May’s Brexit ‘Moment of Truth’

Britain’s Theresa May scrambled Wednesday to sell to her Cabinet a draft Brexit divorce agreement British negotiators concluded after months of wrangling with their European Union counterparts.

But the 500-page draft remains a source of deep dispute within Britain’s ruling Conservative party and also in the country’s parliament, which will have the final say on whether to approve it.

As news emerged Tuesday that a text had been agreed, hardline Brexiteers lined up to attack the proposed agreement with former British foreign minister Boris Johnson, who resigned earlier this year, urging other ministers to join him in opposing the terms of the deal. Britain’s main opposition parties also announced their disapproval of the deal, which has not even been published yet. 

The agreement, if approved by the Cabinet and subsequently the British parliament, would see Britain remaining in a customs union for several years with the EU after it formally exits the bloc in March, but with an unclear legal path to quitting the customs arrangement while a fuller trade deal is negotiating.

Remaining in a customs union allows Britain and the EU to avoid introducing customs checks along the border separating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and would also allow “frictionless trade” between Britain and its erstwhile partners in the EU.

Tough sell

But critics say it would reduce Britain to the status of a “vassal state” by requiring it to accept EU rules and regulations without having any say about them. It would also block Britain from signing trade deals with other countries while a trade agreement is concluded with the EU, which itself could take three or four years or even longer. Reaching trade deals independently with non-EU countries was a key selling point of Brexit for many who voted nearly two years ago in a referendum to relinquish EU membership.

“This is just about as bad as it could possibly be,” Johnson fumed Tuesday to reporters in the corridors of the British House of Commons. Other Brexiteers joined him to denounce the proposed deal, one they are determined to sabotage and which runs, they say, contrary to the Conservative Party manifesto they fought an election on a year.

“For the first time in a thousand years this place, this parliament will not have a say over the laws which govern this country. It is quite an incredible state of affairs,” Johnson added.

“She hasn’t so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels… the UK will be a slave state,” said Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Conservatives’ future at stake

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Theresa May. The draft agreement, May’s fate as Prime Minister and the longevity of the Conservative government are all hanging in the balance. The consequences of the process to get the draft agreement approved are difficult to guess and could end up sinking May, the Conservative government and even Brexit itself. “I don’t think anyone knows, to be truthful,” said Labour lawmaker Chuka Umunna.

May’s minority government relies on the votes in the House of Commons on a handful of lawmakers from a quirky Protestant-based Unionist party, which is also opposed to the draft deal.

Without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, and faced with an inevitable revolt by dozen of Conservative lawmakers, May will need to persuade opposition lawmakers to break with their party leaderships by arguing her deal is the best Britain can get.

Second vote?

But an increasing number of opposition lawmakers are jumping on the bandwagon of the People’s Vote movement, which is calling for a second Brexit referendum. Recent opinion polls suggest a majority of voters now, especially in traditional Labour heartlands, many of which voted in June 2016 for Brexit, now want Britain to retain EU membership, fearing the economic fallout from departure.

But even before seeking next month parliamentary backing for the draft customs union deal, May has to persuade her cabinet to back her — and that is not even a sure thing. On Tuesday — ahead of a full cabinet meeting called for Wednesday afternoon — May took a leaf out of the playbook of her Conservative predecessor Margaret Thatcher, who in 1990 called in ministers one by one to place them on the spot and demand their support. However, the tactic backfired on Thatcher and she was forced to resign. 

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith predicts May’s days will be numbered if she fails to reverse course and decides not to pursue a cleaner break from the EU. “If the cabinet agrees it, the party certainly won’t,” he said. Conservative lawmakers who want Britain to remain in the EU are also publicly opposing the draft agreement, placing May in a tight political vice.

Leave-supporting ministers were coming under intense pressure from hardline Brexiteers in the hours leading up to the cabinet meeting to reject the deal. They pointed to a leaked EU document outlining a strategy to force Britain to accept an almost permanent alignment with its rules and regulations governing state aid, environmental protection and workers’ rights.

In a note to EU ambassadors, Sabine Weyand, a deputy EU negotiator, said the customs union will form the basis for Britain’s future trade deal with the bloc. “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. UK wants a lot more from the future relationship, so EU retains leverage,” she wrote. 

