Brexit transition ‘not a given’, EU’s Barnier warns

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said it was ‘important to tell the truth’ that border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland would be ‘unavoidable’ if it left the single market and the customs union. (Reuters)
Updated 09 February 2018
0

Brexit transition ‘not a given’, EU’s Barnier warns

BRUSSELS: EU negotiator Michel Barnier warned Friday that plans for a post-Brexit transition period to ease the pain of the split were at risk because of “substantial” disagreements with Britain.
Barnier also rejected claims by his British counterpart David Davis that Brussels had been “discourteous” by including a punishment clause in a draft transition deal in case Britain breached the bloc’s rules.
“If these disagreements persist, the transition is not a given,” Barnier told a news conference in Brussels after a round of Brexit talks with British negotiators. “To be frank I am surprised by these disagreements.”
Britain hopes to agree by an EU summit next month on a transition period of around two years after it leaves the European Union in 2019.
During this period, Britain will still follow EU laws in exchange for access to the single market, but lose all decision-making power.
Barnier said deep divisions remained on citizens’ rights for EU migrants moving to Britain during the transition, as well as the UK’s ability to object to new EU laws passed during the phase.
There was also a row over whether Britain could have a say in new justice and home affairs policies during the transition, which the EU says should last from Brexit Day on March 29, 2019 to December 31, 2020.
The Brexit transition is aimed at giving citizens, businesses and public services time to get used to the impact of Britain leaving, and to allow more space for talks on an eventual EU-UK trade deal.
Barnier added that he “wasn’t talking about a threat” but “if this disagreement were to persist there would undoubtedly be a problem, I hope we would be able to resolve those disagreements in the next round” of talks.
The former French minister also hit back at comments made by his UK counterpart David Davis, who was not in Brussels, that the EU was acting in bad faith and had been “discourteous.”
“There has not been the slightest trace of a lack of courtesy or of aggressivity,” Barnier said.
Barnier said that he did not understand the angry British reaction to a draft EU transition agreement that contained swift sanctions for Britain if it breached the terms of the deal, including freezing its single market access.
“There is no desire to punish,” Barnier said, adding that it was standard for international agreements to have a “serious and effective” enforcement mechanism.
A draft EU agreement published on Wednesday calls for the ability to sanction Britain in cases in which it would take too long to refer any breach of those rules to the EU’s top court.
That could include reimposing tariffs or customs checks, both of which Britain is supposed to be free of as a member of the EU internal market.
This week’s talks also covered the thorny issue of Northern Ireland.
Britain and the EU reached an interim deal in December on three key separation issues — the financial settlement, the Irish border and the rights of EU citizens after Brexit.
But translating that into a proper legal agreement is proving especially difficult on the Northern Irish issue.
Barnier said it was “important to tell the truth” that border checks between Northern Ireland and Ireland would be “unavoidable” if it left the single market and the customs union.
He added that the eventual deal would contain an emergency option which states that if Britain fails to find a special solution for Northern Ireland, the UK would remain in “full alignment” with the EU on trade issues to ease the border impact.
Northern Irish unionists and pro-Brexit lawmakers have already angrily rejected this.
Britain and the EU aim to start talks on a future relationship in April but time is running out. Barnier says a draft deal is needed by November so it can be ratified in time for Brexit.


100s of S. Koreans to enter North to reunite with loved ones

South Korean participants sit to register to take part in family reunions with their North Korean family members at a hotel in Sokcho, South Korea, Sunday, Aug. 19, 2018. (AP)
Updated 32 min 21 sec ago
0

100s of S. Koreans to enter North to reunite with loved ones

  • 180 families to be reunited in North's mountain resort
  • More than 57,000 have registered for a reunion

SEOUL, South Korea: About 200 South Koreans and their family members prepared to cross into North Korea on Monday for heart-wrenching meetings with relatives most haven’t seen since they were separated by the turmoil of the Korean War.
The weeklong event at North Korea’s Diamond Mountain resort comes as the rival Koreas boost reconciliation efforts amid a diplomatic push to resolve a standoff over North Korea’s drive for a nuclear weapons program that can reliably target the continental United States.
The temporary reunions are highly emotional because most of those taking part are elderly people eager to see their loved ones once more before they die. Most of these families were driven apart during the 1950-53 Korean War, which ended in a cease-fire, not a peace treaty, leaving the Korean Peninsula still in a technical state of war.
Buses carrying the elderly South Koreans attending this week’s reunions arrived at a border immigration office Monday morning. Red Cross workers wearing yellow vests waved at them. Some were in wheelchairs and others were aided by workers as they got off the buses and moved to the South Korean immigration office in the eastern border town of Goseong. After undergoing immigration checks, they were to cross the border by buses and travel to Diamond Mountain.
Past reunions have produced powerful images of elderly Koreans crying, embracing and caressing each other. Nearly 20,000 people have participated in 20 rounds of face-to-face reunions held between the countries since 2000. Another 3,700 exchanged video messages with their North Korean relatives under a short-lived program from 2005 to 2007. No one has had a second chance to see their relatives.
According to Seoul’s Unification Ministry, 197 separated South Koreans and their family members will take part in the first round of reunions that run from Monday to Wednesday. Another 337 South Koreans will participate in a second round of reunions from Friday to Sunday.
South Korea will also send dozens of medical and emergency staff to Diamond Mountain to prepare for potential health problems considering the large number of elderly participants.
Many of the South Korean participants are war refugees born in North Korea who will be meeting their siblings or the infant children they left behind, many of them now into their 70s.
Park Hong-seo, an 88-year-old Korean War veteran from the southern city of Daegu, said he always wondered whether he’d faced his older brother in battle.
After graduating from a Seoul university, Park’s brother settled in the North Korean coastal town of Wonsan as a dentist in 1946. After the war broke out, Park was told by a co-worker that his brother refused to flee to the South because he had a family in the North and was a surgeon in the North Korean army.
Park fought for the South as a student soldier and was among the allied troops who took over Wonsan in October 1950. The US-led forces advanced farther north in the following weeks before being driven back by a mass of Chinese forces after Beijing intervened in the conflict.
Park learned that his brother died in 1984. At Diamond Mountain, he will meet his North Korean nephew and niece, who are 74 and 69, respectively.
“I want to ask them what his dying wish was and what he said about me,” Park said in a telephone interview last week. “I wonder whether there’s a chance he saw me when I was in Wonsan.”
During the three years since the reunions were last held, the North tested three nuclear weapons and multiple missiles that demonstrated a potential of striking the continental United States.
North Korea has shifted to diplomacy in recent months. Leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae-in, a son of North Korean war refugees, agreed to resume the reunions during the first of their two summits this year in April.
South Korea sees the separated families as the largest humanitarian issue created by the war, which killed and injured millions and cemented the division of the Korean Peninsula into the North and South. The ministry estimates there are currently about 600,000 to 700,000 South Koreans with immediate or extended relatives in North Korea.
But Seoul has failed to persuade Pyongyang to accept its long-standing call for more frequent reunions with more participants.
The limited number of reunions cannot meet the demands of divided family members, who are now mostly in their 80s and 90s, South Korean officials say. More than 75,000 of the 132,000 South Koreans who have applied to participate in reunions have died, according to the Seoul ministry.
Analysts say North Korea sees the reunions as an important bargaining chip with the South, and doesn’t want them expanded because they give its people better awareness of the outside world. While South Korea uses a computerized lottery to pick participants for the reunions, North Korea is believed to choose based on loyalty to its authoritarian leadership.