The latest round of Brexit talks have ended, with top negotiators disclosing late last month that the European Union (EU) and Britain made progress in the latest round, though not enough in order to move to the next phase of discussions on a transition period after Brexit or a future trade agreement.
Speaking to reporters, chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier disclosed “we have had a constructive week, yes, but we are not yet there in terms of achieving sufficient progress. Further work is needed in the coming weeks and months,” though he praised a “new dynamic” which was created by concessions made last week by British Prime Minister Theresa May. Barnier highlighted two key areas of disagreement. Firstly, on citizen’s rights, he welcomed a confirmation from his British counterpart, Brexit Secretary David Davis, that the withdrawal treaty guaranteeing the rights of 3 million EU citizens in Britain should have “direct effect” in British law – effectively, Britain cannot change them via new legislation. The EU however continues to demand that people also have the right to pursue grievances at the EU’s own court. Secondly, Barnier disclosed that Britain had clarified that an offer by Mrs May that the other 27 states should not lose out financially from Brexit during the current EU budget period concluding at the end of 2020 would cove payments only in 2019 and 2020. That, he said, was not enough. Commitments agreed in the current budget also lead to outward payments in subsequent years. Further on the money issue, which both sides say has become the most intractable, Barnier disclosed that Britain had yet to specify which commitments it would honour after Mrs May stated that it would do so. The EU has estimated that Britain will owe tens of billions of euros to cover outstanding liabilities. Barnier added, “for the EU, the only way to reach sufficient progress is that all commitments undertaken by the 28 are honoured by the 28.” Davis declined to put a figure on what Britain might pay.
Meanwhile Davis disclosed that they had made “considerable progress” in four days of talks in Brussels. He further repeated his eagerness to move on to discuss what happens after Brexit in March 2019.
Mrs May had hoped that a speech she made in Florence, Italy late last month would unblock the three-month-old talks and pave the way for the EU to open discussions on a post-Brexit free trade deal by allowing Barnier to tell EU leaders that there is “sufficient progress” on three key “divorce” issues – rights for expatriate citizens, the northern Irish border and how much Britain owes.
The two sides are due to meet again in just over two weeks, on 9 October. Were Barnier to judge that they have made “sufficient progress” – a deliberately vague term set by the EU 27 – he would be in a position to recommend to leaders at a summit on 19 – 20 October that they let him launch trade talks. However he has already warned that it could be “several months” before talks move on to discussions about trade.
On Friday 22 September, British Prime Minister Theresa May tried to rescue stalled Brexit talks and set out a vision for future ties with the European Union (EU) in a speech in the Italian city of Florence.
Britain is scheduled to leave the EU in March 2019 after a shock referendum result that has triggered more than a year of political turmoil, put business leaders on edge and sent the sterling plummeting. The most complex set of European negotiations to take place since the end of World War Two have effectively pitted London against Brussels over how to unravel over forty years of economic and political integration. However after three months of negotiations, talks have stalled between the UK and EU members, as a number of points have frustrated the two sides. Friday’s speech was aimed at breaking the deadlocks, with talks resuming on Monday. So far, the two sides have not reached an agreement on issues of the rights of EU and UK citizens, the financial settlement or the Irish border issue.
On Friday, Prime Minister May set out proposals for a two-year transition period after Britain leaves the EU. She further disclosed that she wants existing EU market access arrangements to apply during that period and promised that Britain would pay its “fair share” into the EU budget, adding that the UK will be the “strongest friend and partner” of the EU after Brexit. The deal she has proposed could include payments worth 20 billion euros (about 18 billion pounds) over the two years. The PM also proposed a “bold new strategic agreement” on security co-operation. On trade, she stated that the two sides could do “so much better” than adopt existing models and that there was “no need to impose tariffs where there are none now.”
In the wide-ranging speech, the British Prime Minister also stated:
- A “period of implementation” – potentially of two years – should be agreed “as early as possible”
- That the UK was prepared to “honour commitments we have made” – a reference to financial commitments.
- And that it would continue to make “an ongoing contribution” to projects it considers greatly to the EU and UK’s advantage, such as science and security projects
- She wanted a “bold new security relationship” with the EU, which would be “unprecedented in its depth”
- That the UK did not want to “stand in the way” of closer EU integration, as outlined by Jean-Claude Juncker.
While the 20 billion euro offer is meant to ensure that no EU countries are left out of pocket by Britain’s departure, it is not part of the “divorce bill” covering the UK’s outstanding debts and liabilities to the EU, which still have to be agreed with EU negotiations – effectively meaning that the final bill for Brexit could be far higher.
Mrs May’s speech has received mixed reviews, with many stating that they need more clarity from Britain in regards to what they want.
Brexit Secretary David Davis, who is taking part in the fourth round of Brexit talks in Brussels, stated that Mrs May has shown “leadership and flexibility” in her Florence speech and given reassurances on financial issues. However the EU’s Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, called for a “moment of clarity” from the UK. Speaking in Brussels, Mr Barnier stated that he was “keen and eager” for the UK to translate the “constructive” sentiments in Mrs May’s speech into firm negotiating positions on issues such as citizens’ rights, the Irish border and financial issues, including the UK’s so-called divorce bill. Remarking that has already been six months since the UK triggered Article 50, he stated that progress on these three fronts was essential to allow talks to move on to the future of the bilateral trade relationship, as the UK would like.
