VULCAN VIEW – KEY EVENTS THIS WEEK:
EU appears to soften stance as London calls upon fellow European capitals to intervene
Fears that a no-deal Brexit will materialise has led to Brussels signalling some willingness to be more flexible about certain elements on the Brexit negotiations, in particular the tricky issue of the border between the Republic and Northern Ireland. As the EU’s proposed solution for a common regulatory area for goods and customs with the rest of the bloc has been rejected by the UK, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier this week stated that he was ‘’ready to improve’’ Brussel’s proposal on the border.
This apparent softening of the European Commission’s approach was echoed further by senior EU officials who recently admitted that they are willing to accept some kind of ‘’fudge’’ or vague agreed political direction if it helps Prime Minister Theresa May avoid a potentially disastrous ‘’no deal outcome’’. Alarmed by the chaos that has consumed British politics, one Brussels diplomat revealed that ‘’the priority is to get the withdrawal agreement done’’.
Brussel’s new approach to negotiations comes at the same time as the British government has begun to lobby their European counterparts in Paris and Berlin to try to force the European Commission to strike a ‘’sensible and pragmatic’’ Brexit deal. Ahead of his meeting with his opposite number in Paris, the UK’s foreign minister, Jeremy Hunt, told reporters that ‘’France and Germany have to send a strong signal to the Commission that we need to negotiate a pragmatic and sensible outcome’’. Ms. May will be hoping to make similar points when she visits the French president Emmanuel Macron at his summer residence in a few days’ time.
While there is still a long road ahead to achieving a necessary breakthrough, these latest interventions on both sides highlight just how close the entire continent is to a potentially catastrophic Brexit.
Brexit planning for food shortages underway
While the UK parliament may have risen for the summer recess, the Government’s plans for a no deal Brexit have continued to cause disquiet amongst the British public. Recent warnings from the government over the potential consequences of a no deal Brexit have led to speculation about over delays at ports, and subsequent shortages of food, drugs and other essential supplies.
Despite the new Brexit Secretary Dominic Rabb’s insistence that it is not the government who will be stockpiling food, British Prime Minister Theresa May has said that stockpiling is the “responsible” thing to do. Yet, retailers and suppliers have not had contact with the government about stockpiling, and retailers claimed this week that they do not have the capacity to do so. Shane Brennan of the Food Storage and Distribution Federation said the idea of storage is a “red herring” as “food supply systems don’t work like that.”
The UK’s food supply is vulnerable as 30 percent is sourced from the European Union, and a further 11 percent is provided through EU negotiated trade deals. The port of Dover has warned that delays of two minutes in processing could cause traffic to back up for 17 miles. On Monday, the government denied rumours that it has made plans to enlist the army to deliver supplies and it has delayed the release of 70 warning notices.
Brexiteers, who had previously encouraged planning for a no deal Brexit to strengthen the UK’s negotiating hand, are displeased by the predictions of chaos, which they are calling “project fear 2.0.” However, business and the public seem to be sufficiently concerned by the government’s warnings, as Mr. Raab was reportedly told by a senior Amazon executive that there may be “civil unrest” within two weeks if Britain leaves the bloc without an exit deal.
Berlin lifts ban on allowing entry to family members of refugees
The German government appeared to soften its stance on migration this week when it partially lifted its suspension on granting right of entry to immediate family members of asylum seekers. The restriction was put in place in 2016 in order to ease the burden on administrative and social services, following an influx of 1 million migrants into Germany. It did not apply to those who had been granted full refugee status, as they have the constitutional right to be joined by their families.
However, numbers for family members granted entry have been capped at 1,000 per month, which has drawn objections from the left, who say this is too few, as well as from the far-right, who oppose immigration outright. Questions remain as to how the 1,000 people will be chosen, as the criteria outlined, including age and length of separation, are quite vague. Priority will also be given to those whose family member is deemed to have made an effort to integrate.
The limited reunification of families was a compromise agreed between Chancellor Angela Merkel’s conservative party and their junior coalition partner, the Social Democrats (SDP). Germany’s Interior Minister, Horst Seehofer, who has been vocal in his opposition to unrestricted immigration, also issued his support, saying: “the new rule allows us to achieve a balance between our society’s integration capacity, humanity and security.” The anti-immigration AfD party, however, objects to the rules, claiming they will encourage more economic migrants to come to Germany
Contentious new immigration and asylum law approved by French government
The French parliament on Wednesday passed a controversial new immigration and asylum reform bill, which has sparked divisions in President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government, and has been lambasted by opposition parties from across the political spectrum. Although the text had been rejected by the senate, it was passed in the lower house, the National Assembly, with 100 votes in favour to 25 against and 11 abstentions.
The passing of the bill will see the time limit allowed to make an asylum application cut down from 120 days to 90 days, while it also extends the maximum detention period for denied asylum seekers awaiting deportation from 45 days to 90 days. New measures will facilitate both the expulsion of those who are rejected, and the acceptance of successful applicants, including improving integration and French language learning facilities.
President Macron’s government claims the new law will help to streamline the asylum process and minimise administrative hurdles, insisting it will allow “controlled immigration, an effective right to asylum and successful integration.” However, critics have called the law a thinly veiled attempt to curtail access to protection and have accused the government of failing to address the issue of the detention of migrant children in France.
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