EU leaders agree to UK Brexit proposal

RNZ: UK’s Brexit deal agreed by EU leaders

EU leaders have approved an agreement on the UK’s withdrawal and future relations – insisting it is the “best and only deal possible”.

After 20 months of negotiations, the 27 leaders gave the deal their blessing after less than an hour’s discussion.

hey said the deal – which needs to be approved by the UK Parliament – paved the way for an “orderly withdrawal”.

Theresa May said the deal “delivered for the British people” and set the UK “on course for a prosperous future”.

Speaking in Brussels, she urged both Leave and Remain voters to unite behind the agreement, insisting the British public “do not want to spend any more time arguing about Brexit”.

The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March 2019.

The EU officially endorsed the terms of the UK’s withdrawal during a short meeting, bringing to an end negotiations which began in March 2017.

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said anyone in Britain who thought the bloc might offer improved terms if MPs rejected the deal would be “disappointed.

The UK Parliament is expected to vote on the deal on 12 December, but its approval is far from guaranteed.

Labour, the Lib Dems, the SNP, the DUP and many Conservatives MPs are set to vote against.

Mrs May has appealed to the British public to get behind the agreement – saying that although it involved compromises, it was a “good deal that unlocks a bright future for the UK”.

At a news conference in Brussels, she said the agreement would:

  • end freedom of movement “in full and once and for all”
  • protect the constitutional integrity of the UK, and
  • ensure a return to “laws being made in our country by democratically elected politicians interpreted and enforced by British courts”.

The agreement, she added, would not remove Gibraltar from the “UK family” – a reference to a last-minute wrangle with Spain over the territory.

The EU leaders have approved the two key Brexit documents:

  • The EU withdrawal agreement: a 599-page, legally binding document setting out the terms of the UK’s exit from the EU. It covers the UK’s £39bn “divorce bill”, citizens’ rights and the Northern Ireland “backstop” – a way to keep the Irish border open, if trade talks stall
  • The political declaration, which sets out what the UK and EU’s relationship may be like after Brexit – outlining how things like UK-EU trade and security will work

There was no formal vote on Sunday, with the EU proceeding by consensus.

Divided over Brexit but nowhere to run

Financial Times:  Brexit deal crisis: Rudd returns, Gove stays

Theresa May has reshuffled her cabinet as she battles for survival, replacing the two minister who resigned as part of the political fallout over the draft Brexit treaty. The big question still hanging over the prime minister is whether those seeking to oust her can find 48 Tory MPs needed to trigger a no confidence vote.

BBC:

Summary

  1. Steve Barclay is appointed new Brexit Secretary, replacing Dominic Raab
  2. Former Home Secretary Amber Rudd returns to cabinet as the Work and Pensions Secretary
  3. Theresa May answered listeners’ questions on the draft Brexit deal on LBC radio show
  4. Michael Gove ends speculation about whether he would follow fellow Brexiteers out of the cabinet
  5. International Trade Secretary Liam Fox joins Mr Gove in urging MPs to support the deal
  6. More than 20 MPs have called for a no-confidence vote in the prime minister

Also from BBC:

When the UK made a major change in direction towards the EU it created chaos in New Zealand as our biggest marker for produce turned it’s back on us.

Now the chaos is in Britain as they try to exit from the EU, with little effect on us apart from possibly, eventually, providing more trade opportunities.

UK Ministers resign, confidence vote likely for Theresa May

Missy has summarised developments (overnight NZ time) in the UK political split over Brexit plans, with a number of Cabinet Ministers resigning (7 so far), and a confidence vote in Theresa May likely.

(Thanks for this Missy).


Her ‘deal’ has been compared to Chamberlain returning from Munich.

A quick review of this morning’s happenings (rather than re-posting everything I posted this morning).

