LONDON, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - Pro-Brexit politicians and business figures have urged British Prime Minister Theresa May to be ready to walk away from the European Union without a trade agreement, despite warnings from major manufacturers that a "no deal" Brexit would be an economic disaster.
In an open letter, 60 lawmakers, economists and business chiefs accused the EU of being "intransigent" in divorce talks and said Britain should threaten to withhold the 39 billion pound ($52 billion) divorce bill it has already agreed to pay.
The letter released Sunday by Economists for Free Trade was signed by prominent supporters of a "hard Brexit," including ex-UK Treasury chief Nigel Lawson, Conservative lawmakers John Redwood and Peter Bone, and Tim Martin, chairman of the Wetherspoons pub chain.
They urged U.K. authorities "to accelerate their preparations for 'no deal' and a move to a World Trade Deal under WTO rules."
That would mean tariffs and other trade barriers between Britain and the EU, and many businesses say it would severely harm the UK economy. Airbus, Siemens and BMW have all warned recently that leaving the EU without a free-trade deal would hurt British businesses and cost jobs. Airbus alone employs nearly 14,000 workers in the UK.
Health Secretary Jeremy Hunt said the warnings from businesses were "inappropriate" and undermined chances of getting a "clean Brexit."
"The more that we undermine Theresa May, the more likely we are to end up with 'a fudge,' which would be an absolute disaster for everyone," he told the BBC.
May's Conservative government is divided between Brexit-backing ministers calling for a clean break so that Britain can strike new trade deals around the world, and those who want to stay closely aligned to the EU, Britain's biggest trading partner.
Hunt urged people to unite behind the prime minister, saying she would mix "cautious pragmatism" with a determination to fulfil voters' decision to leave the EU.
BRUSSELS, June 24, 2018 (News Wires) - European Union leaders gather in Brussels on Sunday in an attempt to bridge their deep divisions over migration, an issue that has been splitting them for years and now poses a fresh threat to German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
Though arrivals across the Mediterranean are only a fraction of what they were in 2015, when more than a million people reached Europe, a recent opinion poll showed migration was the top concern for the EU’s 500 million citizens.
Under heavy pressure from voters at home, EU leaders have been fighting bitter battles over how to share out asylum seekers in the bloc.
Unable to agree, they have become more restrictive on asylum and tightened their external borders to let fewer people in. They have given money and aid to countries in Northern Africa and the Middle East to keep people from heading for Europe.
Only 41,000 refugees and migrants have made it to the EU across the sea so far this year, UN figures show.
But the issue has in the meantime won and lost elections for politicians across the bloc from Italy to Hungary, with voters favouring those advocating a tougher stance on migration.
On Saturday, French President Emmanuel Macron said France favoured financial sanctions for EU countries that refuse migrants with proven asylum status.
Merkel is under pressure because her longtime conservative allies, Bavaria’s Christian Social Union (CSU), have threatened to start turning away at the German border all asylum seekers already registered elsewhere in the EU unless the bloc reaches an agreement on distributing them more evenly.
They mostly live in countries like Greece and Italy - both long overwhelmed with arrivals - or wealthy states like Germany or Sweden, where they choose to try to start a new life.
The ex-communist states in the EU’s east led by Hungary and Poland have refused to host any of the new arrivals, citing security risks after a raft of Islamist attacks in Europe.
The bloc has been unable to break the deadlock, the bad blood spilling over to other areas of their co-operation, including crucial talks on the bloc’s next seven-year budget from 2021.
With Germany being the main contributor to the bloc’s joint coffers, the southern gateway countries were promised more money to handle migration, while the reluctant easterners face cuts in development aid.
Merkel is now pushing other EU states, including Italy, to do more on migration so that fewer people get to Germany and she can convince the CSU not to go ahead with their plan.
She opposes the idea by the CSU, which will face the anti-immigration AfD party in Bavarian elections in October, because it would mean rigid border controls inside what is normally the EU’s coveted control-free travel zone.
To placate the CSU, Merkel must get something from Sunday, arranged hastily among more than a dozen EU capitals, and also from the full summit of the bloc’s 28 leaders on June 28-29.
All EU leaders agree they must further curb immigration by working with third countries, though that often proves slow.
BARCELONA/ VALLETTA, June 23, 2018 (News Wires) - Spanish coast guards rescued nearly 600 migrants trying to make the perilous crossing from Africa, authorities said on Saturday, while off the coast of Libya coastguards recovered bodies of five migrants and picked up 185 survivors.
Elsewhere in the Mediterranean, Malta's army made a medical evacuation from a stranded rescue ship that Italy and Malta have refused to take in, while the container ship Alexander Maersk picked up 113 migrants from a boat off southern Italy on Friday, the ship owner said.
The rescues come ahead of a hastily-arranged EU summit in Brussels on Sunday to discuss disputes over migration.
The Maltese government said its army was answering a request to offer medical assistance to a person onboard the MV Lifeline boat and would also provide humanitarian supplies.
On Friday evening and Saturday morning Spanish rescuers picked up 449 people from 20 dinghies in the Mediterranean, as well as 129 people from a wooden raft headed from West Africa to the Canary Islands, the maritime rescue service said on Twitter.
Earlier this month Spain offered safe haven to the charity ship Aquarius that was blocked from docking in Italy or Malta as Rome's new government tries to pressure European partners to shoulder more of the burden of immigration from North Africa.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Thursday a draft EU accord on migration had been withdrawn after he clashed with Chancellor Angela Merkel over an issue that is splitting Europe.
Italy on Friday slammed Malta's refusal to take in the Dutch-flagged MV Lifeline as "inhumane", but Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat on Saturday retorted his country would not be told what to do.
