Fact-Check Reveals EU Did Not Praise Buhari For Release Of Kankara Boys

 

A fact-check by the international news agency, Agence France-Presse (AFP) has revealed that a purported commendation to the government of Nigeria on the release of the Kankara schoolboys did not come from the European Union but from a self-styled organization known as European Union Human Rights Forum (EUHRF) which has no relationship with the global body.

The European Union says the EUHRF is a ‘discredited’ NGO that does not exist in the EU family.

Meanwhile, the only known acknowledgment of the release of the boys to have come from a multinational global organization was from His Excellency Mr. Edward Kallon the UN Chief Representative in Nigeria on December 18, 2020, where he tweeted:

‘So delighted to receive the news of the return of the abducted Kankara schoolboys. Congratulations to the Gov’t of Nigeria for securing their release. I rejoice with the community and concerned families& call on the authorities to make schools safe for teaching and learning.”

EU Gets Vaccine Boost As WHO Dampens Hope Of Herd Immunity

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union started the approval process for its third vaccine on Tuesday after WHO scientists warned that herd immunity from coronavirus was unlikely this year even with mass inoculation schemes.

The 27-nation EU — under fire for lengthy approval processes and slow national rollouts of drugs — promised an “accelerated timeline” after confirming drug company AstraZeneca had applied for approval for the jab it developed with Oxford University.

The EU’s medicines agency said a decision would still not come before January 29, even though the drug is already being used in countries including Britain.

And even with mass vaccinations, World Health Organization scientists warned that coverage would still not be wide enough for population-level immunity this year.

“We are not going to achieve any levels of population immunity or herd immunity in 2021,” said WHO’s chief scientist Soumya Swaminathan of a disease that has already infected more than 90 million people worldwide and killed almost two million.

READ ALSO: UN Seeks $35 Million In Emergency Aid For Madagascar

The United States remains the worst affected country, posting daily death tolls in multiple thousands, but European hospitals are increasingly warning of stretched resources and Asian countries are also facing upsurges.

Malaysia declared a state of emergency on Tuesday as fears grow that its health system is close to being overwhelmed, after China and Japan took measures against localised clusters.

China added a city of five million to a growing lockdown area near Beijing on Tuesday, as WHO experts arrive in the central city of Wuhan to probe the origins of the disease.

– ‘Superspreader event’ –

With recriminations already flying over America’s longer-term handling of the virus, lawmakers voiced fury on Tuesday over the actions of some of their peers during last week’s ructions in Washington DC.

Congress members were forced to hunker down in secure rooms as supporters of President Donald Trump marauded through the corridors of the Capitol building, and some have now tested positive for coronavirus and squarely blamed their colleagues.

“Many Republicans still refused to take the bare minimum COVID-19 precaution and simply wear a damn mask in a crowded room during a pandemic — creating a superspreader event on top of a domestic terrorist attack,” said Democratic Congresswoman Pramila Jayapal, who has since tested positive.

US President-elect Joe Biden, who has pledged to devote all available resources to fight the pandemic, received his second vaccine dose on Monday of the Pfizer-BioNTech jab — the first to be approved in Western countries.

German firm BioNTech said it could produce millions more doses than originally expected this year, but warned that Covid-19 was likely become an endemic disease and vaccines would be needed to fight new variants.

– ‘Wing and a prayer’ –

The sporting world provided some respite from the continuing cycle of glum news, with England beginning a cricket Test match in Sri Lanka on Thursday, 10 months after a tour was called off.

It was bitter-sweet for one England fan, who has been waiting in Sri Lanka for 10 months for the match to start, only to miss out on the live action because it will be played behind closed doors.

“I’ve been in Sri Lanka the whole time on blind faith, on a wing and a prayer,” Rob Lewis, who has been working remotely as a web designer and DJ-ing at a local bar in Colombo, told AFP.

But elsewhere in the sporting world, shredded schedules and crisis meetings were still the order of the day.

Tokyo Olympics organisers were forced to dismiss speculation that this summer’s event was about to be cancelled, as polls showed public support declining.

“I want to say that we are not thinking that way at all, and that these reports are wrong,” said Tokyo 2020 CEO Toshiro Muto.

Formula One announced a major reshuffle of next season’s races on Tuesday, shifting the season-opening Australia Grand Prix from March to November and postponing the China race indefinitely.

