian hackers over the past 12 months have tried to attack the British energy, telecommunications and media industries, the government’s top cybersecurity official said Tuesday in a summary of a speech to be delivered on Wednesday.

The warning, by Ciaran Martin, chief of the National Cyber Security Center, is the strongest indication yet that Russian cyberattacks on Western governments and industries may be far more persistent than United States or British officials have previously acknowledged. [Continue reading…]

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British and Spanish leaders say Russian trolls meddled in their elections

The Washington Post reports: In a remarkable one-two punch aimed at Russian hackers, bots and trolls, the prime ministers of Britain and Spain have separately accused Russian entities — including some allegedly supported by the state — of meddling in European elections and have vowed to foil them.

Spanish Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy said Tuesday that an “avalanche” of bots spread “fake news” about Spain during Catalonia’s independence referendum last month and that Spanish authorities think that more than half of the originating accounts are in Russian territory.

British Prime Minister Theresa May on Monday night charged that President Vladimir Putin’s Russia was attempting to “undermine free societies” and “sow discord” in Britain and among its Western allies by “deploying its state-run media organizations to plant fake stories.”

“So I have a very simple message for Russia,” May said. “We know what you are doing. And you will not succeed.”

The allegations leveled by May and Rajoy stand in stark contrast to remarks made over the weekend by President Trump, who appeared to defend the Russian president. [Continue reading…]

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Boris Johnson met ‘London professor’ linked to FBI’s Russia investigation

The Guardian reports: Boris Johnson is facing questions about the government’s links to key individuals named by the FBI in its Trump-Russia investigation, following the emergence of a photo of him with Joseph Mifsud, the “London professor” with high-level Kremlin contacts.

The foreign secretary is facing accusations of a potential security breach following the emergence of the photo of him with Mifsud, whose identity emerged as part of investigations into alleged links between Donald Trump’s election campaign and Russia.

This development comes less than a week after Johnson denied meeting the professor, and at a time when concern is growing about possible Russian interference in the Brexit campaign, in which the foreign secretary played a crucial role.

Although the FBI had known about Mifsud’s role as a high-level go-between linking the Trump campaign and the Russian government since at least July, it appears British intelligence did not warn the foreign secretary about the potential embarrassment or security implications before he attended a fundraising dinner with Mifsud on 19 October. [Continue reading…]

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EU prepares for British government collapse after firing of 2nd minister

VOA reports: European Union negotiators are readying themselves for the collapse of Prime Minister Theresa May’s government as it lurches from one crisis to another, say officials in Brussels.

And Britain’s Opposition Labor Party is eagerly standing by, with its deputy leader warning Thursday that the ruling Conservative government is so fragile “random events could bring it down.”

“Another Day, Another Crisis,” was the Daily Telegraph’s headline Thursday in the wake of May having to fire two key Cabinet ministers in a week — Michael Fallon as her defense secretary over sexual harassment claims, and the ambitious International Development Minister Priti Patel late Wednesday over 14 unauthorized meetings with Israeli ministers, business people and a high-profile lobbyist during a family vacation to Israel. [Continue reading…]

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