Wednesday

24th Jan 2018

UK to create 'no-deal' Brexit minister

The UK is to create a new junior minister in charge of a no-deal Brexit, amid howls of concern by British businesses.

British prime minister Theresa May is to unveil the new post as part of a cabinet reshuffle on Monday (8 January), after telling the BBC on Sunday that "some changes do have to be made, and I will be making some change".

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  • Farage (r) to hold meeting with Barnier (l) on Monday (Photo: European Parliament)

British newspaper The Telegraph said the no-deal job would be attached to the department for exiting the European Union under its minster David Davis.

The no-deal man or woman is to be called a "cabinet minister", rather than being given the more senior "secretary of state" title. They are to attend cabinet meetings to give updates on preparations to potentially crash out of Europe "to show [May's] EU counterparts and Brexiteers that Britain is serious about leaving the EU without a trade deal", The Telegraph said.

Monday's reshuffle is expected to see Davis and other hard Brexiteers - foreign minister Boris Johnson and trade minister Liam Fox - stay in place. Suella Fernandes - a eurosceptic Tory backbencher - is predicted to gain a cabinet post.

But proponents of closer post-Brexit EU relations - finance minister Philip Hammond and home office minister Amber Rudd - are also expected to keep their jobs to maintain balance.

The reshuffle comes after May lost three top figures, including her defence minister, in sex scandals and protocol fiascos in recent months.

It will focus on domestic issues, such as education, health, and the Conservative party's chairmanship, and is designed to show that May is strong enough to hold on to power until the next elections in 2022.

She told the BBC on Sunday that she was "not a quitter … I serve as long as people want me to serve".

Second phase

The UK opened the second phase of Brexit talks, on the transition deal and on trade, in December, with EU negotiations to resume in earnest in March.

The talks come amid concern by British businesses.

A new survey by Deloitte, an accountancy firm, said in January that Brexit "tops the list of risks for businesses in 2018" based on interviews with chief financial officers of British firms in the final quarter of last year.

The British Retail Consortium also warned that crashing out of the EU's VAT area could make UK businesses "liable to pay upfront import VAT on goods being imported from the EU-27 for the first time", resulting in "additional cashflow burdens for companies, as well as additional processing time at ports and border entry points".

Meanwhile, the Financial Times, a British newspaper, reported on Monday, citing government sources, that the UK wanted to stay part of the European Medicines Agency after the body moves from London to Amsterdam.

It also wants to keep on being regulated by the European Chemicals Agency in Helsinki and by the European Aviation Safety Agency in Cologne, Germany.

The moves would mitigate disruption to trade and transport, but would put parts of British industry under the jurisdiction of the EU courts in Luxembourg - a red line for hard Brexiteers.

Red lines

Those anti-EU feelings will be on show in Brussels on Monday when British eurosceptics meet the European Commission's chief negotiator Michel Barnier.

The UK delegation will include Nigel Farage, an MEP, who said on British radio on Sunday that he represented "the views of the 17.4 million people who stood up against the establishment" to vote to leave the EU.

He promised to talk about trade, immigration, Britain's EU exit costs, and the transition deal.

"We didn't vote for a transition period, we didn't vote to effectively pay the [EU] membership fee for another couple of years," he said.

Farage asked for the meeting after Barnier met with anti-Brexit British politicians last year, including Andrew Adonis, from the opposition Labour party, who had advised May on Brexit until he resigned from his post in December in protest at her appeasement of hard eurosceptics.

"Only surprise is that he [Farage] isn't in Downing St about to be appointed minister for hard Brexit, since its his policy. Maybe he should take over from Mrs May, to make things honest!", Adonis said on Twitter on Monday.

EU says Brexit transition to end in December 2020

There is no 'a la carte' transition period, the chief EU Brexit negotiator said, adding that the UK will have to comply with EU rules and policies without taking part in making decisions.

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Leo Varadkar, the first leader to address MEPs in a series of speeches on the EU's future, pledged to close tax loopholes, pay more into the EU budget, and keep London to its word on Northern Ireland.

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