The Guardian today (12 May) carries an important front-pager from its very well-connected political editor, Nick Watt. It lists the four concessions the re-elected prime minister David Cameron now wants from the EU in order to satisfy his demand for a ‘new relationship with Europe” which would be put to referendum in 2016 well ahead of the French and German elections in 2017.
All four points are so minimalist and so far removed from what British Eurosceptics have been demanding that is hard to see how the EU, both the Brussels institutions and the 27 other member states would have problems in conceding them.
The four demands are:
1) Allow at next treaty a protocol saying the UK is not covered by the words "ever-closer union of peoples" which has been in EU Treaty preambles since 1957. The words were actually removed from the 2004 Constitution and it will be no problem to give UK its pathetic little extra paragraph at the end of the next major Treaty revision whenever that happens.
2) Reform and limit access to social benefits for EU migrant workers. Again no big problem as ECJ has already signalled governments have power to do this. The only hiccup would be if it is proposed to amend certain directives which requires the assent of the European Parliament. Also some eastern EU governments will not accept discrimination against their citizens. But this is a matter of wording.
3) Give more power to national parliaments. Again this is already in the Lisbon Treaty but it means national parliaments have to create their own network and form a blocking group. The EU cannot give each national parliament the right to veto directives or Treaties but Commission First Vice-President Frans Timmermans has long argued for more involvement of national parliaments and language can be found on this to satisfy Cameron with a promise to examine putting into next Treaty more reference to national parliaments.
4) Agreement that the eurozone cannot impose rules that discriminate against non-eurozone countries. This battle has been won with the ECJ upholding a UK complaint against proposal that Euro trades can only be carried out in a Eurozone country. So again this is pretty easy to find words on.
If these reports are right then the Cameron list of what he wants from the EU is so minimalist as not to matter much. It is far removed from limiting immigrants, repatriating powers, allowing the House of Commons to veto EU law and policy and other demands that the Tories, Eurosceptic papers and Ukip have put forward. There is nothing on Social Europe so the demands from the CBI, and other business organisations for more power for employers and less rights for workers have just been ignored.
Assuming these minimalist demands are all that Cameron wants he can have those in time for the summer holidays.
Whether it is enough to make the Brits vote to stay in is another matter. Even in countries that have high levels of pro-EU feeling like Netherlands or Ireland once a referendum is called everything changes and the pleasure in voting down what the government elites propose becomes very strong.
Denis MacShane is a former Europe minister, now senior advisor to Avisa in Brussels and author of Brexit: How Britain Will Leave Europe.
UK sends two navy boats to Jersey after France threatens blockade
Britain is sending two navy patrol boats to the British Channel Island of Jersey after France suggested it could cut power supplies to the island if its fishermen are not granted full access to UK fishing waters under post-Brexit trading terms, write Richard Lough and Andrew Macaskill.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson pledged his "unwavering support" for the island after he spoke with Jersey officials about the prospect of the French blockade.
Johnson "stressed the urgent need for a de-escalation in tensions," a spokesperson for Johnson said. "As a precautionary measure the UK will be sending two Offshore Patrol Vessels to monitor the situation."
Earlier, France's Seas Minister Annick Girardin said she was "disgusted" to learn that Jersey had issued 41 licences with unilaterally imposed conditions, including the time French fishing vessels could spend in its waters.
"In the (Brexit) deal there are retaliatory measures. Well, we're ready to use them," Girardin told France's National Assembly on Tuesday (4 May).
"Regarding Jersey, I remind you of the delivery of electricity along underwater cables ... Even if it would be regrettable if we had to do it, we'll do it if we have to."
With a population of 108,000, Jersey imports 95% of its electricity from France, with diesel generators and gas turbines providing backup, according to energy news agency S&P Global Platts.
Jersey's government said France and the European Union had expressed their unhappiness with the conditions placed on the issuance of fishing licences.
Jersey’s external relations minister, Ian Gorst, said the island had issued permits in accordance with the post-Brexit trade terms, and that they stipulated any new licence must reflect how much time a vessel had spent in Jersey's waters before Brexit.
"We are entering a new era and it takes time for all to adjust. Jersey has consistently shown its commitment to finding a smooth transition to the new regime," Horst said in a statement.
