Government problem with Russia – Winston Peters

Appointing Winston Peters to the role of Minister of Foreign Affairs was always going to be a risk for the Jacinda Ardern led government. Problems are already emerging, over Peters’ and Russia.

Hamish Rutherford at Stuff (Opinion): Winston Peters’ Russian trade deal hopes could cost New Zealand elsewhere

Anyone who follows international events will not have been surprised when the British Government began calling for action this week over the poisoning of a Russian double agent and his daughter in London.

More than a week ago the UK Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, stood in Parliament to warn of sanctions and punishment, suggesting that British officials may snub the upcoming football World Cup and that Russia was “a malign and disruptive force”.

So it was extremely strange that days later our own Foreign Minister, Winston Peters, an avowed Anglophile – he has called for a pan-Commonwealth free trade bloc – would go on television on Saturday and appear to question Russian involvement in other controversial events, the downing of a commercial jet over Ukraine and interference in the 2016 US election.

New Zealand, he said, was “deadly serious” about a free trade deal with Russia, accusing the European Union of “attacking” New Zealand agricultural markets.

That conflict between EU and Russian trade interests would have caused problems at any time, but now with the escalating problems between the UK and Russia especially so.

After calls from Britain, Peters has now condemned the nerve agent attack, which he acknowledged was “transported from Russia”.

But his position on Russia – both now and in the weeks following the formation of the Labour-led Government – has caused confusion within the diplomatic community.

Why on earth would he go there? What is driving a position which he must know is highly controversial for many of New Zealand’s trading partners? Does he represent the views of the New Zealand Government?

It is his job to represent the views of the New Zealand Government.

Ardern sort of defended Peters after his comments in the weekend: “It strikes me that a lot of the conversation the deputy prime minister was having was around … New Zealand being able to access trade agreements in a fair way, relative to other countries.”

But it must be tricky for Ardern to manage her Minister, who must consider himself her senior in every way but as deputy PM (and he will be acting PM when Ardern is on maternity leave).

Peters’ comments on Russia have now had to be managed by Ardern at least twice.

First when she assured the German president during a press conference in November that a trade deal with Europe was a much higher priority than one with Russia. Then again on Monday when she said Peters was simply responding to questions he was being asked.

Ardern has used a similar explanation when defending the fact that she repeatedly talked about New Zealand’s offer to take Manus Island refugees, raising tension with the Australians: she was just answering questions being asked of her.

As an excuse it makes both the Prime Minister and now the Foreign Minister seem rather helpless in the face of the media.

Anyone who has interviewed Peters, ever, knows he is capable of steering away from questions that do not interest him.

It also appears that Labour did not appreciate how controversial it would be to publicly state that as a Government it would seek a free trade deal with Russia.

While Ardern has now repeatedly reiterated that a trade deal with the EU is the top priority, the initial moves gave greater prominence to negotiating with Moscow.

Ardern seems to have a problem controlling Peters and his own agenda.

At a time when US President Donald Trump is introducing tariffs which could spark a global trade war, New Zealand could find itself on the wrong side of a battle between Russia and the rest of Europe if Peters continues to push for the deal.

Although Russia and its allies offer significant potential as a growth market, it seems foolish to risk the opportunity to strike a deal with the EU, or Britain.

Without the posioned spy scandal this would be a serious potential clash between Peters and the interest of the Government and New Zealand. With the escalation between the UK and Russia, more so.

Stuff – Russian spy scandal: Britain reaches out to New Zealand

British diplomats took the extraordinary step on Tuesday of briefing New Zealand media on the Salisbury spy attack after its prime minister Theresa May issued an ultimatum to Moscow over the poisoning.

The briefing looks to be part of a world wide effort by Britain to stir up condemnation of Moscow over the attack against a back drop of what May labelled a “a well-established pattern of Russian state aggression”.

Britain is looking to countries including New Zealand to join possible reprisals against Russia.

That would not help trade talks between NZ and Russia.