As sports organisers plan their medium-term future, environmentalists are raising the alarm over the pandemic’s longer term impacts.

Discarded face masks — littering waterways and beaches the world over — can take hundreds of years to decompose and wreck animal habitats, campaigners warn.

“Face masks aren’t going away any time soon,” Ashley Fruno of animal rights group PETA told AFP.

“But when we throw them away, these items can harm the environment and the animals who share our planet.”

How Will Brexit Rules Affect The Premier League?

premier-league-fixtures-today
The Premier League was put on hold since mid-March due to COVID-19 outbreak. Photo: Twitter/Premier League.

 

The Premier League has become the world’s richest league based on its staggering global appeal, with millions tuning in to watch the best talent from around the globe week by week.

But a change of rules as a result of Brexit means English clubs will not have the same freedom to hoover up the best of European football’s young players.

From January 1, a points-based system will be in place, meaning players from the European Union will now need to gain a Governing Body Endorsement (GBE), subjecting them to the same criteria as other overseas players.

Points will be awarded on the basis of the number of international appearances made, as well as club appearances in domestic and continental competitions and the standard of the club and league the player is coming from.

Getting a GBE will not be a problem for the vast majority of the Premier League’s big-money arrivals but the changes will have a bigger effect on the recruitment of youth players and further down the football pyramid.

Premier League chief executive Richard Masters sounded confident earlier this month when the English top-flight, the Football Association and the English Football League announced post-Brexit arrangements.

“Continuing to be able to recruit the best players will see the Premier League remain competitive and compelling and the solution will complement our player development philosophy of the best foreign talent alongside the best homegrown players,” he said.

The same rules will also apply to managers and coaches based on the level they have previously worked at. For example, under the new criteria, Manchester United manager Ole Gunnar Solskjaer would not have been granted a GBE, having spent most of his coaching career in Norway.

However, players and coaches who do not automatically qualify for a work permit can appeal to a panel of experts for an exemption.

As with much surrounding Brexit, however, the rules will be constantly reviewed.

– No new Fabregas or Pogba –

Britain’s withdrawal from the EU means Premier League clubs will no longer benefit from an exception to world governing body FIFA’s rules on the signing of minors.

FIFA bans all overseas transfers for under-18s but makes an exception for movement within the European Economic Area. That allowed Cesc Fabregas and Paul Pogba to move to England as 16-year-olds in the past but this will now no longer be possible.

– Connected clubs –

One way of getting around the new rules is for British-based clubs to have a link to a feeder or associate club in Europe.

Manchester City’s network of clubs under the City Football Group (CFG) umbrella is the most high-profile example. CFG has stakes in lower-league sides in Spain, France and Belgium.

Leicester’s owners King Power own Belgian club Leuven while Sheffield United’s Saudi chief, Prince Abdullah, has an ownership stake in Belgian side Beerschot and is closing in on French Ligue 2 side Chateauroux.

These clubs could be used to ‘park’ young EU players until they turn 18 and also help build up the requisite number of appearances to obtain a GBE.

– Boost for British players –

The Football Association’s key objective in coming to an agreement with the Premier League and English Football League was to create more opportunities for young British players.

The number of overseas under-21 players Premier League clubs can sign will be restricted to three in the upcoming January transfer window and thereafter be capped at six per season.

Speaking about the overall agreement, the FA’s CEO Mark Bullingham said: “Despite having different starting perspectives on how Brexit should impact football, this is another example of how the football authorities can work effectively together for the greater good of the game.”

He added: “We will also discuss improvements to the player pathway for the mutual benefit of football clubs and homegrown talent in this country.”

The limits on signing young players from overseas will have a particular impact on EFL and Scottish league clubs, where a far higher degree of imports from Europe will not meet the criteria for a GBE.

Celtic manager Neil Lennon said he thought the rules would make a clear difference.

“We’re probably looking at the British market more than anything else (for new players),” he said. “I think it’s going to be difficult after the end of the year to get players in from the continent.”

AFP

Canada, Britain Sign Interim Deal To Avoid Tariff Increase After Brexit

(Photo by OLI SCARFF / AFP)

 

Canada and Britain have signed a temporary agreement to avoid an increase in tariffs between the two countries after the British exit from the European Union in early 2021, Ottawa said Tuesday.

