May rejects requests to relax Indian visa quota
Theresa May flew to India on Sunday to begin discussions around post-Brexit trade deals. This is the Prime Minister’s first bilateral meeting outside Europe and the first move in her journey to “forge a new global role for the UK” and enable “closer” relationships with Commonwealth countries.
Under EU rules the UK cannot do any trade deals until it leaves the EU, but with a complete withdrawal from the single market looking entirely possible, the UK is keen to initiate informal discussions as soon as possible.
With the number of Indian enrolments at British universities tumbling, Indian PM Narenda Modi used the visit to call on the UK to support more student visas. However, Ms May gave little indication that the UK will ease visa restrictions to reach a trade deal with India and rejected the country’s requests for more temporary visas for professional workers.
Moving forward Ms May will face a major challenge in forging strong non-EU alliances whilst continuing to maintain a hardline stance on immigration. As Karan Bilimoria, the founder of Cobra beer said: “The irony is coming on a trade mission with a view of laying the grounds for a trade agreement with India if Britain leaves the EU, while at the same time continuing to remain unwelcoming towards India when it comes to immigration.”
Brexit’s Trump card
You may have heard this week that a certain Donald J Trump is now the President-elect of the US. Despite Hilary Clinton narrowly winning 47.7% of the popular vote, due to the States’ Electoral College Trump swooped to victory with 279 of 538 the electoral votes, thereby rocketing him to the White House. There has been a myriad of reactions to the result: while Prime Minister May congratulated Trump on his “hard-fought” and successful presidential campaign, Guy Verhofstadt, lead negotiator for the European Parliament, criticised Trump for preaching hate-speech and called on Europe to “unite and take charge of its own destiny”.
For Brexit, it could represent a silver lining because of Trump’s previous commitments to decrease the US’ fiscal contribution to NATO and the fact that the UK is the second-largest financial participant of the military alliance. Considering Russia’s increasingly aggressive behaviour towards EU member states, some countries may soften their stance towards the UK to ensure that the alliance’s future is not caught in the Brexit cross fire.
However, Trump’s victory may spur on support for the increasingly large populist parties across Europe. An unprecedented voting season of elections in Europe is looming, with Italy, Austria, the Netherlands, France and Germany all going to the polls in the next twelve months. Many are concerned that Trump will further legitimise right-wing populist parties in these countries, causing candidates to reach high places in office. This eventuality could mean that decisions regarding the UK’s future relationship with Europe may lay in the hands of those seeking out their own divorce from the EU.
A spanner in the works
Article 50 discussions march forward. Or perhaps in no direction at all, depending on your perspective. The High Court ruling over the UK Parliament’s role in triggering Article 50 and scrutinising the UK’s negotiating stance has caused an even more deafening roar of opposing views in UK politics than there was before. What we do now know is that the Government’s challenge of the ruling will commence on 5 December and will last four days. But beyond that the Brexit timeline is as unclear as ever.
It’s unlikely the Government will win its challenge because the UK is a parliamentary democracy – the key word being parliamentary. Parliament will more than likely uphold the EU referendum result, but seek a heavy hand in hammering out the details of what the UK will be asking for. This signifies the likely end of May’s tight-lipped approach and begin the unveiling of how Britain is going to confront EU negotiators.
We are family
Meanwhile, the Scottish Government is determined to play hard-ball over the High Court ruling. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon this week confirmed that Holyrood will lodge a formal application to intervene in the UK’s Government’s appeal to the High Court – in the hope that this increases the prospects of the original verdict being upheld.
However, Sturgeon and her party want to go further still. Not content with the UK Parliament having a vote on Article 50, the SNP believe that the devolved parliament in Scotland (where 62% of voters backed remain) should be formally consulted as part of the process.
How realistic is this demand? Theresa May is desperate to get the process of withdrawal from the EU underway so it does not overshadow her premiership – so formal inclusion of the devolved assemblies would create an unwelcome headache. Instead, the Government has pledged to keep Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland up-to-date with negotiations informally via the EU Negotiation Joint Ministerial Committee – which met for the first time in London on Wednesday. David Davis described the tone of this first meeting as “constructive and amicable” – but his perfunctory statement hides the deep-conflict between the different parts of the UK over what Brexit should mean. Whether a politically-acceptable compromise can be found through this forum will be vital – both for maintaining economic stability in the short term, and for the long-term prospects of the Union.
All my brothers, sisters and me
The European Parliament is to consider proposals that would allow individual UK passport holders to retain EU citizenship after Britain has left the bloc. Under the opt-in scheme, citizens would continue to enjoy free movement and the right to vote for MEPs in Brussels.
The proposal was tabled in the EU Parliament this week by liberal Luxembourg MEP Charles Goerens, who said that his amendment has “clearly struck a chord” in a “divided” United Kingdom. However, Goerens’ proposal has attracted immediate criticism from Brexit supporters – with many suggesting it would expose divisions and act as a form of discrimination against Leave voters. The concept is unlikely to find much support from figures around the Cabinet table either – with previously Remain-backing ministers now firmly behind withdrawal. Defence Secretary Michael Fallon, who during the campaign described a vote to leave as a “payday for Putin”, has undergone metamorphosis to proclaim that “we are all Brexiters now”. Whether the rest of the 48% share Fallon’s outlook is less certain.