 

 

 

 

 

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Britain’s May Seeks Cabinet Approval for Brexit Deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a test Wednesday as she tries to get approval from her Cabinet for a draft agreement on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Negotiators from Britain and the EU reached the deal Tuesday after lengthy negotiations, but details have not been made public.

May must convince her senior ministers to support the agreement, which would later also need to be approved by Britain’s parliament.

But that task will not be easy with lawmakers sharply divided on the so-called Brexit, including criticism of May’s approach by both those who want Britain to leave the bloc and those who would rather it remain an EU member.

May has sought to keep as close a relationship as possible to the EU when Brexit becomes official on March 29, 2019.

One of the major sticking points in negotiations has been what to do about Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland. With Britain leaving the EU, an area that currently allows freedom of movement for people and goods requires new rules governing how those activities can continue.

Irish broadcaster RTE said the draft agreement includes a customs arrangement with special conditions for Northern Ireland.

During the negotiations, Britain has sought some sort of time limit for such an arrangement, while the EU has said it would need to be permanent.

May’s party does not have a majority in parliament and relies on the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

DUP leader Arlene Foster said a potential customs arrangement would weaken Britain and that the prime minister could not argue it is in the interest of the nation.

“It would be democratically unacceptable for Northern Ireland trade rules to be set by Brussels,” she said in a statement. “Northern Ireland would have no representation in Brussels and would be dependent on a Dublin government speaking up for our core industries.”

Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson expressed similar views in calling a customs deal “utterly unacceptable to anyone who believes in democracy.”

But May’s chief whip, Julian Smith, expressed optimism the agreement with the European Union will succeed.

“I’m confident we’ll get this through parliament and that we can deliver on what the prime minister committed to on delivering Brexit, but making sure that that is in the best interests of companies, businesses and families,” Smith said.

 

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

EU Court Rules Taste Cannot Be Copyrighted

The European Union’s highest court has ruled that the taste of a food cannot be protected by copyright.

The European Court of Justice said Tuesday “the taste of a food product cannot be identified with precision of objectivity,” thus making it ineligible “for copyright protection.”

Dutch cheese maker Levola had argued that a rival company copied its herbed spread called Heksenkaas or witches’ cheese. The company claimed Heksenkaas was a work protected by copyright and asked the Dutch courts to insist that the rival firm cease production and sale of its cheese.

But the judges ruled that unlike books, movies, songs and the like, the taste of food depends on personal preferences and the context in which the food is consumed, “which are subjective and variable.”

“Accordingly, the court concludes that the taste of a food product cannot be classified as a ‘work,’ and consequently is not eligible for copyright protection under the directive,” the judges said.

This is not the first time the European Court of Justice had to settle disputes about food.

In July, it ruled Nestle could not trademark the four-finger shape of its KitKat chocolate bars.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Norway Says Russia Jammed GPS Signal During NATO Drill

The Norwegian Defense Ministry said Tuesday that Russian forces in the Arctic disturbed GPS location signals during a recent large NATO drill in Norway.

The ministry said that Norway’s Foreign Ministry earlier had raised the issue with Russian authorities.

In an email Tuesday to The Associated Press, the ministry said it “was aware that that jamming has been recorded between Oct. 16 and Nov. 7 from the Russian forces” on the Arctic Kola peninsula.

NATO’s huge exercise Trident Juncture, which included soldiers from 31 countries, was staged in Norway from Oct. 25 to Nov. 7. Finland and Sweden, which are not NATO members, also took part in the drill.

The jamming of the location signals is not believed to have caused any accidents.

Over the weekend, Finnish Prime Minister Juha Sipila said his country’s GPS location signals were intentionally disrupted in the northern Lapland region.

Finland’s state Air Navigation Services issued a warning to civilian air traffic earlier last week.

Without providing any further evidence, Sipila said Sunday that neighboring Russia may have been to blame.

“It’s possible Russia was the disrupting party,” Sipila said in an interview with Finnish public broadcaster YLE.

Finnish President Sauli Niinisto has called for a thorough investigation into the incident.

The Russian Defense Ministry could not be reached Tuesday for comment on Norway’s claim. The Kremlin on Monday denied involvement in the Finnish GPS disturbance.

