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.”


Trump accepts Queen Elizabeth’s invite for UK state visit in June

Updated 12 min 23 sec ago
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Trump accepts Queen Elizabeth’s invite for UK state visit in June

  • The trip is likely to be controversial given many Britons deeply dislike Trump and reject his policies

LONDON: Donald Trump has accepted Queen Elizabeth’s invitation to make a state visit to Britain in June, becoming only the third US president to have been accorded the honor by the monarch, Buckingham Palace said on Tuesday.
The trip is likely to be controversial given many Britons deeply dislike the man and reject his policies on issues such as immigration. Protests involving tens of thousands of demonstrators overshadowed a visit by Trump to Britain last July and organizers said they were planning a “huge demonstration” against his state visit.
The opposition Labour Party strongly criticized Prime Minister Theresa May for pressing ahead with the state visit, which May offered to Trump when she became the first foreign leader to visit him after his inauguration in January 2017.
Trump and his wife Melania will visit from June 3-5, the palace said, adding that further details would be announced in due course. State visits are usually pomp-laden affairs featuring an open-top carriage trip through central London and a banquet at Buckingham Palace.
“The UK and United States have a deep and enduring partnership that is rooted in our common history and shared interests,” May said in a statement.
May, who is facing calls for her resignation from some lawmakers in her own Conservative Party over her handling of the country’s exit from the European Union, which is still stalled, will be hoping for strong backing for a post-Brexit US-UK trade deal.
The state visit would be an opportunity to strengthen already close ties in areas such as trade, investment, security and defense, she said.
During his trip last year, Trump shocked Britain’s political establishment by giving a withering assessment of May’s Brexit strategy. He said she had failed to follow his advice such as suing the EU but later said May was doing a fantastic job.
“This is a President who has systematically assaulted all the shared values that unite our two countries, and unless Theresa May is finally going to stand up to him and object to that behavior, she has no business wasting taxpayers’ money on all the pomp, ceremony and policing costs that will come with this visit,” Emily Thornberry, Labour’s foreign affairs spokeswoman, said in a statement.
Trump’s visit in June, which coincides with events to mark the 75th anniversary of the D-Day landings in Normandy, France during World War Two, will include a meeting with May in Downing Street.

TEA AND PROTESTS
Last year, Trump was feted with a lavish dinner at Blenheim Palace, the birthplace of the British World War Two leader Winston Churchill, and he and his wife also had tea with the queen at Windsor Castle.
The president then breached royal protocol by publicly disclosing details of a conversation he had with the 93-year-old monarch about the complexities of Brexit.
Trump’s state visit has been a divisive issue for Britons since May issued the invitation, with more than 1.8 million people signing a petition calling for him to be prevented from making such a trip, leading to a debate in parliament in 2017.
More than 100 protests were planned across the country during his visit last year and police had to deploy 10,000 officers, an operation that cost nearly 18 million pounds.
The largest protest in London attracted some 250,000 according to organizers, bringing much of the capital to a standstill.
They promised a “Together Against Trump” protest in June.
“He is a symbol of the new far right, a politics of Islamophobia and anti-Semitism, of war and conflict, and walls and fences that are growing around the world,” said Shaista Aziz, from the Stop Trump coalition.
The queen, the world’s longest-reigning monarch, has met every USleader since Harry S. Truman except for Lyndon Johnson. Only two US presidents — Barack Obama in 2011 and George W. Bush in 2003 — have previously been invited for full state visits.
After leaving Britain, Trump will travel to France to meet French President Emmanuel Macron, the White House said.