Britain’s May bows to Brexit pressure in parliament

Britain's Prime Minister, Theresa May, arrives at Downing Street, in central London, Britain July 16, 2018. REUTERS/Henry Nicholls

By William James and Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May bowed to pressure from Brexit supporters in her governing Conservative Party on Monday, accepting their changes to a customs bill that underpins Britain’s departure from the European Union.

May, vulnerable in parliament after losing her party’s majority at an ill-judged election last year, has come under fire from both wings of her party over a hard-won Brexit plan, with one ex-minister calling it the “worst of all worlds”.

Eurosceptic lawmakers had targeted her government’s customs legislation to try to toughen up her plans to leave the EU, but instead of facing them down and fuelling tensions, her spokesman said the government would accept their four amendments.

It was not clear the move would fundamentally change her plans – the changes do little more than to put government policy into law, her spokesman said – but it was a victory of sorts for those lawmakers who say May has betrayed them on Brexit, the biggest shift in British trade and foreign policy for decades.

“We will be accepting those four amendments,” the spokesman told reporters, saying the government believed they were “consistent” with the white paper policy document ministers agreed earlier this month.

“We have accepted these amendments because we believe them to be consistent with the approach that was set out and agreed at Chequers,” he said.

May had to fight hard to get the agreement of cabinet ministers at her Chequers country residence for her vision for Britain’s future ties with the EU, only for it to be undermined by the resignations last week of her Brexit minister David Davis and foreign secretary Boris Johnson.

The plan, only a starting point for the second phase of talks with the EU, has come under fire from other eurosceptic lawmakers, who say the proposal to keep close customs ties to the EU betrays her commitment for a clean break with the bloc.

The battle over the amendments to the Taxation (Cross-border Trade) Bill, or customs bill, is unlikely to be the last that May and her team will have to face.

“WORST OF BOTH WORLDS”

On Monday, the other wing of May’s Conservative Party – those lawmakers who want to keep the closest possible ties with the EU after Brexit – spoke up in the voice of former education minister Justine Greening who called for a second referendum.

Greening said such a vote was the only way to break the stalemate in parliament over the best future relationship with the bloc and branded May’s plan as “a fudge I can’t support. It’s the worst of both worlds”.

May’s spokesman said there would be no second referendum under any circumstances, and restated her position that the Chequers plan was the only way to deliver a Brexit that worked in the best interests of the country.

Another pro-EU lawmaker Dominic Grieve, who has led previous efforts to get the government to soften its Brexit stance, said the party needed to accept compromises “or accept that Brexit cannot be implemented and think again about what we are doing”.

For now the impetus lies with the Brexit supporters.

Jacob Rees-Mogg, an arch eurosceptic who proposed the amendments, said he did not expect the bill, or another bill on trade due to be debated on Tuesday, to be blocked outright by the 650-member parliament. Rees-Mogg said that he wanted rather to test the support in parliament for changing her strategy.

“I’m sure Theresa May does not want to split the Conservative Party and therefore she will find that the inevitable consequence of the parliamentary arithmetic is that she will need to change it (the Brexit policy) to keep the party united,” Rees-Mogg said.

(Reporting by William James, additional reporting by Michael Holden and Elizabeth Piper; Editing by David Stamp and Gareth Jones)

Donald Trump’s visit puts Britain’s Brexit dependence on show

FILE PHOTO: U.S. President Donald Trump shake hands with Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May during the World Economic Forum (WEF) annual meeting in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2018. REUTERS/Carlos Barria/File Photo

By Guy Faulconbridge and William James

LONDON (Reuters) – When Donald Trump visits Britain next week, Prime Minister Theresa May will have to face a harsh reality: Brexit makes Britain more dependent than ever on an alliance with the most unpredictable U.S. president in living memory.

Sandwiched between a NATO meeting and a summit with Russia’s Vladimir Putin, Trump’s first visit to Britain as president comes at one of the most important junctures for Europe and the West since the 1991 fall of the Soviet Union.

From challenging Western assumptions about the EU and free trade to courting the Kremlin and North Korea’s leader, Trump has delivered on his promise of an “unpredictable” U.S. foreign policy.

That leaves May, who held hands with Trump at the White House during her visit after his inauguration, in a difficult position as she seeks closer trade ties with the United States to offset the disruption of leaving the EU on March 29, 2019.(F

“The irony is that by leaving the EU, the United Kingdom will be less useful to Washington as an ally but it will also need the United States much more,” said Jeffrey A. Stacey, a former State Department official in Obama’s administration.

