Electoral Commission says new Vote Leave investigation ‘not in public interest’

Vote Leave ‘battle bus’

The Electoral Commission believed it would “not be in the public interest” to investigate whether Vote Leave committed a second breach of referendum spending laws, according to the website OpenDemocracy.

Last week Vote Leave dropped its appeal against a £61,000 fine for breaking the EU referendum spending limit by donating hundreds of thousands of pounds to the pro-Brexit activist Darren Grimes. Grimes’s appeal against his own £20,000 fine continues.

Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who played prominent roles in Vote Leave’s campaign, are now facing calls to reveal what they knew about the arrangement as they consider their bids to succeed Theresa May as Conservative party leader.

Last year an investigation by the BBC’s Spotlight programme reported that online adverts placed on behalf of the DUP were booked by Vote Leave’s director in Northern Ireland.

The commission subsequently announced that it had considered the allegations but would not be launching an investigation because it did not have sufficient evidence.

At the time, it…

Brussels confirms return of border checks under no-deal Brexit

The European commission said its Brexit no-deal plans “cannot replicate the benefits of being an EU member”.

British travellers will get a stamp in their passport every time they enter and leave the European Union in the event of a no-deal Brexit, the European commission has confirmed.

The announcement on border checks was revealed days after the British government secured a short extension that shifts the Brexit deadline to 12 April.

“The risk of a no-deal scenario is becoming increasingly likely,” an EU official said. The EU’s Brexit no-deal plans “cannot replicate the benefits of being an EU member” and were not “mini-deals or a negotiated no deal”, but unilateral measures to avoid disruption for the EU side, the official said.

In an information notice, the commission confirmed that in the event of a no-deal UK nationals would have the right to visa-free travel for short stays in the EU (90 days in any 180-day period), if the UK grants the same arrangement to citizens of all EU member states. “Your passport will be stamped both when you enter the EU and when you leave it, so that this period of 90 days, which is visa-free, can be calculated.”

British travellers would also lose access to the EU lane at border crossings, meaning longer queues.

In another return to the past, British travellers may be asked by border guards to provide information on the purpose of their visit and means of subsistence during their stay. Luggage would be subject to customs checks.

No deal would also mean the return of duty-free and the right of British travellers to claim a refund of VAT paid on goods during their stay in the EU, provided they have the right documents.

The…

‘Political meltdown’ grips UK after Theresa May’s Brexit defeat

The United Kingdom continues to face political turmoil over Brexit, as Prime Minister Theresa May failed to find enough support in Parliament for her amended agreement with the European Union. Judy Woodruff talks to Sir Peter Westmacott, former British ambassador to the U.S., about the most likely courses of action now, May’s “extremely fragile” majority and why Brexit matters across the globe.

Read the Full Transcript

  • Judy Woodruff:

    And we continue our look at today’s vote and where the U.K. goes from here with Sir Peter Westmacott. He had a 40-year career in the British Diplomatic Service and he served as his country’s ambassador to the United States.

    Sir Peter Westmacott, welcome back to the “NewsHour.”

    So, what does today’s Parliament vote, rejecting this latest plan, what does it mean for the prospects of Britain leaving the E.U.? Is it now more likely or less likely?

  • Peter Westmacott:

    Well, we are now in a state of some political meltdown, as your correspondent was just explaining.

    I think at the moment it means that it is less likely that we leave on the 29th of March, as scheduled, because of today’s vote, which was resoundingly against Theresa May’s package, but also because, tomorrow, parliamentarians are very likely to vote heavily against the idea of leaving with no deal.

    So, if you haven’t got Theresa May’s deal, and you haven’t got no deal, then what have you got? Answer, on the third day, on Thursday, there will be a vote about whether to ask for an extension of the 29th of March deadline from the European Commission.

    And at the moment, that is what is most likely to happen in the near future. So I think leaving on the 29th of March is feeling a little less likely than it was before tonight’s vote.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    So, you’re saying parliamentarians tomorrow likely to say, OK, we need some kind of deal if we’re going the leave, the question is, what does it look like?

  • Peter Westmacott:

    Well, it’s not even as clear as that, I’m afraid, Judy.

    What the parliamentarians will like say is, we don’t like the idea of what is crashing out with no deal, because it would be chaotic in a whole lot of different ways. And neither the European Union nor the United Kingdom is ready for that.

    But what they’re not saying is what they would like, and that’s part of the prime minister’s frustration. She rushed off to Strasbourg over the weekend to try and put a few improvements to her package, but, unfortunately, without checking first with her own law officer, the attorney general, thought that the package would do the trick.

    And he then opined this morning, saying it doesn’t give the legal guarantees that she had hoped for. And so result was the Parliament said, this isn’t good enough. So we’re a bit stuck in that sense.