“We know nothing about Russia’s possible involvement in those GPS failures,” Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said according to TASS news agency. “There is a trend to blame all mortal sins on Russia.”

Russia is known to have substantial capabilities for electronic warfare. Experts say it has in recent years invested heavily in technology that can affect GPS location signals over a broad area.

The northern Arctic regions of Finland’s Lapland and Norway’s Finnmark are adjacent to Russia’s Kola peninsula, which is home to Russia’s Northern Fleet with major naval and submarine bases and other Russian military installations.

Asked about Finland’s claims, NATO’s Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters Monday that cyber and electronic warfare are becoming more and more widespread, “therefore we take all these issues very seriously.”

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Brexit Divorce Deal Draft Agreed by EU and UK; May’s Ministers to Meet

The European Union and Britain have agreed to a draft text of a Brexit withdrawal deal and Prime Minister Theresa May will present it to her senior ministers Wednesday.

While officials choreograph the first withdrawal of a sovereign state from the EU, it remains unclear whether May can get any deal approved by the British parliament.

“Cabinet will meet at 2 p.m. tomorrow to consider the draft agreement the negotiating teams have reached in Brussels, and to decide on next steps,” a spokesman at May’s Downing Street office said.

“Cabinet ministers have been invited to read documentation ahead of that meeting,” the spokesman said, after British media were leaked details of the breakthrough.

Sterling, which has seesawed since reaching $1.50 just before results of the 2016 referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU, surged to $1.3036.

Brexit will pitch the world’s fifth-largest economy into the unknown and many fear it will help to divide the West as it grapples with both the unconventional presidency of Donald Trump and growing assertiveness from Russia and China. Others says it will offer opportunities for Britain to develop new trading relationships beyond Europe.

The EU and the United Kingdom need an agreement to keep trade flowing between the world’s biggest trading bloc and the United Kingdom, home to the biggest international financial center.

But May has struggled to untangle nearly 46 years of EU membership without damaging trade or upsetting the lawmakers who will ultimately decide the fate of the divorce deal.

​Brexit deal

With less than five months until Britain leaves the EU, the so-called Northern Irish backstop was the main outstanding issue that held up the deal.

The backstop is an insurance policy to avoid a return to controls on the border between the British province of Northern Ireland and EU member Ireland if a future trading relationship is not agreed in time.

It was unclear what had been agreed on Ireland. The British government supplied no immediate details on the Brexit deal which runs to hundreds of pages.

According to Irish broadcaster RTE, the backstop will come in the form of a temporary UK-wide customs arrangement, with specific provisions for Northern Ireland which go deeper on the issue of customs and alignment with the rules of the single market than for the rest of the United Kingdom.

It will also include an agreed review mechanism, RTE said, adding that it understood there was still “further shuttling” to be done between London and Brussels.

But the intricacies are unlikely to stem the growing opposition to May at home: Brexit-supporting opponents fear she is signing up the United Kingdom to EU subjugation.

By seeking to leave the EU while preserving the closest possible ties, May’s compromise plan has upset Brexiteers, pro-Europeans, Scottish nationalists, the Northern Irish party that props up her government, and some of her own ministers.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Greek Authorities Say Lost Ancient City of Tenea Located

Greece’s culture ministry said Tuesday that archaeologists have located the first tangible remains of a lost city that the ancient Greeks believed was first settled by Trojan captives of war after the sack of Troy.

A ministry statement said excavations from September to early October in the southern Greek region of the Peleponnese turned up “proof of the existence of the ancient city” of Tenea, until now known mostly from ancient texts.

Finds included walls and clay, marble or stone floors of buildings, as well as household pottery, a bone gaming die and more than 200 coins dating from the 4th century B.C. to late Roman times.

A pottery jar containing the remains of two human fetuses was also found amid the foundations of one building. That was unusual, as the ancient Greeks typically buried their dead in organized cemeteries outside the city walls.

Lead archaeologist Elena Korka, who has been excavating in the area since 2013, told The Associated Press that her team had only been digging in the rich cemeteries surrounding Tenea until this year. In one, antiquities smugglers dug up two remarkable 6th century B.C. marble statues of young men in 2010 and tried to sell them for 10 million euros.