“So May has been thrown into the arms of the most unpredictable U.S. president in living memory,” Stacey said.

Over 50,000 people have signed up for a protest on Trafalgar Square in central London against the Trump visit, which will include a meeting with Queen Elizabeth and possibly even a round of golf at his Turnberry course in Scotland.

Even taking account of Trump’s penchant for deal making, the visit is likely to be heavy on rhetoric about an increasingly lopsided “special relationship” and short on specifics such as the details of a post-Brexit trade deal.

For supporters, Trump and Brexit offer the prospect of breaking free from what they see as obsolete institutions and rules that have weakened the United States and its allies relative to competitors such as China.

But for many British diplomats, Brexit marks the collapse of a 70-year British strategy of trying to balance European integration with a U.S. alliance based on blood, trade and intelligence sharing.

“May’s rushed diplomacy with Trump has been foolish: what has she actually got out of the relationship so far?” said one senior European diplomat in London, who spoke on condition of anonymity.

“You Brits are leaving Europe but do you really want to jump into the arms of Donald Trump’s America? And more importantly, do you have a choice?” the diplomat asked.

HOLDING HANDS

Trump’s victory in the 2016 presidential election shocked British diplomats in Washington and relations between May, a vicar’s daughter, and Trump have been strained at times.

The enduring image of May’s visit to the White House in January 2017, when she became the first foreign leader to meet the president after he took office, was Trump taking May’s hand to help her down the steps of a White House colonnade.

But any good vibrations from that moment soon dissipated when Trump, the same day, announced plans to ban migrants from seven Muslim-majority countries – a decision that drew fierce international criticism and appeared to blindside May.

Days later, thousands marched on parliament to protest the decision to offer a Trump full state visit to Britain, and 1.8 million people signed a petition saying the invitation should be canceled because he might embarrass the Queen.

Trump has repeatedly thwarted British and other European diplomatic overtures, withdrawing from multilateral agreements on climate change, human rights, and a treasured deal to curb Iran’s nuclear ambitions in exchange for lifting sanctions.

Officials around May insist that Britain still has the capability to influence Trump, outlining a handling strategy that involves appealing to his self interest, “planting the seed” of an idea and allowing him time to consider its merits.

But, much will rest on the personal dynamic between May, a staid, career politician who prides herself on careful decision-making, and Trump, the brash, often-bellicose, former reality TV star who declared last month he would know within a minute whether a deal could be struck with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un

“We talk about Trump and Macron because it seems interesting with some upsides. We talk about Trump and Angela Merkel because it’s ‘difficult'” said Leslie Vinjamuri, head of the U.S. and Americas program at the Chatham House think tank.

“Theresa May gets a bit lost in all of that. She has neither been strong nor weak, there doesn’t seem to be any special affection.”

Asked at last month’s G7 meeting in Canada whether Trump was a “good friend” to Britain, May said: “The United States and the United Kingdom are good friends. President Trump and I work together.”

But just hours after the meeting concluded he tore up a joint communique on trade, equality and the environment that May and other G7 leaders had labored late into the night to agree.

Therein lies the difficulty for May.

“When he’s here, he’ll give, but I think when he walks away he will very quickly forget what the visit was about,” Vinjamuri said.

(Editing by Angus MacSwan)

Soros donation to halt Brexit causes storm in Britain

Business magnate George Soros arrives to speak at the Open Russia Club in London, Britain June 20, 2016.

By Guy Faulconbridge

LONDON (Reuters) – News that billionaire financier George Soros is a backer of a campaign group seeking to keep Britain in the EU added fire to Britain’s Brexit debate on Thursday, with supporters of quitting the bloc accusing opponents of plotting a “coup”.

The Best of Britain campaign group confirmed it had received 400,000 pounds from Soros. Soros, best known in Britain for earning billions betting against the pound in the early 1990s, is the target of a hostile media campaign by the nationalist government in his native Hungary and a hate figure for rightwing campaigners in eastern Europe and the United States.

Best of Britain said it had obeyed all rules on political funding in accepting the donation from Soros.

Prime Minister Theresa May’s office repeated its long-standing position that the decision to leave the EU in 2019 after a vote in 2016 was final and would not be reversed. It also defended the right of campaign groups to accept donations.