At the end of November, the two countries announced they had concluded a provisional post-Brexit trade agreement that would reflect, as of January 1, the terms of the deal that Britain benefited from as a member state of the EU.

But the agreement could not be ratified before the Canadian parliament went into its winter recess, which would have resulted in an automatic increase in tariffs between the two countries on January 1.

The temporary deal allows tariffs between the two countries to remain at current levels until the new trade deal is passed in parliament, a foreign ministry statement said.

With the interim agreement, the Canadian government “is making sure businesses can easily continue trading without adding paperwork for businesses and importers,” it said in a statement.

“These measures will ensure stability and certainty on both sides of the Atlantic,” it added.

Bilateral trade with Britain was worth Can$29 billion (18.5 billion euros) in 2019, according to official government figures. Britain is the main market for Canadian exports to Europe.

What Brexit Means For EU Students At UK Universities

An official hangs a Union Jack next to an European Union flag at EU Headquarters in Brussels on October 17, 2019, ahead of a European Union Summit on Brexit. Kenzo TRIBOUILLARD / AFP

 

The end of the Brexit transition period on December 31 will introduce new rules for European Union students who want to study in Britain during the 2020-21 academic year.

– What is the current situation? –

The situation for an estimated 150,000 EU students has been unchanged during the transition period to December 31, as the UK and EU try to agree terms of their new relationship.

Currently, EU students have “home fee status”, which means they pay the same level of tuition fees as UK counterparts, depending where the university is.

Education policy is set by devolved governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, with the UK government responsible for England. As a result, tuition fees vary.

In England, Wales and Northern Ireland, students with home fee status can be charged up to £9,250 ($12,400, 10,250 euros) per year for an undergraduate degree.

READ ALSO: Mass Evacuation In Frankfurt As WWII Bomb Is Defused

Scottish or EU undergraduates studying in Scotland are not charged.

EU students are eligible to apply for a student loan to cover tuition fees.

Ireland has separate arrangement with the UK under a reciprocal agreement.

– What happens on January 1? –

All EU citizens have to apply for residency status under the Settlement Scheme, which grants the right to live and study in UK when new immigration rules kick in.

Students who start a degree course at some point in the 2020/21 academic year and arrive in the UK by December 31 will still have home fee status.

New students arriving after this date will need a student visa that costs about £350 if they are studying in the UK for more than six months.

They will also have to pay a surcharge of about £500 per year to use the state-run National Health Service (NHS).

– What happens in the next academic year?

Across the UK, EU students starting courses after August 1, 2021 look set to pay higher international tuition fees and not be allowed to get UK student loans.

– How much will they have to pay? –

According to the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine, undergraduate tuition fees for an international student in 2020 were between £10,000 and £26,000 a year.

A longer undergraduate medical degree can cost foreign students nearly £59,000.

Undergraduate degrees in the UK typically require three years of study.

Average student debt was £27,000 this year, according to the THE, but that does not include repayment of maintenance loans to cover living costs.

Together, this can total between £35,000 and £40,000.

– What is not known or agreed yet? –

London and Brussels have yet to strike a deal on their future relationship.

It remains unclear if Britain will continue to participate in EU academic programmes such as Erasmus+ and Horizon Europe beyond the end of this academic year.

The UK government has set out guidelines for EU students to apply for student visas.

But there is uncertainty about whether students who have already gained settled or pre-settled status in the UK will be able to pay home status tuition fees for courses starting in 2021-22.

Because of the coronavirus outbreak, which has forced a suspension of face-to-face tuition and travel restrictions, many overseas students are studying remotely outside the UK.

If they do not visit the UK this year, it is not clear if they can still qualify for pre-settled status.

AFP

Brexit Architect, Cummings Steps Down As UK PM’s Top Aide

Number 10 special advisor Dominic Cummings arrives in Downing street in London on November 13, 2020. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s chief adviser Dominic Cummings is set to leave his position by early 2021, as a power struggle at the heart of government became public this week. Tolga Akmen / AFP

 

Dominic Cummings, the controversial brains behind the 2016 campaign for Britain to leave the European Union, on Friday stepped down as a top aide to Prime Minister Boris Johnson.

Cummings was due to leave at the end of the year, reports said, but he was seen walking out of Johnson’s 10 Downing Street office on Friday carrying a cardboard box.

A government source confirmed he would no longer be officially employed from “mid-December”.