Foreign Minister Winston Peters said the New Zealand Government had grave concerns. “How this military grade nerve agent was transported from Russia and released abroad is the key issue here, and warrants urgent international investigation,” Peters said.

Peters said use of chemical weapons was “repugnant”.

“We share and support the concerns expressed by other nations about such use of chemical weapons,” he said.

Perhaps Theresa May will force Peters into line. Ardern seemed to be struggling to do so.

It was said the appointing him as Minister of Foreign Affairs would allow Peters to swan around the world with prestige and no pressure. That might have worked if there were no serious international issues to deal with, and if Peters didn’t have a Russian trade agenda.

It has become quite tricky, and the UK-Russia issue seems set to escalate.

It could become even trickier when Ardern goes on leave for three months and Peters becomes acting Prime Minister.

GOP senators versus Trump’s TPP and trade tirades

Yesterday in New Zealand the text of the Trans-Pacific Partnership (CPTPP) was released. Next month it is likely to be signed by the eleven countries who renegotiated some parts of the agreement after Donald Trump pulled the United States out soon after becoming president.

Trump had strongly criticised the TPP during the presidential campaign. It’s hard to know whether he thought it was a ‘bad bad deal’ or it was an attempt to sound tough on trade in order to get more favourable deals.

If it was a bluff it failed, because the TPP is proceeding without the US.

Last month (26 January 2018) Trump appeared to soften his stance on the TPP in an interview with CNBC while at DAVOS: Read President Trump’s full remarks on trade deals to CNBC

  • In an interview with CNBC, he says he could rethink the Trans-Pacific Partnership if the U.S. can secure a better deal.

Trump’s remarks on the TPP:

Trump: I like bilateral, because if you have a problem, you terminate. When you’re in with many countries — like with TPP, so you have 12 if we were in — you don’t have that same, you know you don’t have that same option. But somebody asked me the other day, ‘Would I do TPP?’ Here’s my answer — I will give you a big story. I would do TPP if we made a much better deal than we had. We had a horrible deal. The deal was a horrible deal. NAFTA’s a horrible deal, we’re renegotiating it. I may terminate NAFTA, I may not — we’ll see what happens. But NAFTA was a — and I went around and I tell stadiums full of people, I’ll terminate or renegotiate.

(NAFTA is an agreement between the US and two TPP countries, Canada and Mexico. Trump insisted on it being renegotiated, but that appears to be bogged down. See below.)

Kernen: So you might re-enter, or? Are you opening up the door to re-opening TPP, or?

Trump: I’m only saying this. I would do TPP if we were able to make a substantially better deal. The deal was terrible, the way it was structured was terrible. If we did a substantially better deal, I would be open to TPP.

Kernen: That’s interesting. Would you handicap … ?

Trump: Are you surprised to hear me say that?

Kernen: I am a little bit, yeah, I’m a little taken aback.

Trump: Don’t be surprised, no, but we have to make a better deal. The deal was a bad deal, like the Iran deal is a bad deal, these are bad deals.

Yesterday the Washington Post reports: 25 GOP senators urge Trump to restart TPP trade talks, a deal he called a ‘disaster’

Twenty-five Republican senators, including Senate Majority Whip John Cornyn (R-Tex.), sent President Trump a letter Friday asking him to “re-engage with the Trans-Pacific Partnership.” It’s the latest attempt by Republican lawmakers to get Trump to take a softer stance on trade, even though his administration is gearing up to erect more trade barriers. Trump withdrew from the TPP in his first week in office after calling the trade deal a “disaster” and a “rape of our country” during his presidential campaign.

“We encourage you to work aggressively to secure reforms that would allow the United States to join the agreement,” the senators wrote. “Increased economic engagement with the 11 nations currently in TPP has the potential to substantially improve the competitiveness of U.S. businesses, support millions of U.S. jobs, increase U.S. exports, increase wages, fully unleash America’s energy potential, and benefit consumers.”

There is a sharp divide between congressional Republicans and the Trump administration on how to handle trade. Trump blasted America’s trade deals during his campaign and vowed he would either renegotiate many deals or scrap them, but many senators believe harsh action on trade would backfire, causing the loss of U.S. jobs and businesses.