The Daily Telegraph newspaper, which first reported Soros’s involvement, said the 87-year-old former hedge fund manager was backing a “secret plot” to stop Brexit. The article was written by Nick Timothy, a former chief of staff to May.

Mark Malloch-Brown, a former British diplomat who is chair of the Best for Britain campaign group, said the group had never hidden its aims, which include staying in the EU.

“George Soros’s foundations have along with a number of other major donors also made significant contributions to our work,” Malloch-Brown said in a statement, confirming Soros had contributed 400,000 pounds through his charitable foundations.

May’s spokesman said: “There are many political and campaign groups in this country, that’s entirely right and as you would expect in a democracy.”

“The prime minister’s position on this matter is clear, the country voted to leave the European Union, that’s what we are going to deliver and there won’t be a second referendum.”

BREXIT REVERSED?

In the United Kingdom’s 2016 referendum, 51.9 percent, or 17.4 million people, voted to leave the EU while 48.1 percent, or 16.1 million people, voted to stay. Both sides accepted large donations from wealthy individuals.

Ever since the shock vote, supporters of EU membership have been exploring an array of different legal and political methods to prevent what they see as the biggest mistake in post-World War Two British history.

Brexiteers say such efforts threaten political stability as they go against the democratic will of 17.4 million people. They have vowed to fight any attempt to stop Brexit.

“The new Soros-led coalition is planning a coup in Britain, against the democratic will of the people,” Richard Tice, who chairs the Leave Means Leave campaign group, told Reuters. “They have been outed and will be defeated.”

May, whose government and party is divided over Brexit, has just eight months to strike a deal with the EU on the terms of Britain’s withdrawal.

Opponents of Brexit hope to focus their efforts on blocking British parliamentary approval for the exit deal, a step that if successful could sink May’s premiership. There is, though, little sign so far of a change in opinion among voters, and the supporters of EU membership lack a popular leader who could unite the disparate groups opposed to Brexit.

Brexiteers such as Nigel Farage say public opposition to Brexit from the likes of former Prime Minister Tony Blair and Goldman Sachs Group Inc <GS.N> Chief Executive Lloyd Blankfein are unlikely to sway British public opinion.

With no deal, Britain would face a disorderly Brexit that many investors fear would imperil Britain’s $2.7 trillion economy, disrupt trade across the world’s biggest trading bloc and undermine London’s position as the only financial centre to rival New York.

($1 = 0.7209 pounds)

(Reporting by Guy Faulconbridge; Editing by Peter Graff)

Stop meddling in foreign elections, UK’s Johnson tells Russian hosts

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov (R) and British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson attend a news conference following their talks in Moscow, Russia December 22,

By Andrew Osborn and Vladimir Soldatkin

MOSCOW (Reuters) – British foreign minister Boris Johnson told his Russian counterpart on Friday there was “abundant evidence” of Moscow meddling in foreign elections, but said any Russian efforts to interfere in last year’s Brexit referendum had fallen flat.

On the first visit to Russia by a British foreign minister in five years, Johnson said he wanted to normalize UK-Russia relations, which were going through “a very difficult patch”.

But that didn’t mean pretending that Britain did not have serious concerns about Russia’s behavior, he said.

” … We can’t pretend that they (the problems) do not exist, and that we share a common perspective on the events in Ukraine, or in the Western Balkans or … on Russian activities in cyberspace,” said Johnson.

He also said Britain had a duty to speak up for the LGBT community in Chechnya. Two men from Chechnya told Reuters in June they had been tortured because they were gay. Chechen authorities deny the allegations.

Johnson’s visit comes at a time when relations between London and Moscow are strained by differences over Ukraine and Syria as well as by allegations, which Russia flatly denies, that Moscow has meddled in the politics of various European countries by backing cyber attacks and disinformation campaigns.

BREXIT

Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov challenged that narrative, however, saying Johnson himself had recently said he had no proof that Moscow had meddled in last year’s British referendum on leaving the European Union.

“Not successfully, not successfully, I think is the word,” Johnson — a leading advocate of Brexit — shot back, to which Lavrov replied: “He’s scared that if he doesn’t disagree with me, his reputation will be ruined at home.”

Johnson, who said there was abundant evidence of Russian election meddling in Germany, the United States and other countries, said it was Lavrov’s reputation he was worried about.