Cummings: The Brains Behind ‘Vote Leave’

The 48-year-old was the brains behind the campaign that saw Britain narrowly vote in 2016 to leave the European Union.

He was portrayed by actor Benedict Cumberbatch in a TV dramatisation of the seismic referendum which divided the nation and has led to years of crippling political infighting.

His aggressive campaigning tactics, including an infamous Brexit campaign bus emblazoned with a questionable promise of funding for healthcare, made him a hate figure for Brexit opponents.

Former Conservative prime minister David Cameron called him a “career psychopath”, and he was unpopular with many MPs from the ruling party and even staunch Brexiteers.

– Accused of Hypocrisy –

Cummings caused outrage earlier this year for breaking coronavirus lockdown rules that he helped to draft, making a cross-country dash while suffering from Covid-19 symptoms and after his wife had contracted the virus.

He refused to resign, and Johnson refused to sack him, despite ridicule and derision at his claim he drove because he needed to check his eyesight.

Cummings’ electoral successes were partly built on tapping into widespread frustrations with the political classes, and his own disdain for political journalists and the wider media.

But for a man claiming to be more in touch with the public, he misjudged the mood badly by defending his 250-mile (400-kilometre) coronavirus trip.

People who stuck to the rules — in some cases missing a chance to say a final goodbye to loved ones who died from the virus or attend their funerals — were furious and accused him of hypocrisy.

Johnson hired Cummings after he became prime minister in July 2019, when the government was bogged down in its attempts to leave the European Union and parliament was unable to agree on a divorce deal.

He hoped Cummings’ reputation for unconventional and bold action would help break the deadlock — and the move paid off spectacularly.

Johnson called a snap election in December and secured an 80-seat parliamentary majority, setting the seal on Britain’s departure from the European Union.

Cummings’ departure comes before the end of an 11-month transition period, and the real start of the country’s post-Brexit future.

– ‘Weirdos and Misfits’ –

Johnson entrusted Cummings with his ambitious big-spending plans to modernise the economy and state, giving him unprecedented powers as an aide.

But that agenda has been overshadowed by the coronavirus outbreak.

Cummings famously sent out a call for “weirdos and misfits” to join his policy unit, driven by science geeks and “artists” as a direct challenge to civil service control.

His dress sense — more Silicon Valley than Westminster — earned him the title of the world’s worst-dressed man from GQ Magazine, which said he looked like “an unlicensed cab driver”.

Oxford University-educated Cummings, the son of an oil-rig worker and a teacher, began as a government adviser to then-education minister Michael Gove, following a stint working in post-Soviet Russia in the 1990s.

He locked horns immediately with the civil service, which he dubbed the “blob” for resisting his reform plans that one commentator described as “either mad, bad or brilliant”.

But it was during the 2016 referendum campaign that he made his name, although he was contemptuous of many of those campaigning alongside him.

He called leading Tory Brexit supporter David Davis “thick as mince” and “lazy as a toad” while anti-EU figurehead Nigel Farage said he “had huge personal enmity with the true believers in Brexit”.

EU Slams Hungary, Poland In Rule Of Law Report

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union criticised Hungary and Poland in its first report on democratic standards across the bloc on Wednesday, as tensions soar between Brussels and Budapest.

The report on the “rule of law” in all 27 EU countries comes a day after the bloc rejected hardline Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban’s demand that a senior official resign over criticism of his government.

The assessment prepared by the European Commission, the bloc’s executive, voices “serious concern” about judicial independence in both Hungary and Poland.

Budapest and its ally in Warsaw have long been at loggerheads with Brussels over issues like civil freedoms and immigration, with Orban accused of persecuting opposition media and forcing the closure of foreign-owned universities.

On Tuesday, Orban demanded the resignation of Vera Jourova, a commission vice-president responsible for defending EU values and transparency, for calling Hungary an “ill democracy” in an interview.

The commission rejected the call but the row with Budapest sets the stage for a difficult summit of EU leaders on Thursday, where the rule of law debate looks set to poison attempts to fine tune a major coronavirus recovery package.

Asked about Orban’s criticism in an interview with AFP, Jourova refused to be drawn into “personal attacks”.

“But I want to reject strongly one thing: I never offended the Hungarian people,” she said, insisting she respected them and the choices they had made.

“But this does not mean we should not speak, also critically if needed, about actions of governments and elected representatives.”