Ripping up the TPP was a key talking point of Trump’s campaign. He portrayed it as a deal that President Barack Obama and Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton concocted. It would lower tariffs — better known as taxes — on goods traded between the United States and 11 other countries in the Pacific Rim (Canada, Mexico, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Chile, Peru, Malaysia, Singapore, Vietnam and Brunei).

Supporters of free trade, including many Republicans, worried that Trump had made a mistake. They feared the United States was giving up its leadership role and ceding even more power to China. China was excluded from the TPP in an attempt to counter the communist country’s growing influence on the global economy.

After the United States pulled out of TPP in January 2017, Canada took over the leadership role.

Actually Japan probably took over more of a leadership role, and Canada caused a few hiccups in Vietnam last November, but eventually agreed on the CPTPP.

Many of the GOP senators who signed the letter are from states with a lot of agriculture, including Joni Ernst of Iowa, John Barrasso of Wyoming and Ben Sasse of Nebraska.

“Farm states were a lot of the big losers from the United States not going ahead with TPP,” said Chad Brown, a senior fellow at the Peterson Institute for International Economics. “TPP would have lowered agriculture tariffs in a couple of countries where they had been high.”

Perhaps the best example is that Japan was willing to lower its tariffs on U.S. beef, opening a potentially lucrative market for American farmers. But now that the TPP is moving forward without the United States, Australian and New Zealand farmers probably will be the biggest beneficiaries.

Yesterday the Canadian Globe and Mail reported in Where do NAFTA talks go from here?:

“We got a blunt and sobering message last week from Steve Verheul, Canada’s head NAFTA negotiator, telling us that negotiations with the Americans are bogged down and, apart from some agreement on peripheral things, there’s absolutely no movement on the really tough issues.

The fundamental problem, Mr. Verheul said, is that the United States isn’t approaching the negotiations with the objective of concluding a balanced deal. The Trump administration’s position is “America First” and “America Only,” reflecting the tone of the President’s bellicose inaugural address.

As a result, the United States has tabled one-sided, intransigent positions, non-starters for Canada from day one. U.S. negotiators have no room to compromise because of orders from the White House. It’s clear that there’s a long, slow and painful road ahead in trying to achieve a North American free-trade deal, with agreement pretty remote at this stage.”

The US also faces trade problems in Europe. Forbes – EU Tells Trump: No Paris Climate Deal, No Free Trade

When Donald Trump took office last year, the assumption was that the transatlantic trade and investment partnership was dead.

The controversial free trade deal between the EU and the U.S., known as TTIP, was already years in development and was a big focus in Europe, particularly with left-wing protesters who said the EU would necessarily have to lower its environmental, health and safety standards to American levels. When Trump was elected on an anti-free-trade platform in 2016, these activists found themselves in the uncomfortable position of being on the same side as the new U.S. president.

Work on TTIP has come to a halt, although the European Commission has been keen to stress that it is not officially dead and talks could continue if the U.S. administration were to indicate interest. No such signal from Washington has been forthcoming.

It is in this context that France’s foreign affairs minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne told the French Parliament last week that his country will insist that TTIP never be revived if Trump carries through on his promise to leave the Paris Agreement.

“One of our main demands is that any country who signs a trade agreement with EU should implement the Paris Agreement on the ground,” Lemoyne said. “No Paris Agreement, no trade agreement. The U.S. knows what to expect.”

The US under Trump’s leadership is at risk of isolating itself on trade as the rest of the world continues to negotiate and make trade agreements.

UK and EU in ‘Brexit’ breakthrough

Report of a breakthrough in talks between the United Kingdom and the European Union that will allow ‘Brexit’ to progress to the next stage.

BBC – Brexit: ‘Breakthrough’ deal paves way for future trade talks

PM Theresa May has struck a last-minute deal with the EU in a bid to move Brexit talks on to the next phase.

There will be no “hard border” with Ireland; and the rights of EU citizens in the UK and UK citizens in the EU will be protected.

