Brexit negotiators hail progress
May defends free markets
BRUSSELS, Sept 28, (Agencies): Britain and the EU have taken “decisive steps forward’ in Brexit talks after Prime Minister Theresa May’s speech last week but more work needs to be done, negotiators said Thursday.
Speaking after the fourth round of talks in Brussels, EU negotiator Michel Barnier and his British counterpart David Davis said they had achieved more clarity on the details of May’s speech in Florence.
But Barnier warned that they were “not there yet”, with time running out to achieve sufficient progress to get EU leaders to agree to unlock discussions on a future relationship after Britain leaves in March 2019.
“Thanks to the constructive and determined manner in which both sides have conducted these negotiations I believe we are making decisive steps forward,” Davis told a news conference alongside Barnier at the European Commission’s headquarters.
“After four rounds when I look across the full range of issues to do with our withdrawal from the EU I’m clear we have made considerable progress on the issues that matter,” added Davis.
The EU insists on making sufficient progress on three key divorce issues: Britain’s exit bill, the fate of Northern Ireland, and the rights of three million EU citizens living in Britain after its departure from the bloc.
May’s Florence speech offered key concessions as well as proposing a transition period of around two years after Brexit to allow businesses to adjust to the new situation.
“The prime minister’s speech in Florence has created a new dynamic in our negotiations and we have felt this during the negotiations this week,” Barnier said.
“We managed to create clarity on some points, on others however more work remains to be done, and we are not there yet.”
Barnier insisted that the transition should be discussed in the second phase of discussions, however.
Separately, the European Parliament said in a draft resolution to be voted on next week that EU leaders should postpone their decision on progress until after their October summit.
The resolution said the European Parliament “is of the opinion that in the fourth round of negotiations sufficient progress has not yet been made on citizens’ rights, Ireland and the Northern Ireland, and the settlement of the United Kingdom’s financial obligations.”
The parliament “calls on the European Council, unless there is major breakthrough in line with this resolution in all three areas during the fifth negotiation round, to decide at its October meeting to postpone its assessment on whether sufficient progress has been made”.
MEPs will have the final say on any deal for Britain’s departure from the EU in 2019.
European Council President Donald Tusk, who represents the EU member states, said after meeting May in London on Tuesday that there was “no sufficient progress” so far.
Meanwhile, May on Thursday defended free markets as the proper way to run an economy, a day after emboldened opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn said his left-wing ideas now represented the political mainstream.
May, whose Conservative Party is running neck and neck with Corbyn’s Labour Party in opinion polls, said properly regulated markets were essential to boost living standards, and she stuck to her government’s plans to cut debt without raising taxes sharply.
“A free market economy ... is unquestionably the best, and indeed the only sustainable means of increasing the living standards of everyone,” May told a conference hosted by the Bank of England (BoE).
May has struggled to persuade voters that the economic policies pursued by British governments since the 1980s are still the best answer to the country’s problems. She lost the Conservatives’ parliamentary majority in an election in June.
Living standards have fallen since May’s Conservatives came to power in 2010, due to years of meagre wage growth and bouts of high inflation — including a slowdown caused by last year’s vote to leave the European Union.
BoE Governor Mark Carney, speaking at the same event, told May that the central bank’s ultra-low interest rates and other stimulus programmes would be unable to offset the likely hit to the economy from Brexit.
“The biggest determinants of the UK’s medium-term prosperity will be the country’s new relationship with the EU and the reforms it catalyses,” he said, repeating comments he has made previously on Brexit.
“Most of the necessary adjustments are real in nature and therefore not in the gift of central bankers.”
Credit ratings agency Moody’s downgraded its assessment of Britain’s ability to service its debts last Friday due to concerns that Brexit would hurt growth and that the government was finding it harder to keep spending under control.
Separately on Thursday, May criticised US planemaker Boeing, warning that its behaviour in a trade dispute which threatens thousands of British jobs was undermining its commercial relationship with Britain.
In related development, Britain’s left-wing opposition leader said Wednesday that the political center ground has shifted and his socialist ideas are “now the political mainstream.”
Wrapping up the Labour Party’s annual conference, Jeremy Corbyn said the party espoused “a new common sense about the direction our country should take,” and had become Britain’s government-in-waiting as the Conservatives were consumed by infighting.
Labour stunned pundits and pollsters in June’s snap election by reducing May’s Conservatives to a minority administration. The party ran on policies widely derided as expensive and old-fashioned, such as nationalizing railways and public utilities and scrapping university fees.
But they struck a chord with many voters weary after seven years of spending cuts by the Conservative government. Although Labour lost the election, it gained several dozen parliamentary seats, and its membership has grown to almost 600,000 since Corbyn was elected leader in 2015.
Many Labour lawmakers still worry that Corbyn’s socialism is a turn-off to centrist voters. But, to a boisterous reception from delegates, the leader argued that “we are now the political mainstream.”
“Today’s center ground is certainly not where it was 20 or 30 years ago,” Corbyn said. “A new consensus is emerging from the great economic crash and the years of austerity, when people started to find political voice for their hopes for something different and better.”
Labour has lost three successive elections since 2010, but its four-day conference in the seaside city of Brighton was the most optimistic in years.
Corbyn made eye-catching promises including a pay raise for public servants and constraints on private landlords and developers that he said had contributed to “social cleansing” in London.
Corbyn cited June’s fire at public housing block Grenfell Tower, which killed some 80 people, as “a damning indictment of a whole outlook ... which has contempt for working-class communities.”