UK wins Brexit transition deal in return for Irish vow

Both Leo Varadkar and Theresa May are committed to keeping a free flow of people and goods over the intra-Irish border without returning to checkpoints, as during the three decades of violence in Northern Ireland. (Reuters)
Updated 19 March 2018
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UK wins Brexit transition deal in return for Irish vow

BRUSSELS: Britain and the European Union agreed on Monday to a transition period to avoid a “cliff edge” Brexit next year — though only after London accepted a potential solution for the border with the Irish Republic that may face stiff opposition at home.
The pound surged on confirmation that Britain would remain effectively a non-voting EU member for 21 months until the end of 2020. Some business leaders, however, echoed a warning from EU negotiator Michel Barnier that the deal is legally binding only if London agrees the whole withdrawal treaty by next March.
That means solving outstanding issues, notably how to avoid a “hard border” that could disrupt peace in Northern Ireland. Britain says an EU-UK free trade deal to be sealed by 2021 can do that. But Dublin insists the Brexit treaty must lock in a “backstop” arrangement in case that future pact does not work.
Both sides are committed to keeping a free flow of people and goods over the intra-Irish border without returning to checkpoints, as during the three decades of violence in Northern Ireland. However, finding a practical solution for any customs checks needed post-Brexit has proved elusive so far.
The dispute with Ireland had threatened to derail May’s hopes of a formal political endorsement of the transition deal by EU leaders when they meet in Brussels on Friday. A weekend of intensive talks, however, has broken the deadlock — for now.
Prime Minister Theresa May, who relies on pro-British Northern Ireland members of parliament to pass her Brexit legislation, rejected a fallback proposed by Brussels three weeks ago. She said an EU offer to keep Northern Ireland under EU trade rules would isolate the province from the mainland.
However, her Brexit Secretary David Davis, in Brussels, has now signed up to following similar principles as negotiators resume work to find an “operational” compromise — a situation Dublin said it was happy to accept as it bound London in to not “backsliding” on pledges May had made on the issue in December.
“We agree on the need to include legal text detailing the ‘backstop’ solution for the border,” Davis told a news conference with Barnier. “But it remains our intention to achieve a partnership that is so close as to not require specific measures in relation to Northern Ireland.”
The question will remain as to whether negotiations on the future trade partnership between Britain and the EU, which are expected to start only next month after EU leaders endorse Barnier’s negotiating guidelines on Friday, can produce results — and quickly enough to avoid having language in the withdrawal treaty that Britain, and May’s Belfast allies, cannot accept.
 

A decisive step remains a step; we are not at the end of the road and there still remains a lot of work to be done, including on Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Michel Barnier

Longer term, the transition deal may buy people time but business still faces a “cliff edge” of uncertainty come 2021.
Davis agreed with Barnier that Monday’s agreement was “decisive” and increased the odds on finding an orderly deal to avoid Europe’s second biggest economy simply crashing out of the bloc in just over a year. He hailed the certainty that the deals on the transition and other issues, including rights for expatriate citizens, would offer businesses and individuals.
However, Barnier warned: “A decisive step remains a step; we are not at the end of the road and there still remains a lot of work to be done, including on Ireland and Northern Ireland.”
Ireland has been anxiously making sure that the other 26 remaining EU states continue to back it over the border and did not give up the leverage over London that the transition deal offered without a clear new pledge from Britain on the backstop.
Foreign Minister Simon Coveney, who met Barnier in Brussels before the announcements on Monday, said he was satisfied.
The two sides issued a new, 129-page draft withdrawal treaty that was awash with green highlighter denoting final agreement on large areas of the legal text, including transition.
The pound rose as much as 1 percent against the dollar to $1.4088, its strongest since Feb. 16.
Davis, who unlike May campaigned for Brexit, said he was pleased with EU agreement to let Britain negotiate and sign trade deals with other countries while remaining covered by EU common trade policy during the transition. Those deals would then take effect once Britain was free to do so in 2021.
He also welcomed wording that gives Britain some say in EU policy during the transition, notably on fishing quotas, and an ability to refuse to implement things it did not agree with — some of his Conservative party allies have complained that the transition deal would leave Britain a “vassal state” of the EU.
The Leave Means Leave campaign accused him of “caving in” on the Irish border. Brexit firebrand Nigel Farage said “Theresa the Appeaser” had “let people down again” by agreeing to EU demands to keep free immigration during the transition.
More troublingly for May’s prospects of steering the treaty through parliament, her own party’s leader in Scotland, fierce Brexit critic Ruth Davidson, said the transition was a bad deal — for letting the EU retain power over British fishing grounds.
The EU secured agreement that Britain would offer residence rights to EU citizens who arrive after Brexit but before 2021. However, Britain also clocked up some gains it had been pushing for.
The 27 other EU member states have remained closely aligned since negotiations began last year, though they have differing interests. Britain’s nearest neighbors, with most trade to lose from Brexit, have pushed for a quick transition deal to help their own businesses.
But many EU diplomats said they felt London had largely agreed to their terms on most issues because of May’s political imperative to get a transition deal that may calm the fears of businesses contemplating moving investments out of Britain.
One EU diplomat said: “The Brits have just given in on everything so big was their drive to get the transition.”