The so-called “divorce bill” will amount to between £35bn and £39bn, Downing Street says.

The European Commission president said it was a “breakthrough” and he was confident EU leaders will approve it.

They are due to meet next Thursday for a European Council summit and need to give their backing to the deal if the next phase of negotiations are to begin.

Talks can then move onto a transition deal to cover a period of up to two years after Brexit, and the “framework for the future relationship” – preliminary discussions about a future trade deal, although the EU says a deal can only be finalised once the UK has left the EU.

A final withdrawal treaty and transition deal will have to be ratified by the EU nations and the UK Parliament, before the UK leaves in March 2019.

But it is still not simple from here due to the precarious position of the May led Government.

Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party, whose opposition on Monday led to talks breaking down, said there was still “more work to be done” on the border issue and how it votes on the final deal “will depend on its contents”. Mrs May depends on the party’s support to win key votes in Westminster.

What has been agreed?

  • Guarantee that there will be “no hard border” between Northern Ireland and the Republic and that the “constitutional and economic integrity of the United Kingdom” will be maintained.
  • EU citizens living in the UK and vice versa will have their rights to live, work and study protected. The agreement includes reunification rights for relatives who do not live in the UK to join them in their host country in the future
  • Financial settlement – No specific figure is in the document but Downing Street says it will be between £35bn and £39bn, including budget contributions during a two-year “transition” period after March 2019

Brexit: All you need to know

The cost is high:

A figure is not mentioned in the text of the agreement but Downing Street says it will be between £35bn and £39bn – higher than Theresa May indicated in September but lower than some estimates. It will be paid over four years and the precise figure is unlikely to be known for some time.

The prime minister said it would be “fair to the British taxpayer” and would mean the UK in future “will be able to invest more in our priorities at home, such as housing, schools and the NHS”.

So Brexit still has a difficult and potentially very expensive path to follow.

UK to lose banking and medicine agencies

The European Union is set to take prestigious agencies off the United Kingdom as the separation from the EU progresses.

And the EU is playing hard to get on trade talks in repercussions following the Brexit vote and UK government formerly proceeding with a separation.

Guardian: Britain set to lose EU ‘crown jewels’ of banking and medicine agencies

The EU is set to inflict a double humiliation on Theresa May, stripping Britain of its European agencies within weeks, while formally rejecting the prime minister’s calls for early trade talks.

The Observer has learned that EU diplomats agreed their uncompromising position at a crunch meeting on Tuesday, held to set out the union’s strategy in the talks due to start next month.

The European Banking Authority and the European Medicines Agency employ about 1,000 people, many of them British, and provide a hub for businesses in the UK. It is understood that the EU’s chief negotiator hopes the agencies will know their new locations by June, although the process may take longer. Cities such as Frankfurt, Milan, Amsterdam and Paris are competing to take the agencies, which are regarded as among the EU’s crown jewels.

And trade talks look stalled at this stage.

Meanwhile, it has emerged that Britain failed to secure the backing of any of the 27 countries for its case that trade talks should start early in the two years of negotiations allowed by article 50 of the Lisbon treaty. The position will be announced at a Brussels summit on 29 April.

The UK will have to suffer deal with the consequences of their distancing from the EU.

UK and Scottish parliaments clash over second referendum

UK Prime Minister has repeatedly said that “now is not the time” for another Scottish referendum on independence, but the Scottish Parliament has just voted in favour of “seeking permission” for a referendum before the UK leaves the European Union.

BBC: Scottish Parliament backs referendum call

Nicola Sturgeon’s call for a second referendum on independence for Scotland had been formally backed by the Scottish Parliament.

MSPs voted by 69 to 59 in favour of seeking permission for a referendum before the UK leaves the EU.

Ms Sturgeon says the move is needed to allow Scotland to decide what path to follow in the wake of the Brexit vote.

But the UK government has already said it will block a referendum until the Brexit process has been completed.

Prime Minister Theresa May, who met Ms Sturgeon for talks in Glasgow on Monday, has repeatedly insisted that “now is not the time” for a referendum.

Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon says she is not seeking confrontation.

“My argument is simply this: when the nature of the change that is made inevitable by Brexit becomes clear, that change should not be imposed upon us, we should have the right to decide the nature of that change.

“The people of Scotland should have the right to choose between Brexit – possibly a very hard Brexit – or becoming an independent country, able to chart our own course and create a true partnership of equals across these islands.”

She added: “I hope the UK government will respect the will of this parliament. If it does so, I will enter discussion in good faith and with a willingness to compromise.

“However, if it chooses not to do so I will return to the parliament following the Easter recess to set out the steps that the Scottish government will take to progress the will of parliament.”

But this looks like a clash of wills between her and Theresa May, and between the Scottish and UK parliaments.

Ms Sturgeon is expected to make the formal request for a section 30 later this week – after Mrs May formally starts the Brexit process by triggering Article 50.

Scottish voters rejected independence by 55% to 45% in a referendum in 2014, but Ms Sturgeon believes the UK voting to leave the EU is a material change in circumstances which means people should again be asked the question.

There certainly has been a material change in circumstances.

While May and her UK government prefers no split it may make sense to find out if that is what the Scots want and take that into account with exit plans from the EU.

Her Scottish secretary, David Mundell, has said that the timescale could include “the Brexit process, the journey of leaving and people being able to understand what the UK’s new relationship with the EU is, so they can make an informed choice if there was ever to be another referendum”.

He added: “We are not entering into negotiations on whether there should be another independence referendum during the Brexit process.

The Scottish Parliament vote may or may not change that position.

There may be some chicken and egg here.

Would plans for the UK exit from the EU be easier if they knew whether Scotland was going to split or remain?

Or should another Scottish referendum wait until they know what the exit from the EU is going to look like for them and the UK?


UK & Europe – the Brexit process

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.


The Guardian explains the Brexit process.

What is article 50?

In just 264 words in five paragraphs, article 50 of the Lisbon treaty sets out how an EU member can voluntarily leave the European Union. It specifies that a leaver should notify the European council of its intention, negotiate a deal on its withdrawal and establish legal grounds for a future relationship with the EU.

What is ‘triggered’ by article 50?

Once a country gives notice it wants to leave it has two years to negotiate new arrangements, after which it will no longer be subject to EU treaties.

How and when will article 50 be triggered?

The Brexit starting pistol is fired on Wednesday 29 March, when the government delivers a letter to Donald Tusk, the president of the European council.

Then what?

On Thursday the Brexit secretary, David Davis, will publish the government’s “great repeal bill”. This will set out an end to the authority of EU law by converting all its provisions in British law once the UK leaves.

How will the EU respond?

Tusk has promised that he will respond by Friday with “draft Brexit guidelines”.

How long will they take?

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, has said he envisages there being less than 18 months of real negotiating time. The crucial window is likely to be the year from October 2017, after the German elections on 24 September.

What are the key sticking points?

It’s a long list, and even the topics for negotiation are subject to negotiation.

For example, the UK wants trade talks to be part of the leave discussions, but senior figures in the EU think trade should be discussed separately. While the UK is still part of the EU it is not allowed to negotiate trade deals with non-EU countries.

Another key topic that will need urgent resolution will be the rights of EU citizens living in the UK and British subjects living abroad. The government ruled out giving EU citizens guaranteed protections before the start of talks, giving rise to fears that they will be used as bargaining chips.

Other pressing but tricky issues include security, migration and border controls.

Brexit: everything you need to know about how the UK will leave the EU

UK & Europe

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.


UK can’t blame EU for problems that led to Brexit, says Juncker

British politicians sowed the seeds for Brexit by blaming the European Union for problems over which the bloc has little control and while building an economy dependent on foreign labour, the president of the European commission has said.

Writing exclusively for the Guardian as EU leaders meet to celebrate the bloc’s 60th anniversary in Rome, Jean-Claude Juncker warns that “for too long” politicians at a national level have allowed the EU to be a scapegoat, and that the consequences can now be seen.

