Australian prime minister Scott Morrison and other leaders involved in the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) announced late yesterday that 15 of the 16 countries have finalised the text, and are prepared to sign the trade deal in early 2020.
India is the only one not to join, a joint leaders’ statement saying the country had “significant outstanding issues”. Negotiations will continue in the hope it may join later.
The RCEP now involves Australia, New Zealand, China, Japan, South Korea and the 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries, covering 2.5 billion people.
India’s absence severely diminishes the market access Australia hoped to gain. Australia already has a free trade agreement with ASEAN, and has bilateral free trade agreements with all of the other countries.
India would have been the main area of additional market access for Australian agricultural and other exports.
RCEP negotiations have dragged on since 2012. Much attention has focused on India’s resistance to lower tariffs and emphasised the importance of concluding a major trade deal in the face of US president Donald Trump’s America-first protectionism.
But there is a hidden contentious agenda of non-tariff issues that has influenced India’s decision and could restrict future government regulation by giving more rights to global corporations.
These deserve more public discussion in Australia, and reflect the widely divergent levels of economic development of RECP countries.
As usual, the wording of the RECP deal is secret. The final text will not be revealed until after it is signed.
This secrecy favours corporate players, which have the most resources to lobby governments.
Leaked documents reveal the industrialised countries, including Japan, South Korea and Australia, have been pushing non-tariff rules that suit their major corporations, similar to those in the controversial Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP).
These have been resisted by developing countries, which have more vulnerable populations, and wish to preserve regulatory space to develop local industries.
The contested proposals include foreign investor rights to bypass national courts and sue governments for millions of dollars in international tribunals if they can argue a change in law or policy will harm their investment. This is known as Investor-State Dispute Settlement or ISDS.
Tobacco company Philip Morris used ISDS to sue our government for compensation over our plain packaging law, a public health measure designed to discourage young smokers. Australia won in the end, but at a cost to taxpayers of $12 million.
Most of the 983 known ISDS cases have been taken against developing countries, with increasing numbers against health, environment, indigenous land rights, labour laws and other public interest regulation in both developing and industrialised countries.
ISDS has been reportedly excluded from the RCEP text. India was one of the main opponents of ISDS. We won’t know for sure whether ISDS is still excluded until the text is released after signing.
Even more contentious are proposals that pharmaceutical companies should be given longer patent monopolies on medicines than the current 20 years. This would delay the availability of cheaper medicines, at greatest cost to developing countries.
There are also proposals to extend to developing countries’ rules on patenting of seeds and plants that apply to industrialised countries. This would make it more difficult for millions of small-scale farmers in developing countries to save and exchange seeds with each other as they have done for centuries. They lack the capacity to use the legal system to obtain patent rights and lack the funds to buy patented seeds.
The RCEP also includes an e-commerce chapter that mandates free cross-border data flows for global corporations such as Google and Facebook. This makes it more difficult for governments to regulate them.
For example, if trade rules forbid requirements to store data locally, then national privacy laws and other consumer protections cannot be applied to data stored in other countries.
The recent Digital Platforms report of the Australian Consumer and Competition Commission recommended more, not less regulation of these corporations. That was in the face of scandals about violations of consumer privacy, misuse of data in elections and tax evasion.
Developing countries are also concerned rules favouring the global tech companies will lock in their market dominance at the expense of local IT industry development.
These conflicts between governments have been deepened by national pressures from civil society groups in RCEP countries including Australia. When RECP negotiations were held in Australia in July this year, 52 community organisations, including public health, union, church, environment and aid groups endorsed a letter to the trade minister Simon Birmingham. They asked him to oppose ISDS and longer medicine monopolies in the RCEP, and to release the text for independent evaluation before it is signed.
Even without India in the deal, the Australian government says it will boost local jobs and exports.
But without India, claimed market access gains are marginal for Australia and must be evaluated against the costs of expanded corporate rights and restraints on future government regulation.
That’s why the text of the RCEP deal should be released before it is signed and there should be independent evaluation of its costs and benefits for both Australia and its trading partners.
Against seemingly all the odds, we have a new Brexit deal. As an apparent vindication of UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s strategy to ramp up the threat of a no-deal departure from the EU and to force concessions from Brussels, one would imagine that Number 10 is rather happy right now. But that happiness will be tempered with caution, because some major issues lie ahead.
Negotiations in Brussels have produced legal texts on arrangements for Northern Ireland and on the political declaration, which outlines the broad outline of what the two sides want from their future relationship. These are the product of months of planning by the British government, so it’s reasonable to ask what has actually changed since former prime minister Theresa May struck her original deal.
Reading the text, the first impression is that there’s much more that hasn’t changed than has.
The protocol on Northern Ireland and Ireland has long been in the firing line. It proposes a backstop arrangement that would keep Northern Ireland in close alignment with the EU unless and until both UK and EU agreed to change that.