    The most likely thing, therefore, is extending the timetable, if the European side will agree. And a lot of the signs today — this evening — since the vote, are that the European Commission and the European member states are not giving this away for nothing, that they will have their own views as to how long the extension might be.

    And there may be some conditions that are not to the liking of the United Kingdom. So you could still end up crashing out, but it feels to me it is not so likely that it…

Brexit talks ‘deadlocked’, says Downing Street

Theresa May

Downing Street has described the Brexit talks in Brussels as “deadlocked” after negotiations over the weekend failed to find a breakthrough on the Irish backstop.

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker, the European commission president, spoke on the telephone on Sunday evening to “take stock”, but plans for the prime minister to visit the Belgian capital to sign off on any compromise are on hold.

“No further meetings at a political level are scheduled but both sides will remain in close contact this week”, a commission spokesman added on Monday. “The commission has made proposals on further assurances that the backstop, if used, will apply temporarily… It is now for the House of commons to make an important set of decisions this week”.

The EU refuses to budge on the British proposal for what it believes is an attempt to build a unilateral exit mechanism into the Irish backstop, the arrangement that would keep the UK in a customs union to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland.

The attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, is unlikely without such a concession to revise his legal opinion, given before the last vote on May’s deal, that the backstop could be in force “indefinitely”.

The prime minister pledged in parliament to put her deal to the Commons on Tuesday but she is being urged by senior Conservative MPs to pull the vote if she fails to secure significant concessions from Brussels.

Leading Tories have warned Downing Street it could face a second huge defeat similar to the historic 230-vote loss in January if the government goes ahead.

They have advised May instead to replace the vote with a motion setting out the sort of Brexit deal that would be acceptable to Tory MPs, in the hope that this would trigger concessions from the EU.

How will May’s three days of Brexit votes play out?

12 March

MPs vote again

on May’s deal

No

Yes

Brexit with May’s

deal on 29 March

13 March

MPs vote on whether

to leave without a deal

No

Yes

No-deal Brexit

on 29 March

14 March

MPs vote on whether

to extend article 50

No

Yes

UK asks for a

short extension

21 March summit

EU leaders vote on

allowing a short extension

No

Yes

Brexit

postponed

No to short, but

yes to longer

extension

MPs vote on offer of…

Coffeeshop: The politics of halloumification

Coffeeshop: The politics of halloumification
What a pity that our foreign minister failed to persuade his Russian counterpart Sergei Lavrov, whom he met in Moscow on Friday, to extend Russia’ stand on principle on the Cyprob to halloumi as well

IF ANYONE was wondering why the European Commission has left our application for the registration of halloumi/hellim as a Protected Designation of Origin (PDO) to gather dust in its offices for three-and-a-half years they should not look outside Kyproulla to find who is to blame.

The “delay and inaction” by the Commission, which Prez Nik complained about in a letter to his former drinking and smoking buddy, President of the Commission Jean-Claude Juncker, was not the result of a sinister plot by perfidious Albion to claim halloumi as a Yorkshire cheese; nor was it caused by Turkish intransigence.

In fact it was another triumph of Kyproulla’s diplomatic assertiveness, achieved by our resourceful foreign ministry officials that specialise in preventing anything that could be regarded as progress in relations with the other side from happening. The custodians of bad faith at the ministry were never going to allow an agreement on halloumi to ruin the negative climate that is their raison d’être.

That the foreign ministry demolition mob would wreck the “common understanding” on the PDO reached in July 2015 by Nik, Mustafa and Juncker during a visit to the island by the latter was no surprise. Foreign ministry officials slammed the deal soon after a beaming Juncker hailed it as “highly symbolic” and confirming “the willingness of the two parties to work together with the Commission to build confidence.”

One of the deal’s fiercest critics at the time was the foreign ministry official in charge of the halloumi diplomacy Mrs Philippa Christodoulides, the better half of our FM Nicos, who is now the acting director of the president’s diplomatic office. Perhaps her promotion to this position, which is much higher than her ministry rank justified, was reward for her principled stand on halloumi that ensured it remained ethnically Greek.

THE HALLOUMI application was put on hold by the Commission because of four new demands made by our foreign ministry after the common understanding was reached in Nicosia. The demands were the product of the charmingly, twisted negativity that reigns at the foreign ministry and were reproduced in Friday’s Phil.

First, if the hellim produced in the north, was not exported through the legal ports of the Republic and left the island, certified and approved from the pseudo-state, it would “put into practice direct trade, as desired by the Commission, leading to the Taiwanification of the pseudo-state.” The danger of Taiwanification – the pseudo-state having links with the outside world, without being recognised, like Taiwan – is the reason most foreign ministry officials never get a good night’s sleep.