Japan to buy more US-made stealth jets, radar to counter China, Russia

A Marine Corps pilot prepares for a vertical landing of Lockheed Martin F-35B stealth fighter aboard the USS Wasp amphibious assault carrier during their operation in the waters off Japan's southernmost island of Okinawa March 23, 2018. (REUTERS
Updated 19 December 2018
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Japan to buy more US-made stealth jets, radar to counter China, Russia

  • “The budget is increasing and there has been an acceleration to deploy capability as soon as possible,” Robert Morrissey, head of Raytheon Co’s unit in Japan, said this month

TOKYO: Japan will accelerate spending on advanced stealth fighters, long-range missiles and other equipment over the next five years to support US forces facing China’s military in the Western Pacific, two new government defense papers said.
The plans are the clearest indication yet of Japan’s ambition to become a regional power as a military build-up by China and a resurgent Russia puts pressure on its US ally.
“The United States remains the world’s most powerful nation, but national rivalries are surfacing and we recognize the importance of the strategic competition with both China and Russia as they challenge the regional order,” said a 10-year defense program outline approved by Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government on Tuesday.
The United States, followed by China, North Korea and Russia, are the countries that most influenced Japan’s latest military thinking, the paper said.
China, the world’s second biggest economy, is deploying more ships and aircraft to patrol waters near Japan, while North Korea has yet to fulfil a pledge to dismantle its nuclear and missile programs.
In Beijing, Foreign Ministry spokeswoman Hua Chunying said Japan was “singing the same old tune” and making “thoughtless remarks” about China’s normal defense activities.
“What Japan is doing here is neither conducive to improving and developing China-Japan relations, nor to the broader picture of regional peace and stability,” Hua told a news briefing.
“China expresses strong dissatisfaction and opposition at this and has already lodged stern representations with Japan,” she added.
Russia, which continues to probe Japan’s air defenses, said on Monday it built new barracks for its troops on islands seized from Japan at the end of World War Two.
MORE STEALTH FIGHTERS
Japan plans to buy 45 Lockheed Martin Corp. F-35 stealth fighters, worth about $4 billion, in addition to the 42 jets already on order, according to a separate five-year procurement plan approved on Tuesday.
The new planes will include 18 short take off and vertical landing (STOVL) B variants of the F-35 that planners want to deploy on Japanese islands along the edge of the East China Sea.
The islands are part of a chain stretching past Taiwan and down to the Philippines that has marked the limit of Chinese military dominance east of the disputed South China Sea.
“Japan’s decision to acquire more F-35s is a testament to the aircraft’s transformational capability and its increasing role in promoting regional stability and enhancing the US-Japan security alliance,” Lockheed Martin said in a statement.
The navy’s two large helicopter carriers, the Izumo and Kaga, will be modified for F-35B operations, the paper said.
The 248-meter (814 ft) long Izumo-class ships are as big as any of Japan’s aircraft carriers in World War Two. They will need reinforced decks to withstand the heat blast from F-35 engines and could be fitted with ramps to aid short take-offs, two defense ministry officials told Reuters.

TRADE WAR THREAT
The new F-35 order may also help Japan avert a trade war with the United States.
US President Donald Trump, who has threatened to impose tariffs on Japanese car imports, thanked Abe for buying the F-35s when the two met at a summit in Argentina this month.
Other US-made equipment on Japan’s shopping list includes two land-based Aegis Ashore air defense radars to defend against North Korean missiles, four Boeing Co. KC-46 Pegasus refueling planes to extend the range of Japanese aircraft, and nine Northrop Grumman E-2 Hawkeye early-warning planes.
Japan plans to spend 25.5 trillion yen ($224.7 billion) on military equipment over the next five years, 6.4 percent higher than the previous five-year plan. Cost-cutting will free up another 2 trillion yen for purchases, the procurement paper said.
Japan only spends about 1 percent of its gross domestic product (GDP) on defense, but the size of its economy means it already has one of the world’s largest militaries.
“The budget is increasing and there has been an acceleration to deploy capability as soon as possible,” Robert Morrissey, head of Raytheon Co’s unit in Japan, said this month.
Wary of North Korean promises to abandon ballistic missile development, Japan’s military is buying longer-range Raytheon SM-3 interceptor missiles able to strike enemy warheads in space.
The defense papers assessed non-traditional military threats as well. A new joint-forces cyber unit will bolster Japan’s defenses against cyberattacks.
More electronic warfare capabilities are planned, and the air force will get its first space unit to help keep tabs on potential adversaries high above the Earth’s atmosphere. ($1 = 113.4800 yen)