Five Members of the cabinet have resigned, they are:

  1. Shailesh Vara – Junior Minister for Northern Ireland. He claims that the deal leaves Britain in a half way house.
  2. Dominic Raab – Secretary of State for Exiting the EU. He said the indefinite backstop threatens to break up the Union.
  3. Esther McVey – Secretary of State for Work & Pensions. She said the deal does not honour the result of the referendum.
  4. Suella Braverman – Junior Minister for the Department for Exiting the EU. She warned that the concessions do not respect the will of the people.
  5. Anne-Marie Trevelyan – Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Education Secretary. She said the deal is unacceptable to Brexit Voters.
  6. Ranil Jayawardena – Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice. He said the deal does not deliver a fair Brexit.
  7. Rehman Chishti, the PM’s trade envoy to Pakistan and Vice chairman of the Conservative Party for communities has resigned, saying that the deal is contrary to their Manifesto commitment.

May gave a statement in Parliament after which she received no support. During the questions after Jacob Rees-Mogg asked May why he shouldn’t put in a letter to the 1922 Committee Chariman. This is quite a big thing, whatever you think of him JRM has always supported the PM, he hasn’t supported the deal, but he has always said he supports the PM of the day, and that he has indicated in Parliament that he is thinking of putting in a letter of no confidence is quite a big deal, and he has influence among other Brexiters.

When he spoke in Parliament JRM obviously already had his letter written, he has just submitted it to the 1922 Committee. The key part is this: ‘It is of considerable importance that politicians stick to their commitments or do not make such commitments in the first place. Regrettably, this is not the situation, therefore, in accordance with the relevant rules and procedures of the Conservative Party and the 1922 Committee this is a formal letter of No Confidence in the Leader of the Party, the Rt. Hon. Theresa May.’

JRM has said that the Brexit deal has turned out to be worse than anticipated and fails to meet the promises given to the nation by the PM.

It is expected that the required number of letters will be received by the Chair of the 1922 Committee by tomorrow, and if so then a vote of confidence in Theresa May as leader on Tuesday is expected.

There has been some speculation on who may run for leader, though I think we may get a better idea when the Chair of the 1922 Committee are closer to receiving the 48 letters needed and we see which Cabinet members resign then.

Leading contenders at the moment are:

  • Dominic Raab (odds about 11-2)
  • Boris Johnson (odds about 5-1)
  • Sajid Javid (odds about 5-1) he is the most credible leading contender, despite having voted remain he is against a soft Brexit and for delivering Brexit. He has gone against Theresa May on several occasions, and he was reportedly behind a tougher stance on EU Migrants post Brexit than was originally positioned by TM. Has the advantage of being an ethnic minority (Pakistani parents) and a (non practicing) Muslim, despite having been brought up in a Muslim household he doesn’t practice now, and has stated on a number of occasions the only religion in his house is Christianity (his wife is apparently a practicing Christian). So looks good for the moderate Muslim vote, but isn’t a problem for the extreme anti-Muslim vote.
  • Jeremy Hunt (odds about 8-1) he won’t be a popular choice, he is universally disliked by the public.
  • David Davis (odds about 11-1) he is a popular choice among many party members to bring in as an interim PM until Brexit is done.
  • Amber Rudd (odds about 50-1)

Sources are reporting that Michael Gove was offered the Brexit Secretary job, but he has turned it down unless he can go back to Brussels and renegotiate the Withdrawal Agreement.

 

Brexit, government disarray in UK – Davis, Johnson resign

Theresa May’s leadership in Britian is said to be on very shaky ground, aas is their Brexit plans,  after Brexit Secretary David Davis resigned from the government.

BBC:  Brexit Secretary David Davis resigns

Brexit Secretary David Davis, who has been leading negotiations to leave the EU, has resigned from the government.

In his resignation letter, Mr Davis criticised the PM’s Brexit plan – agreed by the cabinet on Friday – saying it would leave Parliament with “at best a weak negotiating position”.

In his letter, Mr Davis told Mrs May that “the current trend of policy and tactics” was making it “look less and less likely” that the UK would leave the customs union and single market.

He said he was “unpersuaded” that the government’s negotiating approach “will not just lead to further demands for concessions” from Brussels.