On Sunday 24 September, United States President Donald Trump imposed new travel restrictions on citizens from North Korea, Venezuela and Chad, effectively expanding to eight the list of countries covered by his original travel bans that have been decried by critics and challenged in court.
The current ban, which was imposed in March, was due to expire on Sunday evening. The new restrictions are slated to take effect on 18 October and resulted from a review after President Trump’s original travel bans sparked international outrage and legal challenges. Iran, Libya, Syria, Yemen and Somalia were left on the list of affected countries in a new proclamation that was issued by the president, while restrictions on citizens from Sudan were lifted. Iraq citizens will not be subject to travel prohibitions however they will face enhanced scrutiny on vetting. The addition of North Korea and Venezuela to the list broadens the restrictions from the original, mostly Muslim-majority list. While tensions between the US and North Korea and Venezuela have been on the rise in recent months – with President Trump threatening to “destroy” North Korea if it attacks the US or its allies and also criticizing Venezuela, once hinting at a potential military option to deal with Caracas – officials have described the addition of the two countries on the list of travel restrictions as the result of a purely objective review. In the case of North Korea, where the suspension was sweeping and applied to both immigrants and non-immigrants, officials disclosed that it was hard for the US to validate the identify of someone coming from North Korea or to find out if that person was a threat. One official disclosed “North Korea, quite bluntly, does not cooperate whatsoever.” Meanwhile the restrictions on Venezuela focused on Socialist government officials that the Trump administration blamed for the country’s slide into economic disarray, including officials from the Bolivarian National Intelligence Service and their immediate families.
The latest measures help fulfil a campaign promise that Mr Trump made to tighten US immigration procedures and align with his “American First” foreign policy vision. Unlike the president’s original bans, which had time limits, this one is open-ended. The White House has portrayed the restrictions as consequences for countries that did not meet new requirements for vetting of immigrants and issuing of visas. The White House has stated that those requirements were shared in July with foreign governments, which had fifty days in order to make improvements if needed. A number of countries made improvements by enhancing the security of travel documents or the reporting of passports that were lost or stolen. However others did not, which has sparked the restrictions.
The latest announcement of travel restrictions comes as the US Supreme Court prepares to hear oral arguments on 10 October over the legality of President Trump’s previous travel ban, including whether it discriminated against Muslims.
On Monday 25 September, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe called an election a year early, stating that he will dissolve parliament on Thursday. It appears that the Prime Minister has called the early election as he seeks to take advantage of high opinion ratings amidst the ongoing North Korean crisis.
The Japanese Prime Minister’s announcement comes as his approval ratings have rebounded from a record low over the summer and with the opposition largely in disarray. His support has surged with rising tensions with North Korea overshadowing criticism for alleged cronyism. Analysts see the early vote as the prime minister’s way to seize the resurgent support and exploit th current weakness of the opposition.
For months, the Japanese Prime Minister’s popular support was badly affected by a string of scandals and unpopular polices. In July, his ratings had dropped to less than 30%. This however recovered to above 50% in September. He has denied allegations of cronyism and on Monday stated that dissolving the lower house was not an attempt at avoiding those allegations. Mr Abe is also trying to push through a widely unpopular shift in Japan’s post-war pacifist defense police, calling for formal recognition of the military in the constitution.
Mr Abe also announced a 2tn yen (US $1.7 billion) stimulus package on education, debt reduction and social spending. During a press conference on Monday evening, Me Abe disclosed that the fresh stimulus was needed for education and social programmes to prepare Japan for the future. He also stated that he would continue on his path of fiscal reform and would use the revenue from the recently introduced sales tax to balance the budget and reduce debt.
German Chancellor Angela Merkel has been re-elected for a fourth term while nationalists have made a historic surge in federal elections.
While Merkel has won the election, her conservative CDU/CSU bloc has seen its worst result in almost seventy years. The alliance, between the Christian Democrat (CDU) and the Christian Social Union (CSU), saw the worst election result since 1949, when national elections were held in Germany for the first time after World War Two. The CDU-CSU garnered 33% of the vote, the SPD won 20.5%; AfD attained 12.6%; the FDP got 10.7%, the Left won 9.2% while the Greens attained 8.9%. The CDU-CSU will remain the largest party in parliament. Its current coalition partner, the social democratic SPD, says that it will go into opposition after historic losses. Meanwhile the nationalist Alternative for Germany (AfD) has won its first seats and is set to be the third party, a result that sparked some protests. On Sunday night, dozens of demonstrators gathered outside the right-wing, anti-Islam party’s headquarters in Berlin, with some holding placards saying “Refugees are welcome.” Protests were also held in several other cities, including Cologne and Frankfurt.
Addressing supporters, Mrs Merkel, who has been in the job of Chancellor for twelve years, disclosed that she had hoped for a “better result,” adding that she would listen to the “concerns, worries and anxieties” of voters of the AfD in order to win them back. She also stated that her government would have to deal with economic and security issues as well as addressing the root causes of migration – one of the main reasons behind the AfD’s result.