On that front, the introduction of a section on “democratic consent” is an important shift on the EU side. This provides a mechanism for the Northern Ireland Assembly to vote on whether to maintain the provisions of the protocol, with a requirement to have cross-community support. That means the UK is now no longer subject to the EU’s approval if it wants to end the backstop arrangement.
That said, a voting requirement to have majorities from both unionist and nationalist groupings makes it very hard to achieve – especially since the Northern Ireland Executive broke down several years ago and is still not in operation. While the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) might control unionist voting, it can only do the same with nationalists if it creates a much more benign and cooperative environment. And even if that does happen and arrangements are voted down by Stormont, there is still a long phasing-out period, so things cannot move too quickly.
From the EU’s perspective, this arrangement provides a degree of security, mainly because any decision to overturn the system is not solely in the hands of the UK – which has not been the most reliable partner of late.
The other big change is on customs arrangements. Instead of creating a temporary customs area for the whole of the UK, the revised Protocol makes Northern Ireland a part of the UK’s customs territory. Because that would imply border controls, a rather convoluted system of custom duty collection is set out.
In essence, the system collects duties from businesses, dependent upon where goods are coming from and going to, with the possibility of various exemptions that will be agreed down the line.
It’s a much more complex system than before, but it does allow Johnson to argue that the entire UK is leaving the EU’s customs union, allowing it to benefit from any new trade deals that might be concluded.
Meanwhile, the political declaration, the main change is that the UK now suggests it is looking for a much looser future relationship, based on a free trade agreement, rather than anything that might include participation in the EU’s single market or customs union.
While these are all noteworthy, they do represent only a very small part of the totality of the withdrawal agreement, as agreed by May last November. The Protocol still kicks into effect at the end of a transition period and the effect is still that Northern Ireland is kept very close to EU’s regulatory standards for many years. The future relationship remains as aspirational as May’s plans – until such a document is negotiated and ratified, by some future British government, no one can be sure what it will look like.
Nor did this negotiation touch on citizens’ rights, financial liabilities, the power of the EU’s courts to issue definitive rulings on matters of dispute (an important matter for hard Brexit supporters in the Conservative Party) or the institutional arrangements for managing all of this. Even as Number 10 goes into its selling mode, those continuities from last year’s text will be present in many people’s minds.
The plan still seems to be for the government to present this deal to the UK parliament in a special Saturday sitting on October 19. We already know that the DUP has issues with the revised text because it places Northern Ireland in a different legal position to the rest of the UK, so winning that vote looks even harder than it already did. The government will hope that it can present the deal to MPs as the last, best hope for a Brexit settlement – but, with wobbles from the DUP, Johnson will struggle to get close to a majority.
Even if he does, the potential to keep that majority together for the subsequent passage of the Withdrawal Agreement Bill looks even less likely. And remember that, as things stand today, this text isn’t even signed off by the 27 EU member states – there’s now not really enough time for them to digest and approve something that moves them off their previous position.
In short, this might still fall apart for Johnson, just as it did for May.
The most ambitious effort to peacefully constrain the nuclear aspirations of a nation hangs by a thread. Eight years of patient and difficult negotiations to reach an agreement on Iran’s nuclear programme were cast aside when president Donald Trump withdrew US support for the deal in May 2018.
Since then, tensions between Iran and the US, a signatory to the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA) – alongside the UK, Germany, France, Russia and China – have escalated. Last November, the US inflamed things further by re-imposing economic sanctions targeting both Iran and the states that trade with it.
The US decision in early May to deploy an aircraft carrier strike force and B-52 bombers, in response to what Washington said was an imminent Iranian plan to attack US assets, has kept tensions at a boil.
Washington stated that the latest show of force was in response to a “campaign” of recent attacks, including a rocket launched into the Green Zone in Baghdad, explosive devices that damaged four tankers near the entrance to the Gulf, and drone attacks by Yemeni rebels on a key Saudi oil pipeline. Iran has denied any association with the incidents.
More recently, the US withdrew waivers which were part of the JCPOA deal with Iran. By revoking the waivers that enabled Iran to ship abroad excess supplies of enriched uranium and heavy water, the US has left the Islamic Republic pondering whether it should continue to comply with certain key parts of the deal.
Is a war coming between the US and Iran?
Iran’s foreign affairs minister, Javed Zarif, and Iraq’s foreign minister, Ali Alhakim, held a joint news conference in May, during which Zarif called on European states to do more to preserve the nuclear deal. Zarif also called the deployment of extra US troops to the Gulf region “extremely dangerous and a threat to international peace and security”.
A supportive Alhakim stated: “The sanctions against sisterly Iran are ineffective and we stand by its side.”
Certainly, sanctions have damaged Iran’s economy. The Iranian currency has hit a record low against the US dollar amid continued economic difficulties following the reimposition of sanctions, and the purchasing power of Iranians has dropped significantly. Indeed, Iran’s economy in 2019 is expected to fall deeper into recession, with estimated negative growth of 5.5% or higher.