“I think it is very important … to recognize that Russian attempts to interfere in our elections or in our referendum, whatever they may have been, they’ve not been successful,” said Johnson.

Lavrov said he blamed Britain for the poor state of relations, complaining about “insulting and aggressive statements” from London. He also complained about Britain airing its differences with Moscow publicly rather than in private.

But although the two men spent much of their joint news conference exchanging barbs, both sounded upbeat when it came to trying to cooperate in narrow areas, such as in the U.N. Security Council, and on security arrangements for next year’s soccer World Cup in Russia.

Lavrov complained, however, that Britain was still not fully cooperating with Russia’s FSB security service.

Johnson had riled Russian officials before his visit by telling Britain’s Sunday Times newspaper that Moscow was “closed, nasty, militaristic and anti-democratic”.

But when asked about the comment on Friday, he rowed back, saying he had been referring to the Soviet Union, not modern Russia.

Russian media has portrayed Johnson as anti-Russian. Johnson told reporters on Friday however that he was “a committed Russophile”.

(Editing by Catherine Evans)

‘Congratulations’: EU launches next phase of Brexit but warns of tough talks ahead

'Congratulations': EU launches next phase of Brexit but warns of tough talks ahead

By Philip Blenkinsop and Robin Emmott

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – The European Union agreed on Friday to move Brexit talks onto trade and a transition pact but some leaders cautioned that the final year of Britain’s divorce negotiations could be fraught with peril.

On the second day of a Brussels summit, EU leaders agreed “sufficient progress” was made after a deal on citizens’ rights, the Irish border and Britain’s outstanding payments, giving negotiators a mandate to move on to the main phase of talks.

“EU leaders agree to move on to the second phase of Brexit talks. Congratulations PM Theresa May,” European Council President Donald Tusk, who chairs EU summits, said on Twitter.

Discussion of a transition period to calm nerves among businesses is due to start in the new year, although talks on a future free trade pact will not begin until after March — a date underlined by “guidelines” that set out how to proceed as Britain seeks to unravel more than 40 years of membership.

May replied via Twitter, thanking Tusk and European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker: “Today is an important step on the road to delivering a smooth and orderly Brexit and forging our deep and special future partnership,” May said.

“We will deliver on the will of the British people and get the best Brexit deal for our country – securing the greatest possible access to European markets, boosting free trade with countries across the world, and delivering control over our borders, laws and money,” she added.

However, the future partnership discussion is set to be difficult, leaders including German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Juncker and Italy’s Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni warned.

Austrian Chancellor Christian Kern went further, saying even a primary school student could see that the “first phase” deal on the Irish border would come back to haunt the talks because it was impossible for Britain to leave the bloc’s single market while avoiding a hard border on the island of Ireland.

“There cannot be any border controls between Northern and southern Ireland, there cannot be border controls between Northern Ireland and the UK, but there can between UK and the EU,” he said.

“So our primary school students can see that there is a riddle to be solved.”

In more formal language, leaders used the nine-point guidelines they agreed at the summit to support May’s call for a two-year transition out of the bloc, which aims to help British business and citizens adjust to life after the European Union.

Leaders reiterated their position that Britain cannot conclude a free-trade accord with the European Union until it has left and become a “third country”.

“AMBITION, CREATIVITY”

In coded language aimed at ensuring that Britain’s departure will not set a precedent for others and further undermine the bloc, leaders also agreed to “ensure a balance of rights and obligations” during Britain’s transition period.

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar cautioned that there were “quite divergent opinions” on how a new relationship and transition would look. EU officials are unsure exactly how far Britain should continue to receive the full, unfettered economic benefits of EU membership during a transition after it leaves, even if it loses political representation in Brussels.

A day after she suffered a defeat in parliament over her blueprint for quitting the EU, May won applause from her peers on Thursday evening. As she left to return to London, she said she was eager to move on, once her peers give the formal green light to trade talks on Friday.

The EU is willing to start talks next month on a roughly two-year transition period to ease Britain out after March 2019, but has asked for more detail from London on what it wants before it will open trade negotiations from March of next year.

A British government official said the prime minister was approaching the next phase, which will discuss a transition period as well as the terms of the future trading relationship, “with ambition and creativity”.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel gave her stamp of approval, but cautioned time was running out.

“We made clear that Theresa May has made an offer that should allow us to say that we have seen sufficient progress,” she told reporters. “Nevertheless, there are still a lot of problems to solve. And time is of the essence.”