“No-one’s actions are above criticism.”

The report examines four main pillars of democracy: justice systems, anti-corruption frameworks, media freedom and other checks and balances.

It lists a series of concerns over judicial independence in Hungary and warns of a lack of action to tackle graft related to top officials.

“Deficient independent control mechanisms and tight interconnections between politics and certain national businesses are conducive to corruption,” the report says of Hungary.

Polish legal reforms, a major point of contention between Warsaw and Brussels, “have increased the influence of the executive and legislative powers over the justice system and therefore weakened judicial independence”.

– ‘Absurd and false’ –

The EU has an “Article 7” procedure probing whether Hungary is undermining European legal standards and democratic values.

This could ultimately lead to them losing EU voting rights, though the hurdles for this are high.

Hungarian Justice Minister Judit Varga condemned the EU report as “absurd and false”.

“The concept and methodology of the Commission’s rule of law report is flawed, its sources are unbalanced and its content is unfounded,” she said in a statement.

The rule of law dispute has hampered protracted negotiations about the EU’s long-term budget and is likely to spill into this week’s summit.

The European Parliament and several member states want to see funding for countries like Hungary tied to respect for democratic legal values.

But Hungary and Poland, accused of a slide into populist authoritarianism, fiercely oppose this and have threatened to veto Europe’s coronavirus recovery plan.

Germany’s Angela Merkel has been working to negotiate a compromise arrangement to protect EU funds from being misspent, but diplomats warn the debate is “very polarised” and far from settled.

European diplomats representing member states voted to back the German plan on Wednesday and to begin negotiating with parliament, but seven countries opposed it, including Hungary and Poland.

AFP

EU Warns Against Outside Interference In Karabakh

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union warned Monday regional powers not to interfere in fighting in Nagorny Karabakh, and condemned a “serious escalation” that threatens regional stability.

Foreign policy spokesman Peter Stano said Brussels cannot confirm reports of outside forces joining the conflict, but added: “No external interference in this conflict is acceptable.”

Azerbaijani and Armenian forces were battling for a second day on Monday after dozens were killed in an outbreak of heavy fighting.

Fighting erupted on Sunday along the frontlines of Nagorny Karabakh, an ethnic Armenian regional enclave that has broken away from Azerbaijan.

“No one should be interested and no one is going to profit from an all out war breaking out and this is something we want to prevent.

“And we are calling as the EU, as the international community, on all the actors involved to stop immediately and on all the other actors in the region to contribute to stopping the confrontations.”

“The escalation… is very worrying because it carries the risk of serious, serious escalation and serious consequences for the regional stability.

“We called for an immediate ceasefire, a cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and strict observance of the ceasefire,” AStano told reporters.

AFP

EU Calls For ‘Immediate Return To Negotiations’ Over Karabakh

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union called Sunday for a halt to fighting between Armenian and Azerbaijani separatists over the Nagorny Karabakh region and an “immediate return to negotiations”.

The worst clashes since 2016 broke out on Sunday between arch-foes Azerbaijan and Armenia, which have been locked for decades in a territorial dispute over the Armenia-backed breakaway region.

“Military action must stop, as a matter of urgency, to prevent a further escalation,” European Council president Charles Michel tweeted, calling for “an immediate return to negotiations, without preconditions”.

EU foreign policy chief Josep Borrell stressed the urgency of relaunching negotiations over Nagorny Karabakh under the auspices of the so-called “Minsk Group” led by France, Russia and the United States.

“The European Union calls for an immediate cessation of hostilities, de-escalation and for strict observance of the ceasefire,” he said.

A major conflict between Azerbaijan and Armenia could draw in top regional players Russia and Turkey.

The conflict over Nagorny Karabakh has been fuelling regional tensions for 30 years.

Ethnic Armenian separatists seized the region from Baku in a 1990s war that claimed 30,000 lives.

Since then, the Azerbaijani authorities have sought to regain control of it, by force if necessary.

Peace talks have been largely stalled since a 1994 ceasefire agreement. The last big push for a peace deal collapsed in 2010.

AFP

EU Sanctions Three Firms For Breaking Libya Arms Embargo

European Union, Ogbonnaya Onu, Science and technology

 

The European Union on Monday imposed sanctions on three companies — one Turkish, one Kazakh and one Jordanian — for breaching the UN arms embargo on Libya, diplomatic sources told AFP.

