Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

German Chancellor Angela Merkel waits for Slovakia's President to arrive for a meeting at the Chancellery on August 21, 2019 in Berlin. / AFP / Tobias SCHWARZ
Updated 21 August 2019

Merkel warns of Brexit economic pain before Johnson visit

  • “The economic sky is not cloudless,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference
  • “That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today"

BERLIN: German Chancellor Angela Merkel warned Wednesday of the economic impact of a chaotic no-deal Brexit, hours before she was to receive British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on his first foreign visit.
“The economic sky is not cloudless,” and global tensions and Britain’s impending departure from the European Union “are already causing us headaches,” Merkel told an aviation industry conference.
“That’s why I will talk with the British prime minister, who is visiting me today, about how we can avoid friction as much as possible as Britain exits the EU because we have to struggle to achieve economic growth,” the leader of the bloc’s biggest economy added.
Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert stressed that an orderly Brexit would be “in every respect preferable” to a disorderly withdrawal of Britain, but that Germany was also preparing for the worst-case scenario.
Johnson, in a “do-or-die” gamble, has insisted Britain will leave the EU on October 31, no matter whether it has ironed out remaining differences with the bloc or not, at the risk of economic turmoil.
He is seeking to convince Merkel, and then French President Emmanuel Macron, to renegotiate elements of the UK’s impending divorce from the bloc, including the so-called Ireland backstop plan — something the EU leaders have already ruled out.
He hopes that the other 27 EU members will blink and make concessions to avoid a no-deal Brexit that would hurt people and companies on both sides of the Channel.
Ahead of his Berlin visit, Johnson reaffirmed in a tweet that “we’re going to leave the EU on October 31st and make this country the best in the world to live in,” the message adorned with a Union Jack flag.
In Berlin, Johnson will be received with military honors at 1600 GMT before his talks with Merkel, then head to France for a meeting with Macron on Thursday.
At the weekend, all three will meet US President Donald Trump, a vocal supporter of Brexit and its champion Johnson, and the leaders of Canada, Italy and Japan at a G7 summit in the French seaside resort of Biarritz.
Johnson’s tough stance has put him on a collision course with EU leaders who have insisted the withdrawal deal agreed under his predecessor Theresa May is final and stressed the need for unity among the other 27 nations.
EU Council President Donald Tusk and Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar said the bloc would not cave in to Johnson’s demand to scrap the backstop plan, which would keep Britain in the European customs union if no trade deal is signed.
Johnson has slammed the backstop as “undemocratic” and charged it would prevent Britain from pursuing a trade policy independent of EU rules.
Berenberg Bank senior economist Kallum Pickering predicted that “if Johnson hopes to persuade Merkel and Macron to sweet-talk Varadkar into changing his tune, he will likely be disappointed.”
“All of the EU’s actions so far since the Brexit vote demonstrate that the EU’s priority is the cohesion of the 27.”
Merkel struck a cautiously hopeful note on Tuesday, declaring that the EU was open to “a practical arrangement” for the Irish border if it ensured trade and peace under the Good Friday Agreement.
Given the shock and dismay Brexit has sparked in continental Europe, its vocal champion, the flamboyant former London mayor and ex-foreign minister Johnson, is sure to meet political headwinds.
German media regularly characterises Johnson as a reckless political showman with Trump-style populist tendencies.
News magazine Der Spiegel recently caricatured him as the tooth-gapped cover boy Alfred E. Neuman of the American humor magazine Mad, with the headline “Mad in England.”
Tabloid-style Bild daily nominated Johnson as its “loser of the day” Wednesday after he “hit a brick wall” in his attempts to convince Merkel and Tusk to renegotiate parts of the withdrawal agreement.
The conservative Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung judged that “Johnson knows that the other 27 EU members will not throw Ireland under a bus, nor will they do anything to harm the integrity of the single market.
“His ‘alternative arrangements’ are just hot air. May spent the last three years looking for alternatives. There are none!“


School trip hijab clash sparks new secularism row in France

Updated 7 min 29 sec ago

School trip hijab clash sparks new secularism row in France

  • Far-right politician Julien Odoul asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to a regional parliament to remove her headscarf
  • The issue has divided politicians and citizens in a country that often struggles with finding a balance between individual religious freedom and constitutionally-guaranteed secularism

PARIS: A new row over secularism and the wearing of the Islamic hijab in public buildings has erupted in France after a far-right politician asked a woman accompanying her son and other children on a school trip to remove her headscarf.
The issue has divided politicians and citizens in a country that often struggles with finding a balance between individual religious freedom and constitutionally-guaranteed secularism in the public sector, including schools.
Julien Odoul, a member of Marine Le Pen’s National Rally (RN) party, caused widespread outrage when he posted a video on Twitter of him confronting a woman who accompanied pupils last Friday to the regional parliament in Bourgogne-Franche-Comte in eastern France.
Citing “secular principles” in the wake of the killings in Paris this month of four police staff by a radicalized convert to Islam, he insisted the woman, whose son was among the group, remove her headscarf.
Members of the RN then walked out of the chamber before issuing a press statement denouncing “an Islamist provocation.”
But many, including regional parliament speaker Marie-Guite Dufay, criticized Odoul’s actions, saying neither the law of the country nor the rules of the chamber prohibited a member of the public wearing a headscarf.
Dufay denounced a “surge of hatred” and what she described as “undignified behavior” on the part of a lawmaker.
With the RN playing up the issue, the controversy has exposed divisions within the centrist ruling party of President Emmanuel Macron which is keenly aware Marine Le Pen’s faction is its chief political foe.
Even the country’s Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer seemed unable to pick a side, stressing Sunday that “the law does not prohibit women wearing headscarves to accompany children,” while saying “the headscarf itself is not desirable in our society” because of “what it says about the status of women, what it says about our values.”
Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye also weighed in, saying it was important to allow space for exchanges between women who wear headscarves and those who do not, as this promoted “inclusivity.”
But Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire came to the defense of “a culture in which religion remains in the intimate, private sphere and does not have a place in (the) public sphere.”
And Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin added: “I would prefer that women in the Republic, in France, do not wear a headscarf.”
Prime Minister Edouard Philippe told parliament he was opposed to any kind of new law specifically targeting what should be worn on school trips.
The controversy is the latest in France over face and body-covering garments which many perceive as inappropriate in a secular country while others argue the garments allow Muslim women to be active participants in French society.
The French state and church were officially separated by law in 1905 to give form to the concept of secularism rooted in the 1789 French Revolution.
In 2004, the government prohibited the wearing of conspicuous religions symbols in public schools and banned the hijab — a garment that covers a woman’s hair but leaves her face exposed — from classrooms and government offices.
The country with Europe’s largest Muslim population is also deeply divided over the body-concealing “burkini” swimsuit, with opposition to the garment forcing the closure of some swimming pools earlier this year in the midst of a heatwave.
Also this year, French sports retailer Decathlon was forced by public pressure to back down from a plan to sell a runner’s hijab in France.
An opinion poll released on Monday found that two in three French people are in favor of prohibiting parents accompanying kids on school trips from wearing visible religious symbols.
France does not officially collect data on religious affiliation but is believed to have a Muslim population of just under 10 percent. Not all are observant.
A study published in September by the IFOP polling group found that more than half of Muslim men questioned said they went to the mosque every Friday, compared to about one in five women.
The upper house of parliament, the Senate, will discuss the subject as early as next week, with a committee examining a draft law seeking to “ensure the religious neutrality of people who contribute to the public service of education.”