“This year we excavated part of the city itself,” Korka said.

Excavation work continues on the cemeteries, located near the modern village of Hiliomodi about 100 kilometers (60 miles) southwest of Athens.

Archaeologists discovered nine burials there this year, finding gold, copper and bone jewelry, pottery and coins dating from the 4th century B.C. to Roman times.

“The citizens seem to have been remarkably affluent,” Korka said, adding that the city probably did well out of trade, standing on a key route between the major cities of Corinth and Argos in the northeastern Peloponnese.

So far, not much was known about Tenea, apart from ancient references to the reputed link with Troy and to its citizens having formed the bulk of the Greek colonists who founded the city of Syracuse in Sicily.

Korka said more should emerge during the excavations, which will continue over coming years.

“[The city] had distinctive pottery shapes with eastern influences, maintained contacts with both east and west … and had its own way of thinking, which, to the extent that it could, shaped its own policies,” she said.

Tenea survived the Roman destruction of neighboring Corinth in 146 B.C., and flourished under Roman rule. It appears to have suffered damage during a Gothic invasion in the late 4th century A.D. and may have been abandoned around the time of Slavic incursions two centuries later.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Greater Paris to Ban Old Diesel Cars From Summer 2019

The Greater Paris region will become a low-emission zone from next summer, which will limit the circulation of old diesel cars, the regional authority decided on Monday.

The Metropole du Grand Paris council said on its Twitter feed it had voted to ban diesel cars registered before Dec. 31, 2000 from the area within the A86 second ring-road, which includes Paris and 79 municipalities around it, a region with 5.61 million inhabitants.

The ban will use France’s new “Crit’Air” vignette system, which identifies cars’ age and pollution level with color-coded stickers. Cars with the Crit’Air 5 sticker (1997 to 2000-registered diesels) as well as cars without a sticker will be banned.

The council plans to gradually tighten regulations in order to allow only electric or hydrogen-fueled cars on Greater Paris roads by 2030. In central Paris, pre-2000 diesels have been banned since July 2017.

Fifteen French metropolitan areas including Lyon, Nice, Aix-Marseille and Toulouse last month agreed to install or reinforce low-emission zones by 2020. The French government hopes this will prevent European Union sanctions over non-respect of European air quality standards.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

EU, UK Inch Closer to Deal as Brexit Hangs in Balance

Britain and the European Union appeared to be inching toward agreement on Brexit on Monday, but British Prime Minister Theresa May faced intensifying pressure from her divided Conservative government that could yet scuttle a deal.

Britain leaves the EU on March 29 — the first country ever to do so — but a deal must be sealed in the coming weeks to leave enough time for the U.K. and European Parliaments to sign off. May faces increasing domestic pressure over her proposals for an agreement following the resignation of another government minister last week.

The British leader had been hoping to present a draft deal to her Cabinet this week. But no Brexit breakthrough was announced Monday after talks between European affairs ministers. The two sides are locked in technical negotiations to try to bridge the final gaps in a move laden with heavy political and economic consequences. 

May said talks were in their “endgame” but that negotiating a divorce agreement after more than four decades of British EU membership was “immensely difficult.”

May told an audience at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet in London that “we are working extremely hard, through the night, to make progress on the remaining issues in the Withdrawal Agreement, which are significant.

“Both sides want to reach an agreement,” May said, though she added she wouldn’t sign up to “agreement at any cost.”

The main obstacle to a deal is how to keep goods flowing smoothly across the border between EU country Ireland and Northern Ireland in the U.K.

Both sides have committed to avoid a hard border with costly and time-consuming checks that would hamper business. Any new customs posts on the border could also re-ignite lingering sectarian tensions. But Britain and the EU haven’t agreed on how to achieve that goal.

“Clearly this is a very important week for Brexit negotiations,” Irish Foreign Minister Simon Coveney told reporters after the meeting in Brussels. “The two negotiating teams have really intensified their engagement … There is still clearly work to do.”

And Martin Callanan, a minister in Britain’s Brexit department, said all involved were “straining every sinew to make sure that we get a deal but we have to get a deal that is right for the U.K., right for the EU and one that would be acceptable to the U.K. Parliament.”

EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier didn’t speak to reporters Monday and a planned news conference with him was canceled.

Instead, EU headquarters issued a short statement saying that Barnier explained to the ministers that “intense negotiating efforts continue, but an agreement has not been reached yet.”

Dutch Foreign Minister Stef Blok said the two sides “are getting closer to each other.”

“But in negotiations there is only a deal if there is full agreement,” Blok said. “There is only a 100-percent deal. There is not a 90-percent deal or a 95-percent deal.”

Earlier, France’s EU affairs minister, Nathalie Loiseau, stepped up pressure on May. “The ball is in the British court. It is a question of a British political decision,” she said.

The EU is awaiting Barnier’s signal as to whether sufficient progress has been made to call an EU summit to seal a deal. 

Rumors have swirled of a possible top-level meeting at the end of November. But Austrian EU affairs minister Gernot Bluemel, whose country holds the EU’s rotating presidency, said “so far progress is not sufficient to call in and set up another (summit).”

In recent days there have been signs of progress behind the scenes, but all parties have remained tight-lipped about the developments, given the politically charged atmosphere.

In Britain, pro-Brexit and pro-EU politicians alike warned May that the deal she seeks is likely to be shot down by Parliament.

Boris Johnson, a staunch Brexit supporter, wrote in a column for Monday’s Daily Telegraph that May’s plan to adhere closely to EU regulations in return for a trade deal and an open Irish border amounts to “total surrender” to the bloc. 

The proposed terms are scarcely more popular with advocates of continued EU membership.

Former Education Secretary Justine Greening on Monday called May’s proposals the “worst of all worlds,” and said the public should be allowed to vote on Britain’s departure again.

“We should be planning as to how we can put this final say on Brexit in the hands of the British people,” Greening told the BBC.

Johnson’s younger brother, Jo Johnson, resigned last week backing calls for a second referendum on whether the country should leave the EU. May has consistently rejected the idea of another nationwide vote on Brexit.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Separatist Areas Elect Leaders as Ukraine, Russia Trade Barbs

Two separatist-controlled regions of eastern Ukraine announced the winners of leadership elections on Monday that were dismissed by Kyiv and its international allies as a sham exercise engineered by Russia to install puppet regimes.

The polls took place Sunday in the shadow of a conflict between Ukraine and Russian-backed rebels that has killed more than 10,000 people since 2014 and poisoned relations between the two neighbors.

The Donetsk region’s acting head Denis Pushilin, whose predecessor was killed in an explosion in August, was confirmed as leader with 61 percent of the vote while the acting chief of Luhansk region, Leonid Pasechnik, also won with 68 percent.

Kremlin aide Vladislav Surkov congratulated the winners, according to the separatist press service DAN, though a Kremlin spokesman later said he was not aware any congratulations had been extended.

The United States, European Union member states and Canada condemned the vote as illegal and in violation of a cease-fire agreed in Minsk, the capital of Belarus, in 2015.

“This reaction clearly states that, on the one hand, these elections will not be recognized by anyone. This is a brutal violation of the Minsk agreements,” Ukrainian President Petro Poroshenko said.

“On the other hand, there is a call for the responsibility of the Russian Federation as the organizer of these elections.”

Russia disputed that the elections violated the Minsk accord and instead blamed the Kyiv authorities for failing to honor its commitments in the peace process.

Kremlin spokesman Dmitry Peskov said he was not aware any congratulations had been sent to the rebels, but added that it was understandable they wanted to hold elections.

“We are talking about two regions that are completely rejected by the rest of the country and are under an absolute embargo. The Minsk accords are not being implemented by Kyiv,” Peskov told reporters on a conference call in Moscow.

Pushilin said it was a turning point in the region’s history. “We have proved to the whole world that we can not only fight, not only win on the battlefield, but also build a state based on real democratic principles,” he said Sunday.

Moscow-backed rebels seized territory in eastern Ukraine after street protests toppled pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovich in February 2014 and Russia annexed Crimea a month later.

Ukraine and the West say Russia de facto controls the eastern Donbass region by propping up puppet leaders with troops and heavy weaponry, which Moscow denies.

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.