Putin welcomes Le Pen to Moscow with a nudge and a wink

The expression said it all. Even by Vladimir Putin’s standards, it was a knowing smirk of epic proportions as he shook hands with Marine Le Pen in the Kremlin on Friday.

In his remarks, Putin noted that France was currently involved in an election cycle and that Russia did “not want to influence events in any way”. The sentiment sounded slightly less than genuine given that it came as part of a one-on-one Kremlin meeting with the far-right presidential candidate one month before the vote.

The mixed messaging appears to be a deliberate strategy, and is similar to some of the Russian rhetoric around the allegations that the Kremlin intervened to get Donald Trump elected. There is both an outburst of fury at those who would dare to voice such allegations, and a simultaneous revelling in them.

Back in December, Putin first said it was absurd to suggest Russia intervened on Trump’s behalf, but immediately followed up by saying “nobody believed in him, except us”.

What we knowThe attack, the victims and the investigation

Here is what the Guardian has been able to confirm:

  • Five people have died, including a police officer and the attacker.
  • Police say at least 50 people were injured, with 31 requiring hospital treatment. Two of these remain in a critical condition, one of whom has life-threatening injuries. Two police officers are among those still in hospital.
  • The assailant was Khalid Masood, 52, who was born in Kent with the birth name Adrian Russell Ajao. He was believed to have been living recently in the West Midlands.
  • He drove a car into pedestrians on Westminster Bridge, killing three people – two of whom died at the scene and one who died of his injuries in hospital – before crashing it outside parliament and trying to enter the building, armed with two knives.
  • He stabbed an unarmed police officer who later died from the injuries. Police then shot the attacker. The dead officer was identified as PC Keith Palmer, 48, who had 15 years of service with the parliamentary and diplomatic protection service and was a husband and father.
  • Another victim was named as Aysha Frade, 43, who worked at a sixth-form college in Westminster. The mother of two had family in Betanzos, Galicia, north-west Spain, and her death was confirmed by the mayor of the town.
  • A third person killed by the attacker was named as Kurt Cochran, a tourist from Utah in the US. He and his wife, Melissa, were on the last day of a trip to Europe to celebrate their 25th wedding anniversary. Melissa remains in hospital with serious injuries.
  • On Friday, police said a fourth victim, Leslie Rhodes, 75, from Clapham in south London, had died in hospital overnight. He was a retired window cleaner who had apparently been crossing the bridge to catch a bus after visiting a friend in St Thomas’ hospital.
  • The Metropolitan police said Masood had a range of previous convictions for assaults, including GBH, possession of offensive weapons and public order offences. His most recent was in December 2003 for possession of a knife.
  • Islamic State claimed responsibility for the attack. It released a statement through the Amaq news agency, which it uses to broadcast propaganda, calling the attacker “a soldier of Islamic State”. The claim is unverified.
  • The attacker is believed to have acted alone but police are investigating possible associates. May said there was no reason to believe further attacks on the public were planned.
  • Police have searched several addresses in Birmingham, London and other parts of the country. Five men and three women were arrested overnight on Wednesday and early on Thursday on suspicion of preparation of terrorist acts. Two men were arrested overnight on Thursday – one in the West Midlands and one in north-west England – and a woman was detained in Manchester on Friday morning. Ten people remain in custody after one woman was released on bail.

The list goes on.

UK & Europe – London terrorism

Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.


Man arrested in Antwerp after driving at high speed towards a crowd of people in the main shopping street. (1342 GMT)

BBC reporting the man is of North African origin

The attacker has been named as 52 year old Khalid Masood after ISIS claimed him as one of their soldiers

Aljaz: More info since released. 52 years old, came originally from Kent, then lived in Birmingham, West Midlands, has previous convictions for violent offences, last came to attention of authorities in 2003.

He is apparently from Birmingham, which goes with other reporting this morning that said neighbours of one of the residences searched by police in Birmingham thought that the person in the flat might be the attacker.

  • Missy & Geeza


UK & Europe


Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.

UK & Europe


Topics about the UK, EU and Europe.