Mr Davis, who was appointed Brexit Secretary in 2016, said: “The general direction of policy will leave us in at best a weak negotiating position, and possibly an inescapable one.”

In her reply, Mrs May said: “I do not agree with your characterisation of the policy we agreed at cabinet on Friday.”

Junior minister Steve Baker quit shortly after Mr Davis – as Mrs May prepares to face MPs and peers later.

Sounds very messy.

The Conservatives have struggled since May took over as Prime Minister and led them into a disastrous snap election. And it looks worse now.

UPDATES: Missy has been updating in comments as things unfold in the UK on Monday (their time). Here is the big new news:

  • Boris Johnson resigns as foreign secretary amid growing crisis over UK’s Brexit strategy

Johnson could ‘not champion proposals’

In his resignation letter to the prime minister, Boris Johnson wrote:

“Brexit should be about opportunity and hope. It should be a chance to do things differently… That dream is dying, suffocated by needless self doubt.”

Mr Johnson said “we appear to be heading for a semi-Brexit” and had concluded he “must go” since he “cannot in all conscience champion” the proposals agreed by Cabinet on Friday.

“As I said then, the government now has a song to sing,” he wrote. “The trouble is that I have practised the words over the weekend and find that they stick in the throat.”

  • His resignation came hours after David Davis quit as Brexit secretary, followed by a junior minister
  • Days ago the cabinet had agreed to the PM’s Brexit plan at Chequers
  • But Mr Davis said he did not “believe” in the Chequers plan and was not the best person to deliver it
  • Prominent Leave campaigner Dominic Raab has been appointed new Brexit secretary

https://www.bbc.com/news/live/uk-politics-44762836

 

UK to review medicinal cannabis use

Like here are elsewhere in the world pressure has been growing in the UK to allow the use of cannabis products for medicinal use. Sick children have been used to highlight the issue, and the UK government has now announced a review of drug laws.

BBC: Medicinal cannabis use to be reviewed by government

The use of medicinal cannabis is to be reviewed, which could lead to more prescriptions of drugs made from the plant, the home secretary has said.

Speaking to the House of Commons, Mr Javid said the position “we find ourselves in currently is not satisfactory”.

The decision was prompted by recent high-profile cases of children with severe epilepsy being denied access to cannabis oil to control seizures.

The review would be held in two parts, Mr Javid told MPs. The first will make recommendations on which cannabis-based medicines might offer real medical and therapeutic benefits to patients.

In the second part, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs will consider whether changes should be made to the classification of these products after assessing “the balance of harms and public health needs”.

He said: “If the review identifies significant medical benefits, then we do intend to reschedule [change the rules].”

He said the cases of Alfie Dingley and Billy Caldwell had made him conclude it was time to review the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes.

He also announced that Alfie, from Kenilworth in Warwickshire, was being issued with a licence to receive cannabis-based drugs. The six-year-old has a very rare form of epilepsy that causes up to 150 seizures per month,

His family had originally applied to the government in April, saying his condition improved after using cannabis oil in the Netherlands.

Sounds similar to what has been happening here.

But Sajid Javid stressed the drug would remain banned for recreational use.

Separating medicinal use from recreational use is tricky – fears of opening the floodgates for recreational use often hold back politicians from acting on medicinal use, but that’s ridiculous given the widespread recreational use now.

It’s bizarre that recreational product is widely available but medicinal product is difficult to obtain.

Shadow home secretary Diane Abbott welcomed Mr Javid’s statement, telling MPs that it was “long overdue”.

Lady Meacher, who chairs the all-party parliamentary group for drug policy reform – which two years ago called for cannabis-based drugs to be legalised – said the move was a “no brainer” which could benefit many people.

She said: “About one million people, probably, could benefit from medical cannabis – people with severe pain, obviously children with terrible epilepsy.

“There are 200,000 people in this country with uncontrolled epileptic seizures; MS sufferers, people with Parkinson’s, people with cancer.

“So there are just so many people who must be celebrating today, and I’m celebrating with them.”

She compared cannabis with morphine, and said it was “much, much safer, less addictive and has much, much less in the way of side effects”.

