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Coveney says Commission proposals on the Northern Ireland Protocol goes beyond expectations

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Arriving at today’s Foreign Affairs Council in Luxembourg (18 October), Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney said the Commission package sends a very clear signal to Northern Ireland that the EU is listening, and is genuinely trying to use the maximum possible flexibility within the confines of the protocol to solve problems.

Coveney recognized the major move made by the European Commission in trying to resolve issues around the Northern Ireland Protocol. He said that the package of measures proposed by Vice President Maroš Šefčovič had been warmly welcomed by the business community in Northern Ireland and was a genuine and real effort to resolve practical issues on the ground. 

He said that the package goes beyond many people's expectations in responding to real interruptions to trade on goods coming from Great Britain into Northern Ireland, reducing checks on food products by 80%, and customs checks by 50%, in addition to a new structure in place to improve dialogue and communications to ensure that Northern Ireland is very much involved in plans for the future and how the protocol functions. 

“Unfortunately, the British government's statements in the first half of last week before the Šefčovič  announcement were really not helpful. [The British government] was trying to move the political challenge away from solving practical problems on the ground to a new problem concerning the ECJ”. The issue of the European Court’s oversight of the Single Market in goods that Northern Ireland continues to enjoy, had not been raised with the Commission until recently. The recent demand has put the UK’s integrity into question. 

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Coveney said the British government has obligations under international law to comply with the treaty that they themselves designed, ratified and now need to implement. 

On Friday (15 October), European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič hosted Lord David Frost in Brussels.  Šefčovič welcomed that both sides have agreed to engage intensively and constructively at both expert and political level, with a set of meetings scheduled this week in Brussels with the UK team. The EU wants to focus on the areas that matter most to Northern Irish people and businesses, and where common solutions are possible. He said: “Swift joint solutions would bring the stability, certainty and predictability that Northern Ireland deserves, ultimately protecting the Good Friday (Belfast) Agreement in all its dimensions.”

Lord Frost issued a statement recognizing the efforts Vice President Šefčovič and underlined that he would discuss them constructively and in a positive spirit. However Frost continues to argue that the Withdrawal Agreement he negotiated at the end of 2019 should be changed to reflect the UK’s new issues.

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European Agenda on Migration

France's Macron tells UK to 'get serious' on Channel migrant crisis

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French President Emmanuel Macron told Britain on Friday (26 November) it needed to "get serious" or remain locked out of discussions over how to curb the flow of migrants escaping war and poverty across the Channel, write Benoit Van Overstraeten, Richard Lough, Ingrid Melander in Paris, Ardee Napolitano in Calais, Stephanie Nebehhay in Geneva, Ingrid Melander, Sudip Kar-gupta and Kylie Maclellan.

France cancelled an invitation to British Home Secretary Priti Patel to attend a meeting on the issue in Calais, underlining how fraught its ties with Britain have become, with post-Brexit trading rules and fishing rights also at stake.

Boris Johnson's spokesman said the British prime minister was taking the issue "extremely seriously" and said he hoped France would reconsider its decision to cancel Patel's invite.

The row erupted after the death of 27 migrants trying to cross the narrow seaway between the two countries, the worst tragedy on record in one of the world's busiest shipping lanes. Read more.

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"I'm surprised when things are not done seriously. We don't communicate between leaders via tweets or published letters, we are not whistle-blowers. Come on. Come on," Macron told a news conference in Rome.

Macron was responding to a letter from Johnson in which the British leader told "Dear Emmanuel" what he reckoned should be done to stop migrants from making the perilous journey.

Johnson urged France in his letter to agree on joint patrols on its shores and consent to taking back the migrants who make it to Britain. Read more.

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Infuriated by the letter, and not least by the fact that Johnson published it on Twitter, the French government cancelled an invitation to Patel to attend a meeting on Sunday to discuss with EU ministers how to tackle immigration.

Johnson does not regret his letter to Macron or publishing it on Twitter, his spokesman said, adding that he wrote it "in the spirit of partnership and co-operation" and posted it online to inform the public of what the government was doing.

French President Emmanuel Macron speaks during a news conference after signing an accord with Italy's Prime Minister Mario Draghi to try to tilt the balance of power in Europe, at Villa Madama in Rome, Italy, November 26, 2021. REUTERS/Remo Casilli

Relations between the traditional allies are already strained, including by a recent submarines deal with Australia which replaced one it had with France, and they were already accusing each other of not properly managing immigration.

"We're fed up with (London's) double-talk," French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said, adding that Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin "told his counterpart she was not longer welcome."

Sunday's migration meeting will go ahead, without Patel but with ministers from Germany, The Netherlands, Belgium and European Commission officials.

"The (EU) ministers will work seriously to settle serious issues with serious people," Macron said. "We will then see how to move forward efficiently with the British, if they decide to get serious."

When Britain left the EU, it was no longer able to use the bloc's system for returning migrants to the first member state they entered.

UNHCR spokesman William Saltmarsh urged France and Britain to work together.

"Cooperation between the two countries, but also between the UK and Europe is extremely important," he said. "It is important that there is a concerted efforts to try to crush the smugglers' rings, the smugglers have been very adaptive in recent months."

The number of migrants crossing the Channel has surged to 25,776 so far in 2021, up from 8,461 in 2020 and 1,835 in 2019, according to the BBC, citing government data.