May, weakened after losing her Conservative Party’s majority in a June election, has so far carried her divided government and party with her as she negotiated the first phase of talks on how much Britain should pay to leave the EU, the border with Ireland and the status of EU citizens in Britain.

But the next, more decisive phase of the negotiations will further test her authority by exposing the deep rifts among her top team of ministers over what Britain should become after Brexit.

(Additional reporting by Luke Baker, Alastair Macdonald and Liz Piper in Brussels; Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Alastair Macdonald; Editing by Mark John)

Britons can change terms of Brexit to diverge from EU: pro-Brexit minister Gove

Britons can change terms of Brexit to diverge from EU: pro-Brexit minister Gove

By Alistair Smout

LONDON (Reuters) – British voters will be able to change the terms of the country’s relationship with the European Union after leaving the bloc if they don’t like the final Brexit deal, senior cabinet minister and pro-Brexit lawmaker Michael Gove said on Saturday.

Britain and the EU achieved “sufficient progress” in Brexit negotiations on Friday to allow them to move on to discussing future trade ties, in a move welcomed by Gove and other Brexit supporters in Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservative Party.

However, while Gove, who is Britain’s environment minister, reiterated his support for May, he gave succour to critics of the deal by saying that if Britons were dissatisfied with the terms of Brexit, future governments could change it.

“The British people will be in control. By the time of the next election, EU law and any new treaty with the EU will cease to have primacy or direct effect in UK law,” Gove wrote in a column in the Daily Telegraph.

“If the British people dislike the arrangement that we have negotiated with the EU, the agreement will allow a future government to diverge.”

Britain is due to exit the EU in March 2019. The next election is not scheduled until 2022, though there has been speculation in British media that it could come earlier, given May’s lack of a parliamentary majority and deep divisions within her party about Brexit.

Some eurosceptic voices outside the government have said that May has betrayed British “leave” voters and given in to EU demands with the agreement.

TOUGH WEEK

It has been a tough week for May after Northern Ireland’s small Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) – whose support she needs in parliament – unexpectedly blocked an initial deal on Monday, leaving Britain and the EU scrambling to find wording acceptable to all sides ahead of next week’s summit of EU leaders.

While agreement was eventually reached on Friday, Gove said that all UK proposals were provisional on a final deal being done, and even then, that arrangement could be revisited by future governments.

Matthew Parris, an anti-Brexit columnist and former Conservative lawmaker, told BBC radio that Gove might envisage a situation in which he would be spearheading a new approach to Brexit.

But Gove, who was briefly in the running to lead the party last year, praised May on Saturday, and said the deal was a result of her “tenacity and skill”.

Fellow pro-Brexit cabinet colleague Andrea Leadsom defended his comments, saying it did not imply that May would be replaced before the next election.

“It’s simply the case that in taking back control (from Brussels)… it will be for the voters to determine what future governments do,” Leadsom told BBC radio. “I think it is a statement of the obvious.”

(Reporting by Alistair Smout; Editing by Gareth Jones)

Britain and EU clinch Brexit ‘breakthrough’ with move to trade talks

Britain and EU clinch Brexit 'breakthrough' with move to trade talks

By Alastair Macdonald and Gabriela Baczynska

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Britain and the European Union struck a divorce deal on Friday that paves the way for arduous trade talks, easing immediate pressure on Prime Minister Theresa May and boosting hopes of an orderly Brexit.

May rushed to Brussels before dawn to seal European Commission agreement that “sufficient progress” had been made to begin talks about trade and a two-year Brexit transition period that will start when Britain leaves the EU on March 29, 2019.

Negotiators in London, Brussels and Dublin worked through the night before breaking an impasse over the status of the Irish border, the last major obstacle to the opening of trade talks which EU leaders are due to bless at summit on Dec. 14-15.

Speaking before sunrise at the EU’s executive headquarters in Brussels after a hurried flight on a Royal Air Force plane, May said opening up trade talks would bring certainty for citizens and businesses about Britain’s future after quitting the EU.

“The most difficult challenge is still ahead,” European Council President Donald Tusk cautioned. “We all know that breaking up is hard. But breaking up and building a new relationship is much harder.”

May, looking weary after just a couple of hours sleep, spoke after European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker announced the breakthrough first in English and then in German and French.