Foreign ministers from the bloc signed off on the measures, which freeze any EU assets held by the companies as well as cutting them off from EU finance markets and barring them from doing business with anyone in the bloc, at a regular meeting in Brussels.

Two individuals were also hit with the sanctions for supplying material to Libya, where the UN-recognised government in Tripoli has been under attack from strongman Khalifa Haftar, who runs a rival administration in the east.

The EU has a naval mission operating in waters off Libya which is tasked with policing the embargo and collecting intelligence on violators, but Monday’s measures are the bloc’s first independent sanctions related to the conflict.

Libya has endured almost a decade of violent chaos since the 2011 NATO-backed uprising that toppled and killed veteran dictator Moamer Kadhafi.

But there have been signs of progress, with representatives from the two sides meeting for peace talks in Morocco after last month announcing a surprise ceasefire and pledging national elections.

“After many months I see a reason for cautious optimism. There is a positive momentum, there is a ceasefire and we need to use it,” EU diplomatic chief Josep Borrell said as he arrived for the foreign ministers’ talks.

But the targeting of a Turkish company risks inflaming already tense relations between Ankara and the EU following a recent flare-up in the eastern Mediterranean over oil and gas reserves.

AFP

UK Holds Crisis Talks With EU As Pelosi Warns On Brexit Bill

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019. MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP.

 

Britain held emergency talks with the European Union on Thursday, facing warnings of legal action over a new Brexit bill and a threatening reminder of its obligations to Northern Ireland from leading US Democrat Nancy Pelosi.

Warnings redoubled too within the ranks of the governing Conservative party as former prime minister John Major, who helped lay the foundations for Northern Irish peace in the 1990s, said his successor Boris Johnson risked trashing the UK’s global reputation.

“If we lose our reputation for honouring the promises we make, we will have lost something beyond price that may never be regained,” Major said, after the government conceded that the proposed new legislation would breach an EU withdrawal treaty in the countdown to a full Brexit divorce.

European Commission vice president Maros Sefcovic headed to London demanding “clarifications” over the new UK Internal Market Bill, after it was submitted to a stormy session of parliament Wednesday.

“I came here to express serious concerns the European Union has over the proposed bill,” Sefcovic told reporters before starting the meeting with his counterpart on a UK-EU joint committee, Michael Gove.

The bill would give British ministers unilateral powers to regulate trade among England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, once the force of EU law expires after a post-Brexit transition period at the end of this year.

But under the EU withdrawal treaty, Britain is meant to liaise with Brussels on arrangements for Northern Ireland, which will have the UK’s only land border with the EU, and where 30 years of bloodshed ended with a landmark peace deal in 1998.

– Rushed through? –

EU diplomats — and Johnson’s many critics at home including in the UK’s devolved governments — have ridiculed Downing Street’s argument that the EU treaty was written “at pace” and contained unforeseen problems relating to a protocol on Northern Ireland.

But Johnson’s spokesman, rebuffing the criticism from Major and others, stressed the legislation was needed to create a “safety net” for Northern Ireland’s post-Brexit trading regime.

“We can’t allow the peace process or the UK internal market to inadvertently be comprised by the ill-intended consequences of the protocol,” the spokesman told reporters.

“We would expect other countries to recognise this and the exceptional circumstances we find ourselves in.”

Sefcovic and Gove met on the last day of a parallel track of negotiations this week in London that have struggled to make headway on a future trading relationship, as Britain unwinds nearly 50 years of European integration.

Johnson’s critics say the new bill is aimed partly at torpedoing that track, so Britain can go its own way and forge other trade pacts free of EU oversight, not least with the United States.

However, House of Representatives Speaker Pelosi gave short shrift to any hopes of Congress ratifying a future trade deal if Britain ploughs ahead with the new Brexit bill.

In a statement, she said London must respect the EU treaty’s Northern Ireland Protocol, which envisages borderless trade with EU member Ireland as a way of upholding the 1998 peace pact.

“If the UK violates that international treaty and Brexit undermines the Good Friday accord, there will be absolutely no chance of a US-UK trade agreement passing the Congress,” Pelosi warned.

“The Good Friday Agreement is treasured by the American people and will be proudly defended in the United States Congress.”