As we know here, opposition MPs can talk big reforms, but seem to get cold feet when in power.

The incoming Government here introduced the Misuse of Drugs (Medicinal Cannabis) Amendment Bill

This Bill amends the Misuse of Drugs Act 1975. The Bill will introduce an exception and a statutory defence for terminally ill people to possess and use illicit cannabis and to possess a cannabis utensil; provide a regulation-making power to enable the setting of standards that products manufactured, imported, and supplied under licence must meet; and amend Schedule 2 of the Act so that cannabidiol (CBD) and CBD products are no longer classed as controlled drugs.

This is currently at Select Committee stage. The limitation to “terminally ill people” has been strongly criticised. Hopefully sense will prevail after the committee considers public submissions.

 

 

Leave.EU breached multiple counts of electoral law

New Zealand isn’t the only country with far too slow, too weak electoral law.

The UK Electoral Commission has fined Leave.EU for multiple breaches of electoral law and referred the matter to the police, but the referendum result still stands.

BBC – Brexit: Leave.EU fined £70,000 for breaking electoral law during referendum

Campaign group Leave.EU has been fined £70,000 after an investigation into funding during the 2016 referendum.

The Electoral Commission concluded that the campaign group incorrectly reported what it spent during the referendum.

It found Leave.EU failed to report at least £77,380 of spending and exceeded the limit for non-party registered campaigners by at least 10%.

Peters on Commonwealth and EU trade

While Minister of Foreign Affairs Winston Peters has been largely overshadowed by Jacinda Ardern as both visit Europe and the United Kingdom, he has been reported commenting on trade agreement possibilities.

Stuff: Winston Peters says Commonwealth countries open to multilateral trade deal

The bones of a Commonwealth free trade deal have been laid out and the EU is also turning an eye to the Pacific, says Foreign Minister Winston Peters.

He made the comments at the back end of a tour where he visited UK and EU leaders before meeting Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern in London to attend the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting.

“There’s a whole lot of excitement about that and how we might again, put some flesh to an idea. It was [non-existent] two years ago, but since the 23 June, 2016 it’s become real.  That was very exciting. And a whole lot of countries, without saying too much about it realise there’s something very exciting and new about this.”

Peters said there was a hope that the foundations could be laid for a multilateral agreement within the Commonwealth countries, before the UK had left the European Union.

“And it was thrilling to get that sort of acceptance that we needed to talk more and do things far more often.

It is early days for all of these trade initiatives. The UK can’t do anything until they have sorted Brexit out, and while Germany and France have stated support for an EU agreement that has to be negotiated and approved by all member countries.

At least it gives Peters something to work on now that his Russian trade aims have been taken off the Government table.

“For decades we’ve seen enormous cynicism about the Commonwealth, don’t forget it started with eight countries. That’s a long time ago and it’s 53 now, possible 54 if the Maldives comes back. And that fact is that things have dramatically changed.”

He said the rest of the world “needs the Commonwealth” and the Commonwealth needed New Zealand to be a voice within it.

“It needs a country called New Zealand to show its kind of values that could be seriously important towards the economic security of the Pacific and indeed the world we live in.”

The world doesn’t need the Commonwealth. And the Commonwealth doesn’t need New Zealand – I’m sure it would manage to continue as a largely irrelevant grouping of countries without us.

But it does provide a chance to meet leaders from a bunch of countries every now and then, and to try to get things moving on trade deals. And we get to gather to do some sports every four years.

US launch missile attack on Syria

As threatened by Donald Trump earlier this week he has ordered a US missile strike against targets in Syria.

The UK and France  have also taken part in the attack.

Theresa May has announced the UK involvement.

It has been described as a one off limited attack, but there must be some risk of escalation.

Probably the key thing now will be Russia’s response, having warned against any punishment of Syria for alleged chemical weapons attacks.

Statement on Syria

Jacinda Ardern

RT HON JACINDA ARDERN

This morning the Government was advised that targeted military action would be taken in response to the latest chemical weapons attack in Syria, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says.