The move to trade talks 18 months after the United Kingdom’s shock vote to exit the EU allayed some fears of a disorderly Brexit that could disrupt trade between the world’s biggest trading bloc and its sixth-largest national economy.

Sterling climbed to a six-month high against the euro <EURGBP=D3> on Friday before it fell back around midday to sit broadly flat, with one euro worth 87.4 pence, while bond yields across the euro zone rose. Against the U.S. dollar <GBP=D3> the pound also weakened.

BREXIT DIVORCE?

Facing 27 other members of the bloc, May largely conceded to the EU on structure, timetable and substance of the negotiations.

Moving to talks about trade and a Brexit transition was crucial for May’s own future after her premiership was thrown into doubt when she lost the ruling Conservative Party its majority in a snap election in June, unwisely called.

“I very much welcome the prospect of moving ahead,” said May, a 61-year-old Anglican vicar’s daughter who herself voted to stay in the EU in a referendum in June 2016 but has repeatedly insisted Britain will make a success of Brexit.

One senior British banker said the deal signaled that May would stay in power for now and that Britain was heading towards a much closer post-Brexit relationship with the EU than many had feared.

Draft guidelines showed the transition period, which would start on March 29, 2019, would last around two years. During that time, Britain will remain part of the customs union and single market but will no longer take part in EU institutions or have a vote.

It will also still be subject to EU law.

Pro-Brexit Conservative lawmakers rallied around her after the overnight deal, a possible signal that the party – which has been split over EU membership for generations – was not preparing to ditch her immediately despite the June election fiasco.

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson, who spearheaded the Brexit campaign, congratulated May, adding that Britain would now take back control of its laws, money and borders.

Supporters of a radical Brexit were tougher.

Brexit campaigner Nigel Farage struck a jarring note saying it was extraordinary a British premier had conceded so much in the middle of the night, agreeing to all the demands of Juncker, Tusk and EU negotiator Michel Barnier.

“The British prime minister has to fly through the middle of the night to go and meet three unelected people, who condescendingly say: ‘Now jolly well done May, you’ve met every single one of our demands, thank you very much, we can now move on to the next stage’.”

“BREAKTHROUGH”

The EU had insisted it would only move to trade talks if there was enough progress on three key issues: the money Britain must pay to the EU; rights for EU citizens in Britain and British citizens in the EU; and how to avoid a hard border with Ireland.

“I believe we have now made the breakthrough we needed,” Juncker said.

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier said it was not possible to put a concrete figure on the amount of money Britain will have to pay. Britain has said the divorce bill will cost it between 35 and 39 billion pounds.

On citizens rights, London and Brussels agreed to offer equal treatment on social security, health care, employment and education and that Britain will enable its judges to ask the European Court of Justice to weigh in when necessary for eight years after Brexit.

But the crucial breakthrough was on the future of the 310-mile (500 kms) UK-EU land border on the island of Ireland. The Northern Irish party which props up May’s minority government vetoed a draft deal on Monday.

May worked through most of the night, grabbing just a couple of hours sleep, as she worked the phones from Downing Street to secure agreement from Dublin, Brussels and the Democratic Unionist Party for her deal on the border.

They agreed to avoid a hard border which might upset the peace established after decades of violence, but said the details would be agreed as part of talks about the future relationship, according to a 15-page negotiators report.

In the text, Britain agreed that should London and Brussels fail to agree a final Brexit deal, the United Kingdom will maintain “full alignment” with those rules of the internal market and customs union that help protect north-south cooperation in Ireland.

“In all circumstances, the United Kingdom will continue to ensure the same unfettered access for Northern Ireland’s businesses to the whole of the United Kingdom internal market,” it said. .

The Democratic Unionist Party gave only a conditional endorsement of the new terms, four days after 11th-hour objections from Belfast scuppered May’s attempt to sign off on an accord over the Irish border.

“We cautioned the Prime Minister about proceeding with this agreement in its present form given the issues which still need to be resolved,” Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) leader Arlene Foster said.

“Nothing is agreed until everything is agreed and how we vote on the final deal will depend on its contents.”

(Writing by Guy Faulconbridge and Kate Holton in London; Additional reporting by Alistair Smout, William James, Costas Pitas and Andrew MacAskill in London, Padraic Halpin in Dublin, and; Editing by Richard Balmforth)

Redacted Brexit reports spark new row in UK parliament

Redacted Brexit reports spark new row in UK parliament

By Elizabeth Piper

LONDON (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May’s attempts to keep her Brexit plans secret provoked a new row on Tuesday when lawmakers criticized her for failing to hand over complete studies on the economic impact of Britain’s leaving the European Union.