– See you in court –

More immediately, the EU’s executive commission circulated a paper setting out legal options against London including recourse to the European Court of Justice — the supreme arbiter of EU law which Brexit, ironically, is meant to escape.

“A breach of the obligations under the Withdrawal Agreement would open the way to the legal remedies,” a draft prepared by EU ambassadors and seen by AFP said.

EU diplomats said that to avoid that, and the possibility of hefty fines against Britain, much hinged on the Sefcovic-Gove committee finding a way out.

Johnson spoke by phone on Wednesday evening with his Irish counterpart, Micheal Martin, who was left unimpressed by British assurances that the internal market bill is aimed in fact at preserving peace in Northern Ireland.

“I pointed out very strongly to him that this was very unsettling for Northern Ireland, that it was dragging Northern Ireland back into the centre stage,” Martin told RTE radio, warning also that Johnson had eroded trust with the EU.

AFP

UK Warned Over Brexit Deal Commitments

The flags of Britain (R) and the European Union flutter in front of the Chancellery in Berlin, where the British Prime Minister was expected on April 9, 2019.
MICHELE TANTUSSI / AFP

 

Britain on Monday faced warnings it risked its international reputation if it reneged on its agreement to leave the European Union, as Brexit trade talks reached a crucial final stage.

The Financial Times reported that Prime Minister Boris Johnson was planning new legislation that would override parts of the Withdrawal Agreement treaty that Britain and the EU agreed in October last year.

It cited three people close to the plans as saying a bill to be put before parliament this week would undermine agreements relating to Northern Ireland customs and state aid.

In response, Downing Street said only it was still “working hard to resolve outstanding issues with the Northern Ireland Protocol” but was considering “fall-back options”.

Under the protocol, Northern Ireland, which will have Britain’s only land border with the EU, will follow some of the bloc’s rules to ensure the frontier remains open.

Eliminating border checks with the Republic of Ireland was a key part of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which ended 30 years of violence over British rule in the province.

The EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, promised to quiz his UK opposite number, David Frost, about the plans but added: “Everything that has been signed must be respected.”

Ireland’s foreign minister Simon Coveney said: “This would be a very unwise way to proceed.”

Legal experts warned the new bill risked the collapse of the latest round of Brexit talks, which resume in London on Tuesday, and undermining Britain’s international standing.

David Allen Green, a specialist on trade, said that reneging on the treaty was “the least sensible thing” that Britain could do as it seeks to negotiate new international trade agreements.

“Why would any other counter-party now trust UK to abide with commitments?” he wrote on Twitter.

– No compromise? –

The report came after Johnson said the October 15 European Council meeting was the ultimate deadline for any deal to be in place by January 1 next year.

“If we can’t agree by then, then I do not see that there will be a free-trade agreement between us, and we should both accept that and move on,” he said.

His comments and the FT report did little to raise hopes of a breakthrough this week, while the prospect of a “no-deal” forced the pound down against the dollar and the euro.

Brexit trade talks have been deadlocked over key issues such as the extent of EU access to UK fishing waters, state aid and fair competition rules.

Each side accuses the other of intransigence, and Johnson, despite pledging to “work hard” this month to achieve agreement, did little to indicate Britain would give ground.

“We cannot and will not compromise on the fundamentals of what it means to be an independent country to get (a deal),” he said.

Brussels has already indicated that mid-October was the latest a deal could be struck, given the need for translation and ratification by the European Parliament.

But if the deadline passes, Johnson said Britain would have an “Australia-style” deal with the EU or one similar to that agreed with Canada and other countries.

The British government had said it wanted a “zero tariff, zero quota” regime. Australia trades with the EU under World Trade Organization rules and tariffs.

“As we have said right from the start, that would be a good outcome for the UK,” said Johnson.

– No-deal –

Johnson’s hardball tactics will likely compound suspicions from British pro-EU “remainers” that his Conservative government envisaged a “no-deal” scenario all along.

“Brexiteers” had promised that securing a deal would be straightforward and rejected criticism that unravelling nearly 50 years of ties with Europe would be lengthy and even impossible.

Britain formally left the 27-member bloc on January 31 — nearly four years after a divisive referendum that crippled the country politically and saw two prime ministers resign.

Johnson promised Britain’s borders and ports will be ready for when the so-called transition period comes to an end on December 31.

Britain remains bound by EU rules while it tries to thrash out new terms of its relationship.

AFP