We need to talk about Russia
With the battle over Brexit terms (mostly) on hiatus during parliamentary recess, the Government has found fresh cause for disagreement with European ministers over the response to Russia’s alleged involvement in last week’s chemical weapons attack in Syria. After cancelling his trip to Moscow at the eleventh-hour, Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson sought to turn the screw on the Kremlin, by calling for the G7 to green light economic sanctions. Unfortunately for Johnson, the Group instead decided to condemn Syrian President Bashar Al-Asad and voted for an investigation into last week’s events.
The call for an investigation was seen as a win for Germany, which has advocated more caution in responding to Russia’s ties with the Syrian Government. Meanwhile the “very painful” sanctions envisaged by the UK Government will not come to pass without further evidence from the investigation given opposition from Germany, Italy and the EU high representative for foreign affairs at the G7, Federica Mogherini.
We may also need to talk about Russian involvement in the EU referendum, according to a report by the House of Commons public administration and constitutional affairs committee (PACAC). The link is tenuous at this stage, and barely an allegation given the Committee chose not to directly accuse the Kremlin of causing the voter registration meltdown on 7 June. However, the report noted repeated claims over Russian involvement in the US and French elections and cited a link to the “cognitive approach based on understanding of mass psychology” used by both Russia and China in cyber operations. The Cabinet Office was quick to reject any foreign interference in EU voter registration.
Is all alright with the City?
Remember when the British financial services industry was going to hell in a handbasket after the vote to leave the EU? Not anymore, according to the policy chief for the City of London Corporation policy. Mark Boleat sought to downplay prospects for a mass bank exodus, saying that only a few jobs were likely to move and that the outlook for the City has actually improved since Brexit was officially triggered. Meanwhile City recruiter Robert Walters claims that banks are “bored with Brexit” and have launched a hiring blitz, aiding a 27% rise in net fees across the financial service sector.
The French aren’t buying this, though. Finance Minister Michel Sapin said that the City should expect to lose lucrative euro denominated trading operations after the UK’s departure from the EU, and that “clearing” activity should be relocated within the currency bloc. The European Commission appears to be weighing its options for tackling this issue over the next two years, but the pressure from Sapin is nothing new, as France has long sought to ‘repatriate’ financial activity to the continent.
Tough Tusk gets approval
Donald Tusk’s tough stance on Brexit negotiations is set to be green-lit by EU member states, according to the Financial Times (I said Brexit terms were mostly on hiatus). The Council President’s negotiation guidelines state that Britain will have to accept the EU’s laws, court rulings and budgetary arrangements if it chooses to seek a gradual departure from the single market. Serious talks on the negotiations will take place among the 27 remaining member states on Tuesday, but senior diplomats involved in the process are being quoted in approval of the former Polish Prime Minister’s approach.
A quick agreement among the 27 doesn’t spell good news for Theresa May’s government, which will be seeking to lean on those European allies more amenable to compromise on ‘red-lines’ over free movement and market access.
A not so global Britain
The Prime Minister has made much of her Government’s aim to create a “truly global Britain” in the wake of Brexit, but a Next Generation Study commissioned by Demos and the British Council suggests there is some work to do. While half of young people surveyed said they felt European, only 13% of 18-30-year-olds have worked abroad, and only one in 10 have travelled overseas for three months. While the study doesn’t tackle the concept of a “global Britain” in a comprehensive manner – indeed, this is more likely to be pursued through a series of bi-lateral free trade agreements in the first instance – the socioeconomic divide it highlights is disconcerting, with disadvantaged young adults less able to travel and found to be more negative about their global place.
Among the four nations, Northern Ireland has the highest proportion of 18-30-year-olds who feel European (59%), whereas Wales has the lowest proportion (35%), broadly reflecting how the two countries voted in the EU referendum.
Out with the British, in with the Scottish
The Next Generation research found that 59% of Scottish people feel British, and current polling suggests that more than half of the voting population will opt to stay in the UK in the event of a second Scottish independence referendum. However, if – by some miracle – the polls prove to be wrong, and Scotland departs the Union, Nicola Sturgeon’s Government can take solace in the support it has from a small grouping of politicians across the EU.
This week a cross-party group of 50 European politicians, with MEPs and MPs from 10 countries including Germany, France, and Italy, argued that Scotland would be “most welcome” as a full member of the EU, should it choose to break away from the UK. In the letter organised by Green MSP Ross Greer and German Green MEP Terry Reintke, the group said it would offer its full support to “ensure the transition is as swift, smooth and orderly as possible.”
Convergence criteria aside, campaigners for Scottish independence will be happy to get support for their hypothetical membership bid wherever they can find it. Meanwhile, the European Parliament convened this Tuesday to discuss for the first time the fate of the 73 MEP seats held by British representatives in the assembly after Brexit. The ultimate decision will be taken by the European Council.
Finally (and speaking of the British), Slovak media outlets are facing fines of up to €6,600 for saying “Britain” rather than the official “United Kingdom” during coverage of the EU referendum. Apparently, the agency in charge of ensuring technically correct coverage in Slovakia has chosen to at last crack the whip, with the chief of the Geodesy, Cartography and Cadastre Authority, Maria Fridrichova, saying, “We have never fined anyone in the past but we are (now) ready to enforce the law”.
Well then. BBC, eat your heart out.