Second, the PDO for hellim could lead to PDOs for a host of other products from the north, forcing our government into entering a “bicommunal decision framework.” We demanded that the agreement would be restricted only to hellim.

The third demand is just too tediously boring to repeat. My personal favourite is the fourth. We demanded that the six-monthly report by the foreign company that would certify the standards of hellim produced in the north should be submitted to the Cyprus government which would then send these to the Commission, because this was the sovereign right of the Republic.

“What particularly irked Nicosia was that Brussels was attempting to secure the six-monthly reports simultaneously with the Cyprus Republic and directly from the company,” wrote Phil. This would not lead to Taiwanification, or upgrading of the pseudo state, but receiving the halloumi report at the same time as the Commission, presumably, would lead to the downgrading of the Republic.

HOW COULD Prez Nik have reached such a halloumi deal with Juncker that would open the way to Taiwanification of the north, the halloumification of bicommunal relations and the downgrading of the Republic? It was 2015, a year-and-a-half before his rebirth as a rabid rejectionist, when he was still, superficially at least, embracing…

Politics taint fisheries win

The nation was removed from the EU illegal fishing warning list, but there is a long way to go

Thai fishermen have met the EU standards needed to continue exporting seafood, but a major battle looms just to maintain sustainable fishing. (File photo)

BRUSSELS: The European Commission’s decision to free Thailand from countries it has formally warned over illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing has underlined the military-led government’s achievement in tackling the EU’s concern on illegal fishing.

However, the country is still being questioned over its ability to maintain fisheries sustainability.

To get the EU’s approval for delisting the so-called yellow card, the government issued 138 laws and regulations to control IUU fishing.

It allowed 10,565 trawlers to go to sea based on the balance of marine resources and a budget of 95 million baht with 4,000 staff to complete the mission.

Department of Fisheries chief Adisron Promthep said those efforts will mean nothing if the incoming government fails to adopt the strong political will needed to preserve the country’s sustainable fishery.

He said he has learnt that some parties are saying they would introduce legal amendments to pacify the industry to gain more political support. That might make the country’s aim of sustainable marine practices more difficult.

“We might be warned again if there is no further development. And it will get worse if such law changes are made unreasonably. Any government has a right to do so, but it must be done based on sustainable fishery principles with better results,” he said.

Last week, the EU declared Thailand was free of concerns over IUU fishing activities, which follows the Philippines in shedding its yellow card warning status in 2015, the same year that Thailand was given the yellow card.

Meanwhile, marine shipment imports to the EU have are still banned from Cambodia, and Vietnam is also conducting strong efforts to get free from the yellow card status.

Mr Adisorn further explained that Thailand has strong experience to share with Asean members in terms of tackling illegal fishing activities and…

Irish Brexit backstop goes on indefinitely, says attorney general

Geoffrey Cox dismissed suggestions that no other similar treaty existed that would endure so permanently.

The UK is “indefinitely committed” to the Irish backstop if it comes into force, the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, has told MPs as he explained to them the legal advice he gave the government on the planned Brexit deal.

Answering questions from MPs in what Downing Street said was the first such appearance by an attorney general in the Commons in decades, Cox also said there was no unilateral right for the UK to pull out of the backstop, which would come into force to prevent a hard Irish border if no permanent trade deal was reached.

“Let me make no bones about the Northern Ireland protocol. It will subsist, we are indefinitely committed to it if it came into force,” Cox said. “There is no point in my trying or the government trying to disguise that fact.”

Cox said that the main calculation was the “political imperative” of either entering into the agreement or not. “That is a calculated risk that each member of this house is going to have to weigh up against different alternatives,” he said.

He dismissed suggestions that no other similar treaty existed that would endure so permanently. “There are hundreds throughout the world … The whole Vienna convention has entire sections on permanent treaties,” he said.

But Cox told MPs there was no legal basis in article 50 for the backstop to be permanent and it would be “vulnerable to legal challenge” if it ever came to pass that Northern Ireland remained in both the EU and the UK.

Rivals would “beat a path to the European commission” and would win if the backstop was permanent, he said, because it would give Northern Ireland the unique and anti-competitive position of being able to trade with the EU single market and the UK market with no strings attached.

In his statement, Cox urged MPs to have patience, saying that untangling 45…

Brexit: May gives way over Gibraltar after Spain’s ‘veto’ threat

Gibraltar

Theresa May has given way to Madrid’s demands over the future of Gibraltar after the Spanish prime minister threatened to “veto” the Brexit deal due to be signed off by EU leaders on Sunday.

On the eve of Sunday’s special Brexit summit, the British ambassador to the EU, Sir Tim Barrow, wrote to concede that Gibraltar would not necessarily be covered by a future trade deal with the EU.

The development gives Spain a veto over Gibraltar benefiting from a future trade and security agreement between Brussels and the British government.