The rocky island sits 14 miles (23 km) off the northern French coast and 85 miles (140 km) south of Britain's shores.
The French threat is the latest flare-up over fishing rights between the two countries.
Last month, French trawlermen angered by delays to licences to fish in British waters blocked lorries carrying UK-landed fish with burning barricades as they arrived in Boulogne-sur-Mer, Europe’s largest seafood processing centre.
Brexit barriers in focus as Northern Ireland's DUP kicks off leadership contest
Northern' Ireland's biggest party was set for its first ever leadership election after its Westminster chief Jeffrey Donaldson threw his hat into the ring, promising to focus on the divisive issue of post-Brexit trade barriers.
Donaldson will stand against Edwin Poots to lead the Democratic Unionist Party at a time of heightened instability in the British province and unionist anger over the installation of a customs border in the Irish Sea.
Both Donaldson and Poots, Northern Ireland's agriculture minister, stopped short of making detailed campaign promises. But Britain, Ireland and the rest of Europe will be watching for any hardening of stances on Brexit or social issues including abortion that could alter the political balance ahead of elections next year.
The DUP currently leads Northern Ireland in a power-sharing government with its Irish nationalist rivals Sinn Fein.
Donaldson or Poots will take over the leadership from Arlene Foster who announced last week she was stepping down as Northern Ireland's First Minister at the end of June, bowing to pressure from party members unhappy at her leadership. Read more
Her departure has added to instability in the region, where angry young pro-British loyalists rioted in recent weeks, partly over the barriers that they feel have cut them off from the rest of the UK.
"I will develop and swiftly implement an agreed programme of meaningful reform and clear policy direction on key challenges like the protocol," Donaldson said in a video announcement, referring to the post-Brexit trading arrangements.
Like Foster, Donaldson, 58, is a former member of the more moderate Ulster Unionist Party. He was part of the negotiating team that stuck a deal to prop up the government of former British Prime Minister Theresa May in 2017.
Once the DUP's support was no longer needed, May's successor Boris Johnson broke the party's "blood red line" and agreed to erect the trade barriers.
Poots, 55, is one of a number of DUP ministers who have protested against the Brexit arrangements by refusing to attend meetings with Irish counterparts established under the 1998 peace deal that ended 30 years of violence in Northern Ireland.
Poots, a young earth creationist who rejects the theory of evolution, announced he was standing last week.
Statement by Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič following the conclusion of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement
European Commission Vice President Maroš Šefčovič warmly welcomes the ratification of the EU-UK Trade and Co-operation Agreement, which will now be fully applicable as of 1 May 2021. This comes after an overwhelming vote of consent by the European Parliament on 27 April and subsequent Council decision today, thereby concluding the ratification process. The EU and the UK will exchange letters to that effect.
"The ratification of the Trade and Co-operation Agreement is good news for European citizens and businesses. It provides a solid foundation for our longstanding friendship, co-operation and partnership with the United Kingdom on the basis of shared interests and values.
"In practice, the Agreement helps avoid significant disruptions, while protecting European interests and upholding the integrity of our Single Market. It also ensures a robust level playing field, by maintaining high levels of protection in areas, such as climate and environmental protection, social and labour rights, or state aid. Moreover, the Agreement includes effective enforcement, a binding dispute settlement mechanism and the possibility for both parties to take remedial measures.
"Democratic scrutiny will continue to be key in the implementation phase of the Agreement in order to ensure faithful compliance. Unity among EU institutions and member states will remain a cornerstone during this new chapter in our EU-UK relations."
Vice President Šefčovič reiterates that the European Commission looks forward to a strong, constructive and collaborative partnership with the United Kingdom, based on mutual trust and respect. We have far more in common than that which divides us. He will reach out this week to Lord David Frost, co-chair of the EU-UK Partnership Council, to prepare the launch of its work, including the work of Specialized Committees.
Finally, the Commission will continue to work tirelessly for joint solutions so that the Withdrawal Agreement, and the Protocol on Ireland / Northern Ireland in particular, is also fully implemented and works for the benefit of everyone in Northern Ireland.
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