The government had promised to share more than 50 studies on how Brexit would impact different economic sectors, but late on Monday, it gave them some of the reports with parts redacted because of what it called their sensitivity.

The lawmakers hit back, saying the government was riding roughshod over a democratically elected parliament.

“In my experience … the best decisions in life are the ones which are held up to the light and tested,” Keir Starmer, Brexit policy chief for the opposition Labour Party, told Sky News.

Arguments that the economy would suffer if it left the EU were rejected by many Britons at last year’s referendum when the country voted to leave.

But with the economy struggling with lower growth since the vote, some of those who argue that Britain should reverse its decision or at least strive for a softer Brexit that maintains close ties say knowledge of the impact could change minds.

The government has been reluctant to share its impact assessments, with May saying she has to play her cards close to her chest to win the best available deal with the EU.

Last month, parliament used an archaic rule to force the government to hand over what Brexit minister David Davis had earlier referred to as “our 57 studies (that) cover 85 percent of the economy – everything except sectors that are not affected by international trade”.

Late on Monday, Davis wrote to a parliamentary committee on Brexit that the papers had been redacted because he had not been given guarantees that lawmakers would keep the details secret.

That move, Labour and the Scottish National Party say, could place the government in contempt of parliament, which could lead to suspension or expulsion from the House of Commons.

“The government is under an obligation to pass this material to the Brexit Select Committee and, if it appears to be failing in the obligation, we intend to raise it with the Speaker,” Starmer told the BBC.

“The government could be in contempt of parliament.”

(Editing by Stephen Addison)

EU to sign joint defense pact in show of post-Brexit unity

EU to sign joint defense pact in show of post-Brexit unity

By Andrea Shalal and Robin Emmott

BERLIN/BRUSSELS (Reuters) – At least 20 countries in the European Union will sign up to a new defense pact next week, promoted by France and Germany, to fund and develop joint military hardware in a show of unity following Britain’s decision to quit the bloc.

After years of spending cutbacks in Europe and a heavy reliance on the United States through the NATO alliance, France and Germany hope the accord, to be signed on Nov. 13 in Brussels, will tie nations into tighter defense collaboration covering troops and weapons.

The Permanent Structured Cooperation, or PESCO, could be the biggest leap in EU defense policy in decades and may go some way to matching the bloc’s economic and trade prowess with a more powerful military.

But differences remain between Paris and Berlin over what countries legally bound by the pact should do, EU diplomats said.

France wanted a core group of governments to bring money and military assets to PESCO as well as a willingness to intervene abroad. Germany has sought to broaden the pact to make it inclusive, which some experts say could make it less effective.

“This has to bring about a higher level of commitment if it is going to work,” said a EU official, describing PESCO as a ‘defense marriage’. “The EU already has plenty of forums for discussion,” the official said.

So far France, Germany, Italy, Spain and around 16 other EU countries have pledged to join the pact, which could formally be launched when EU leaders meet in December. Some other members, including Denmark, Portugal, Malta and Ireland, have yet to commit themselves publicly.

But it was clear that Britain, which intends to leave the bloc following the Brexit referendum of June 2016, would not participate, officials said. Britain has long sought to block EU defense cooperation, fearing it could result in an EU army.

French diplomats said the pact would have several areas where EU governments would agree to work together and pledge funds, including EU military operations, investment and acquiring defense capabilities together as a group.

A German official said the initiative won momentum from French President Emmanuel Macron’s call for a European intervention force in September and U.S. President Donald Trump’s insistence that Europe do more for its security.

Proposals for PESCO include work on a European medical command and a network of logistic hubs in Europe, creation of a crisis response center, and joint training of military officers.

A key goal is to reduce the numbers of weapons systems and prevent duplication to save money and improve joint operations.

It could also serve as an umbrella for projects such as a Franco-German initiative to design a new fighter jet, and existing bilateral military cooperation agreements, such as the close ties between Germany and the Netherlands.

MILITARY “SCHENGEN”

Efforts under the pact will be closely coordinated with the U.S.-led NATO alliance to ensure transparency and avoid any redundancies, the German official said.