The Spanish leader, Pedro Sánchez, reacted immediately, claiming the UK would now have to open talks on “joint sovereignty” of Gibraltar, over which Spain has had a claim since the military dictatorship of Francisco Franco.

Sánchez said: “Once the UK has left the EU, Gibraltar’s political, legal and even geographic relationship with the EU will go through Spain …

“Spain will be a fundamental pillar of the relationship between Gibraltar and the EU as a whole.

“When it comes to the future political declaration, the European council and the European commission have backed Spain’s position, and backed it as never before.

“In these fundamental future negotiations, we’re going to have to talk about joint sovereignty and many other things with the UK.”

The 27 EU member states are set to publish a further statement in solidarity with Spain at the summit, according to a leaked document seen by the Guardian.

“After the United Kingdom leaves the union, Gibraltar will not be included in the territorial scope of the agreements to be concluded between the union and the United Kingdom,” the EU will say.

In the statement, the EU will go on to warn that any separate deal to protect Gibraltar’s economy will “require a prior agreement of the Kingdom of Spain”.

The news was met with anger by politicians across the political spectrum. The Liberal Democrat’s Brexit spokesman, Tom Brake MP, said: “The prime minister has caved in once again. In a desperate bid to get her disastrous deal across the line, May appears to have cast the people of Gibraltar aside.

“She has conceded that Gibraltar won’t necessarily be covered by a future trade deal, simply another example of why what she has negotiated is completely unacceptable. She has left the status of Gibraltar in jeopardy.

“This is a day of shame. The only way to sort out this chaos would be through a People’s Vote, with the option to remain in the EU”.

Labour’s MEP for Gibraltar, Clare Moody, said: “What is remarkable is that Theresa May has gone to Brussels to concede further text at this stage, before we’ve even left.”

The Conservative MP, Andrew Bridgen, said: “It appears that there is no-one the prime minister will not betray to achieve her sell-out deal”.

Amid the growing outcry over the concession, the prime minister, insisted that nothing had changed over the UK’s territorial claim to Gibraltar, as she visited Brussels on Saturday night for meetings with EU officials, including European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker.

May also dismissed claims from Spain’s…

EU embalming fluid ban ‘to change funerals’

Funeral

Grieving loved ones may no longer be able to pay their last respects to dead relatives when the EU bans the chemical in embalming fluid.

That is the fear of Britain’s funeral directors after MEPs voted to restrict the use of formaldehyde.

The EU says it will protect workers’ health and save lives.

And – in a concession secured by a Conservative MEP – it has delayed the ban on the substance for three years to allow the industry to adjust.

If the UK remains in the EU single market for 21 months after it officially leaves on 29 March, as is currently planned, then the government would be expected to transpose the directive into UK law within a strict time limit.

The Health and Safety Executive said it would welcome any measures to help controls but is trying to get more time for the funeral industry to adjust.

A HSE spokesman said: “This is not a ban on formaldehyde. The European Commission has proposed formalising exposure limits.

“Formaldehyde is a known human carcinogen that requires close regulation, which the funeral sector has always taken into account. As is the current case, it will still be used in a controlled manner.

“As a responsible regulator we have always worked closely with the funeral industry to understand its particular needs. This has informed our discussions at EU level.

“Our dialogue with the sector on the proposed limits will continue whatever the terms of our departure from the European Union.”

The HSE said the three-year exemption period would come on top of the usual two-year implementation period for a new regulation to come into force, meaning it will not apply to the funeral sector for five years.

Funeral directors in the UK are concerned they will not be able to find a replacement for formaldehyde and that they will be faced with extra costs.

Formaldehyde, which can cause irritation and has been linked to nasopharyngeal cancer, is one of five industrial chemicals to be added to the European Commission’s list of restricted carcinogens and mutagens.

The UK funeral industry says it recognises that formaldehyde, which is also used in hospitals and in a wide variety of industrial processes, has been linked to serious illnesses.

But it argues that the chemical does not pose a significant risk to workers in the diluted form, known as formalin, used by embalmers.

And if an alternative to formalin…

Di Maio says EU election will shake up politics, help Italy

FILE PHOTO: Italy's 5-Star Movement rally in Rome
FILE PHOTO: Italian Deputy PM Luigi Di Maio speaks at the 5-Star Movement party’s open-air rally at Circo Massimo in Rome, Italy, October 21, 2018. REUTERS/Max Rossi/File Photo

ROME: European parliamentary elections in May will shake up the political landscape and help Italy in its budget battles with Brussels, Deputy Prime Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Sunday.

The European Commission last month rejected Italy’s 2019 budget, saying it flouted a commitment to lower the deficit and did not guarantee a reduction in the debt, the second highest in the euro zone as a proportion of GDP.