“The Government has always favoured diplomatic efforts and a multilateral approach. The use of the veto powers at the Security Council prevented that course of action. We have always condemned the use of the veto, including by Russia in this case.

“New Zealand therefore accepts why the US, UK and France have today responded to the grave violation of international law, and the abhorrent use of chemical weapons against civilians.

“The action was intended to prevent further such atrocities being committed against Syrian civilians.

“We stand firm in our condemnation of the use of chemical weapons in Eastern Ghouta. This is clearly in breach of international law.

“It is now important that these issues are returned to the United Nations multilateral processes including the Security Council,” Jacinda Ardern said.

Nerve agent inspectors back UK over poisoning

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have agreed with the UK findings that a nerve gas used in a poisoning in Salisbury, England over the identity of the nerve gas that was used.

RNZ: Russian spy poisoning: Nerve agent inspectors back UK

The international chemical weapons watchdog has confirmed the UK’s analysis of the type of nerve agent used in the Russian ex-spy poisoning.

The Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons did not name the nerve agent as Novichok, but said it agreed with the UK’s findings on its identity.

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson said: “There can be no doubt what was used. There remains no alternative explanation about who was responsible – only Russia has the means, motive and record.”

Mr Johnson said the UK had invited the OPCW to test the samples “to ensure strict adherence to international chemical weapons protocols”.

A team from the OPCW visited the UK on 19 March, 15 days after the Skripals were found slumped on a park bench in Salisbury and taken to hospital, along with a police officer who was among the first on the scene.

The OPCW said it received information about the medical conditions of the Skripals and Det Sgt Nick Bailey, it collected their blood samples, and it gathered samples from the site in Salisbury.

The OPCW does identify the toxic chemical by its complex formula but only in the classified report that has not been made public.

In its summary, which has been published online, the report notes the toxic chemical was of “high purity”.

The BBC’s diplomatic correspondent James Landale said: “This is understood to strengthen the argument that this substance came from Russia because it is more likely to have been created by a state actor with the capability to make the nerve agent.”

This will add weight to the pressure on Russia over the poisoning. They deny any involvement.

Russian retaliation over poisoning expulsions, NZ excluded

Twenty nine countries expelled Russian diplomats over the nerve gas poisoning in Salisbury, England – with the notable exception of New Zealand. Russia threatened retaliation against those countries who joined the UK measures, and they have followed through.

BBC: Spy poisoning: Russia escalates spy row with new expulsions

Russia has announced further measures against UK diplomats while at the same time declaring tit-for-tat expulsions of officials from 23 other countries.

It has told the British ambassador to cut staffing to the size of the Russian mission in the UK.

Moscow has rejected UK accusations that it is behind the nerve agent attack on an ex-spy and his daughter in the UK.

However, some 150 Russians have since been expelled by mainly Western countries.

Russia initially hit back at the UK, but then announced 60 US expulsions. On Friday it called in a string of foreign ambassadors with news that their own countries’ measures were being matched.

British diplomats left Moscow a week ago, but ambassador Laurie Bristow was summoned back to the foreign ministry for additional punishment.

It’s not immediately obvious what it means in practice, but it’s clear that Russia sees Britain as the ringleader of an international conspiracy which resulted in the biggest mass expulsion of Russian diplomats in history.

A number of countries backed the UK with their own expulsions, and Russia is also retaliating against them.

Twenty-nine countries have expelled 145 Russian officials in solidarity with the UK – and Nato has also ordered 10 Russians out of its mission in Belgium.

The US expelled the largest single number – 60 diplomats – and closed the Russian consulate general in Seattle.

Russia reciprocated on Thursday declaring 58 US diplomats in Moscow and two in the city of Yekaterinburg to be “personae non gratae”. It also announced the closure of the US consulate in St Petersburg.

On Friday, ambassadors from Albania, Australia, Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Romania, Spain, Sweden and Ukraine were told to send home staff from their missions – corresponding to the same number of Russians their countries had expelled.