One area where NATO and EU officials see common ground is in the need for a military zone for free movement of troops and equipment, loosely based on the EU’s passport-free travel “Schengen” zone.

“I welcome integration to the maximum extent practical. We obviously want to avoid duplication and maximize transparency,” U.S. Air Force General Tod Wolters, NATO Allied Air Commander, told Reuters.

Under the plans, the North Atlantic Treaty Organisation would focus on collective defense, while PESCO would ensure a quicker and more efficient EU response to events like the 2014 Ebola crisis in Africa, the official said.

“This will not happen in competition with NATO,” the German official said.

(Reporting by Andrea Shalal and Robin Emmott; Editing by Richard Balmforth and Peter Graff)

Britain’s May urges EU to break deadlock in Brexit talks

Britain's Prime Minister Theresa May (C) attends the EU summit in Brussels, Belgium October 19, 2017. REUTERS/Yves Herman

By Elizabeth Piper and Alastair Macdonald

BRUSSELS (Reuters) – Prime Minister Theresa May urged the European Union on Thursday to break the deadlock and move forward with Brexit talks, asking the bloc’s leaders to respond with “urgency” on easing the fears of their citizens living in Britain.

Arriving at a two-day summit in Brussels with other EU leaders, May sought to lower any remaining expectation that she could win a breakthrough in the talks to unravel more than 40 years of union. Instead, she turned the focus to making progress in the coming weeks, particularly on citizens’ rights.

Weakened by losing her Conservative Party’s majority in a June election and failing to rally support at an ill-fated party conference, May cannot move on the EU’s insistence on increasing her pay offer for the divorce agreement.

She is hamstrung by demands in her own party for her to walk away unless the EU agrees to moving the talks forward to discuss trade, and Germany which does not want to be left with a large bill when Britain leaves the bloc in March 2019.

“We’ll … be looking at the concrete progress that has been made in our exit negotiations and setting out ambitious plans for the weeks ahead. I particularly, for example, want to see an urgency in reaching an agreement on citizens’ rights,” May told reporters.

But she avoided questions about increasing the amount Britain is willing to pay when it leaves the EU, instead referring back to a speech last month in Italy when she outlined an offer of around 20 billion euros ($24 billion) to try to improve the tone.

“That speech … set out that ambitious vision and I look forward to us being able to progress that in the weeks ahead,” she said.

Without a new offer on the money, May has attempted to change the focus by offering concessions on the protection of the rights of around 3 million EU citizens living in Britain, promising to make it as easy as possible for them to stay.

On her Facebook page, May wrote that “we are in touching distance of agreement” and asked the EU to show the “flexibility and creativity” to secure a deal in the coming weeks.

While welcome, this is unlikely to alter the outcome of the Brussels summit, where on Friday morning, when May has left, the bloc is expected to say the Brexit talks had not yet made enough progress for them to open the post-Brexit trade negotiations.

CHANGE OF TACK

That lack of movement has increased the pressure on May from her own party, particularly a small number of Brexit campaigners who have long said that the prime minister should walk away from the talks if the EU did not move them forward.

In an open letter to May on Thursday, pro-Brexit lawmakers and business people said that unless the talks moved to trade, Britain should signal it is ready to be subject to World Trade Organization (WTO) rules from March 30, 2019, when Brexit takes effect.

The government says it does not want to crash out of the EU and is working to secure a deal. But comments that ministers are planning for the possibility of a no deal have been pounced on by the Britain’s main opposition Labour Party.

Jeremy Corbyn, whose party has matched and sometimes beats May’s Conservatives in the opinion polls, arrived in Brussels on Thursday to meet EU lawmakers to try to break “the Brexit logjam” created by what he called government “bungling”.

Seen as having little chance of becoming prime minister last year, Corbyn is now being listened to in Brussels and was due to meet the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, and other officials on Thursday.

Recognising May’s position at home, EU leaders are expected to make a “gesture” by telling EU staff to prepare for talks on a transition period needed to ease uncertainty for business. But they warn there is still a lot to be done.

“We have to work really hard between October and December to finalise this so-called first phase and to start negotiating on our future relationship with the UK,” Donald Tusk, the chairman of EU leaders, said on Wednesday.

($1 = 0.8454 euros)

(additional reporting by William James and Estelle Shirbon in London, Philip Blenkinsop and Gabriela Baczynska in Brussels; Editing by Alison Williams)