EU leaders will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss migration, with Merkel at odds with a coalition partner over its demands to turn back migrants at the border.
However, several central European countries have said they will boycott the Brussels meeting and Merkel on Friday played down expectations of any major breakthrough.
Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said on Saturday he expects a chain reaction across the European Union if Germany closes its borders to refugees.
The German NGO Mission Lifeline that operates the MV Lifeline ship called for a swift resolution at the EU summit.
"Europe owes a solution to 234 rescued people on the Lifeline and 113 people on the merchant vessel Alexander Maersk. Both have no port of safety assigned as of yet and remain adrift in international waters," it said in a statement.
LONDON, June 23, 2018 (Reuters) - Thousands of supporters of the European Union gathered in central London on Saturday to call on the British government to hold a final public vote on the terms of Brexit.
Two years after the country voted 52 to 48 percent to leave the world's biggest trading bloc, polls show political divisions over Brexit are entrenched and, despite some confusion over what Brexit will mean, there has been no clear change of heart.
The "People's Vote" campaign, which includes several pro-EU groups, aims to ensure a public ballot "so that we can decide if a decision that will affect our lives for generations makes the country better or worse off".
A Survation poll earlier this week found that 48 percent of respondents supported a referendum on the final deal, while 25 percent were opposed.
As yet there is no certainty about what the final deal could look like amid infighting in Prime Minister Theresa May's Conservative government as well as among some of its opponents about what they want from Britain's new trading ties with the EU after it leaves in March next year.
Britain's foreign minister Boris Johnson, one of the main proponents of the "Leave" vote, has meanwhile written an article in the tabloid newspaper the Sun defending Brexit.
Britain had voted for "the freedom to bust out of the corsets of EU regulation and rules" he said, and any softening of the final deal - such as continued membership of the single market and customs union - would be unwelcome.
Those who voted for Brexit had not changed their minds, he said. "They don't want some bog roll Brexit - soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long" he said, using a British slang expression for toilet paper.
Johnson was also quoted in the Telegraph newspaper by two diplomatic sources as strongly dismissing business leaders' concerns about the impact of Brexit.
Speaking on BBC radio Jurgen Maier, head of German manufacturer Siemens in Britain, said slogans about Brexit were "incredibly unhelpful".
"What we need to do now is get closer to our European partners and work out what a realistic, pragmatic Brexit is, which works for both sides," he said.
On Friday, Airbus said that if Britain were to leave the EU without a deal it would be forced to reconsider its long-term position and put UK jobs at risk.
ZURICH, June 23, 2018 (News Wires) - Austrian Vice Chancellor Heinz-Christian Strache said on Saturday he expects a chain reaction across the European Union if Germany closes its borders to refugees.
"That's the logical consequence, and we are prepared for it and will similarly protect our borders," Strache told Austrian broadcaster Oe1's Mittagsjournal programme, adding that Italy was taking similar measures.
EU nations have been at loggerheads over migration since a spike in arrivals from the Middle East in 2015, when more than a million migrants reached its shores across the Mediterranean.
"It can't come to a renewed (migration) wave like the one seen in 2015 again," Strache said.
EU leaders will hold an emergency meeting on Sunday to discuss the dispute, with German Chancellor Angela Merkel under pressure to reach a swift deal.
However, several countries have said they will boycott the meeting in Brussels, and a clash between Rome and Berlin has made a breakthrough unlikely.
Austria's Strache said the bloc must focus on controlling its external borders efficiently in order to bring illegal immigration to an end.
After a recent meeting with Italian Interior Minister Matteo Salvini, Strache ruled out Italy, which has borne a large proportion of arrivals over the past five years, would begin allowing people through to other EU countries without registering them first.
Rome objects to suggestions that asylum seekers should be returned to the EU country they first registered in.
"Italy will not wave them through," Strache said.
LONDON, June 23, 2018 (News Wires) - Leading Brexit supporters talked tough and their opponents took to the streets, as a divided UK marked the second anniversary on Saturday of its vote to leave the European Union.
Britain voted on June 23, 2016 to quit the 28-nation EU, and its official exit is slated for March 29, 2019. But the country - and its Conservative government - remain divided about what kind of economic relationship it wants with the EU after Brexit.
Prime Minister Theresa May's Cabinet is split, with Brexit-backing ministers such as Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson calling for a clean break so that Britain can strike new trade deals around the world. Others, including Treasury chief Philip Hammond, want to keep closely aligned to the bloc, Britain's biggest trading partner.
In an article for The Sun newspaper on Saturday, Johnson urged May to deliver a "full British Brexit," rather than one he compared to a roll of toilet paper - "soft, yielding and seemingly infinitely long."
International Trade Secretary Liam Fox told the BBC that the EU needed to understand that Britain was willing to walk away from talks without agreement if necessary, because "no deal would be better than a bad deal."
EU leaders are growing frustrated with what they see as a lack of firm proposals from the UK about future relations. A paper setting out the UK government position on future relations, due to be published this month, has been delayed until July because the Cabinet cannot agree on a united stance.
Many businesses warn that failure to reach a free-trade agreement between Britain and the EU would be disastrous. European plane-maker Airbus warned Friday that it could leave Britain - where it employs about 14,000 people - if the country exits the EU without an agreement on future trading relations.
Katherine Bennett, the company's senior vice president in the UK, said "a no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic."
Meanwhile, thousands of opponents of Brexit planned to rally outside Parliament on Saturday, calling for a referendum on any divorce deal agreed between Britain and the EU.
Both the Conservatives and main opposition Labour Party oppose another referendum, but the centrist Liberal Democrats support one.
The party said leader Vince Cable would tell the crowd that "Brexit is not a done deal. Brexit is not inevitable. Brexit can be stopped."