Rights groups say that while fighting people-smugglers is vital, France and Britain's migration policies are also to blame for the deaths, pointing to a lack of legal migration routes.

"The result of what happened yesterday, we can say it was because of smugglers, but it's the responsibility of these deadly migration policies above all, we see this every day," Marwa Mezdour, who coordinates a migrant association in Calais, said at a vigil in tribute to those who drowned.

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Hamas

Britain to designate all of Hamas as a terrorist organization

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Britain is to designate all of Hamas as a terrorist organization, British Home Secretary Priti Patel (pictured) told reporters, writes Yossi Lempkowicz.

“We’ve taken the view that we can no longer disaggregate the sort of military and political side. It’s based upon a wide range of intelligence, information and also links to terrorism. The severity of that speaks for itself,” she said.

Patel added that proscribing Hamas would send a “very, very strong message to any individual that thinks that it’s OK to be a supporter of an organization such as that”.

She was to make a formal announcement on Friday (19 November) where she is expected to say in her speech: “Hamas has significant terrorist capability, including access to extensive and sophisticated weaponry, as well as terrorist training facilities, and it has long been involved in significant terrorist violence. But the current listing of Hamas creates an artificial distinction between various parts of the organisation – it is right that the listing is updated to reflect this. This is an important step, especially for the Jewish community. If we tolerate extremism, it will erode the rock of security.”

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She called Hamas “fundamentally and rabidly antisemitic.” “Antisemitism is an enduring evil which I will never tolerate. Jewish people routinely feel unsafe – at school, in the streets, when they worship, in their homes, and online,” she said.

“Anyone who supports or invites support for a proscribed organization is breaking the law. That now includes Hamas in whatever form it takes,” Patel said.

She is expected to push through the legislative change in parliament next week. According to the proposed law change, showing support for Hamas, which included flying its flag, wearing clothes or facilitating meetings with Hamas members could face years in prison under the Terrorism Act 2000.

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The British decision comes as Israel’s President Isaac Herzog will make an official visit London next week during which he will meet with Prime Minister Boris Johnson, members of Parliament and other dignitaries.

Until now, Britain has banned only Hamas’ military wing, the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades.

The move to ban the group entirely will bring the UK in line with the US, Canada, and the EU.

A branch of the Muslim Brotherhood

Founded in 1987, Hamas has been responsible for the murder of hundreds of Israeli civilians, notably employing suicide bombers from the 1990s and 2000s.

Hamas is the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood and it has been firm and explicit in its rejection of any peace process and the recognition of Israel’s right to exist.

The central aim of Hamas is to establish an Islamic state in all the territory defined as ‘Palestine’ (from the Mediterranean Sea to the Jordan River) through armed struggle.

Hamas took over the Gaza Strip in a violent coup in 2006 kicking out the Palestinian Authority. Since then, they have intermittently launched thousands of rockets towards Israel.

Most recently, in a week-long conflict in May, Hamas fired over 4,000 rockets toward Israel.

The current Israeli government operates a policy of distinction that looks to empower moderate Palestinian political forces within the Palestinian Authority.

Israel welcomes the British move

In a tweet, Israeli Prime Minister Naftali Bennett said: “Hamas is a terrorist organization, simply put.”

“Hamas is a radical Islamic group that targets innocent Israelis & seeks Israel’s destruction. I welcome the UK’s intention to declare Hamas a terrorist organization in its entirety — because that’s exactly what it is,” he said.

Foreign Minister Yair Lapid said that “there is no legitimate part of a terrorist organization, and any attempt to separate between parts of a terrorist organization is artificial”.

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Brexit

Šefčovič says new tone from UK needs to lead to tangible solutions

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In a statement following today’s (19 November) meeting, European Commission Vice-President Maroš Šefčovič reiterated the need “to shift into a result-oriented mode and to deliver on the issues raised by Northern Irish stakeholders”.

Šefčovič said that it was essential that the change of tone from the UK-side, which was welcomed last week, “now leads to joint tangible solutions in the framework of the Protocol”. He stressed that progress was needed and that it was a test of political goodwill on the UK-side. 

The Vice President said that there had been “initial useful engagement at a technical level” on customs, but “urge” the UK government to make a clear move towards the EU in the area of sanitary and phytosanitary controls to reciprocate the big move made by the EU. 

The UK’s minister Lord Frost said significant gaps remained and while failing to meet the EU’s efforts to materially ease practical problems, continued to threaten to trigger Article 16 of the Ireland/Northern Ireland Protocol, “in order to meet its responsibilities to the people of Northern Ireland.”

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Earlier in the day Šefčovič addressed Dublin City University's Brexit Institute, in his speech he said that the Withdrawal Agreement, which includes the Northern Ireland Protocol, was a pre-condition for the Trade and Co-operation Agreement reached in 2020: "The two agreements are intrinsically linked – one cannot exist without the other."

With the exception of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), no significant Northern Irish political party is seeking the collapse of the Northern Ireland Assembly on this issue. The leader of the other major unionist party, the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) Doug Beattie has said that the issues linked to the protocol should be dealt with through negotiation.

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The European Commission's efforts have also been welcomed by the non-aligned Alliance Party and nationalist parties (Sinn Fein and the SDLP), yesterday MP's from the UK's Northern Ireland Select Committee met with MEPs on the European Parliament's EU-UK co-ordination group.

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