A statement by the Russian foreign ministry also said that Russia “reserves the right to take retaliatory measures” against Belgium, Hungary, Georgia and Montenegro – countries that had joined the co-ordinated action against Russia “at the last moment”.

But New Zealand has remained on the sidelines. The Press writes on The Government’s Russian dilemma

At last count, 26 countries have expelled Russian diplomats and intelligence agents in a remarkable response to the nerve agent attack on former Russian spy Sergei Skripal​ and his daughter Yulia.

The BBC report said that 29 countries had acted against Russia.

The leaders of the UK, the USA, Germany and France made a rare joint statement that stressed there is no plausible alternative to Russia being responsible for the attack on British soil. They described a wider pattern of “irresponsible behaviour”. Russia’s denials have not been taken seriously.

But so far, New Zealand has not joined the other 26 countries in solidarity, although all four of our Five Eyes partners – the UK, the US, Canada and Australia – have led or followed in the mass expulsion of agents and diplomats.

The Government has been criticised at home over it’s vague and slow responses, and ridiculed abroad for claiming there were no spies here that could be expelled.

There is another way to view the reluctance of the Ardern Government to jump on the anti-Russia bandwagon and that is to see it in a proud tradition of New Zealand independence that would be recognisable to previous Labour prime ministers such as Norman Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark. There is a streak in the New Zealand psyche that resists being anyone’s puppet.

But it has raised questions about the pro-Russian inclinations of Winston Peters in particular.

It is more likely that the Ardern Government’s motivations are submerged in murkier politics as far as the wider public is concerned.

The public is more likely to share the UK’s worries about the Vladimir Putin regime and to recognise the symbolic value of expulsion.

Some may even see more cynical thinking behind our neutral stance. Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters has been keen to reopen negotiations with Russia for the Free Trade Agreement that was scuppered after the Ukrainian crisis in 2014. Even this month, Peters seemed unwilling to condemn Russia after news emerged of the Skripal poisoning. He also doubted Russian involvement in the shooting down of Malaysian Airlines flight MH17 and US election meddling.

Ardern has appeared to have difficulty dealing with balancing the request for solidarity with allied countries and the Russian leaning of Peters.

Newsroom: Ardern finally acts to ban Russian spies

Facing accusations of being soft and becoming isolated on Russia, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has moved to take some concrete action in solidarity with New Zealand’s allies. Ardern announced late on Thursday that New Zealand would impose travel restrictions on individuals expelled by other countries after a recent nerve agent attack in Britain.

The Opposition questioned why New Zealand appeared soft on Russia and was not joining with its allies in a more concrete condemnation of Russia.

Concerns about New Zealand’s stance have grown after Foreign Minister Winston Peters refused earlier this month to accept that Russia had been involved in the shooting down of a Malaysian airliner over Ukraine, despite internationally accredited reports to that affect. Peters has also advocated further trade negotiations with Russia, forcing his Prime Minister to say any talks were suspended indefinitely because of the nerve agent attack.

Peters again muddied the waters on Thursday in Parliament when he was asked whether Russia was responsible for the attack, appearing not to back Britain’s more robust assessment.

The Government faced increased scrutiny as the Prime Minister’s assertion the Government could not find any spies in New Zealand was ridiculed in the international media.

Former KGB agent Boris Karpichkov told Newshub Ardern was either naive or misinformed if she thought there were no spies in New Zealand.

University of Waikato Professor Alexander Gillespie said the Prime Minister had been poorly briefed on her response.

“She’s getting some very bad advice somewhere along the line,” he said. “Someone in Foreign Affairs should have explained to her that this is not about whether we have spies in the county or not. This is a question about solidarity with our allies”.

Gillespie said the Government could find the lowest order person in the embassy and ask them to leave as an act of solidarity.

But Ardern appeared to have put appeasing Peters ahead of international solidarity. Her international mana is likely to have taken a hit over this, and Foreign Minister Peters may find his job abroad a bit harder. If he waffles vaguely on international visits like he does in Parliament and in media interviews New Zealand’s international image is in for a difficult time.