Tehran has requested that the European signatories to the nuclear accord – France, Germany and the UK – keep the pact alive. The JCPOA sets a 3.67% limit on uranium enhancement (enough to fuel a commercial nuclear plant) and bars Iran from accumulating supplies of more than 300kg of low-enriched uranium and 130 tons of heavy water, a coolant used in nuclear reactors.
Tehran has rightly said the deal agreed to end Iran’s financial isolation in return for the strict limitations on its nuclear activities. But by bolstering sanctions, the US has scared organisations and banks into diminishing, ceasing or avoiding altogether business with Iranian partners, with serious repercussions for Iran’s economy.
Europe, by and large, has supported diplomacy with Iran. It has argued that Trump’s rejection of the deal compromises the pragmatic wing of Iran’s administration and plays into the hands of hardliners. The EU has long had questions about Tehran’s missile program, and its involvement in Lebanon, Iraq and Yemen, but it has viewed these as separate from the nuclear agreement.
The economic sanctions have certainly put the moderate Iranian leader Hassan Rouhani under pressure, both internationally and domestically. Iranian hardliners argue that Iran surrendered too much in the agreement.
Rouhani has perhaps come up with a clever way of deflecting domestic criticism of him – at least for now – by suggesting that the Islamic Republic hold a referendum over its nuclear program. The official Islamic Republic News Agency (IRNA) stated that Rouhani, who recently was openly chastised by the nation’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, made the suggestion at a gathering of senior Iranian editors on May 25.
Khamenei, who has the last say on all issues of state in Iran, has not yet responded to Rouhani’s recent proposition. The Islamic Republic has seen just three referendums since 1979: one on its change from a monarchy to an Islamic republic, and two on its constitution.
In the meantime, Iran has also threatened to quadruple its uranium-enrichment production limit, but stressed that even this uranium would not be enhanced beyond the 3.67% limit set by the JCPOA, making it unsuitable for developing a nuclear weapon. Rouhani has also said that Tehran will keep its excess enriched uranium and heavy water rather than exporting it.
If Europe fails to find a way for business and investors to work with Iran without being penalised by US sanctions, however, Rouhani has said that Iran will begin enriching uranium even further. In principle, this more highly-enriched uranium could be used as the fissile core of a nuclear weapon. This would send Iran back on its way towards making a bomb, and mark the end of the JCPOA.
According to the UN’s International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) most recent quarterly report, Iran’s enriched uranium and heavy water stocks have grown but have not exceeded the ceilings set in the nuclear agreement. This suggests that Iran continues to comply with the JCPOA – for now, at least.
So far, Iran has also abstained from getting entangled in military brinkmanship with the US. But Trump may soon face a tough choice: either engage in a military clash with Iran or return to the JCPOA. The latter may be a u-turn too far for the bellicose president.
Either way, it is difficult to convince nations to surrender nuclear weapons once they have them. In this case, everything peaceful should be done to ensure that Iran is prevented from acquiring one in the first place.
Our “state of the states” series takes stock of the key issues, seats and policies affecting the vote in each of Australia’s states.
We’ll check in with our expert political analysts around the country every week of the campaign for updates on how it is playing out.
Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra
There is a clear fault line in the Coalition between conservatives and moderates, reflected in the number of centre-right women challenging more conservative members.
Some sitting moderates have chosen not to renominate – Ann Sudmalis in NSW won’t recontest, while Julia Banks in Victoria has resigned from the Coalition to challenge Greg Hunt in Flinders. Other moderate women are standing as independents (Kerryn Phelps and Zali Steggall in NSW, and Helen Haines in Victoria) or as candidates for other centre-right parties (Rebekha Sharkie in SA).
What typically unites these women is a rejection of conservative social policies – and perhaps also a rejection of the alleged culture of bullying within the Coalition parties. These candidates are modernists in that they support progressive policy issues. As independents they can also sidestep the Coalition’s internal fracas about quotas and targets for women.
In NSW, independent Zali Steggall is challenging Tony Abbott in Warringah. Front and centre of her campaign is action on climate change, refugee policy and foreign aid. Her views on marriage equality contrast dramatically with Abbott’s in an electorate that overwhelmingly voted “yes” in the marriage equality postal vote.
Similarly, independent MP Kerryn Phelps, contesting Wentworth, was a significant player in the marriage equality debates and has argued forcibly for a more humane treatment of asylum seekers.
Both Steggall and Phelps have complained about “dirty tricks” and the negative campaigns being mounted against them. Billboards linking Steggall to Labor, allegations that she is receiving funds from GetUp! (she is not), the renting of premises next to her office that were then plastered with anti-Steggall advertising, and the sexualising of Steggall posters all appear to be an attempt to intimidate and demean her.
A number of articles critical of Steggall have been published by the Daily Telegraph, with free copies delivered to residents who are not subscribers to the paper. This includes a front page story in which Steggall’s ex-husband and his current wife described her as “opportunistic” and “lacking the temperament of a leader”. The couple have since declared that the Telegraph article does not reflect how they feel about Steggall’s candidature.
Kerryn Phelps says dirty tricks were behind the removal of hundreds of her election posters in her campaign to retain the seat of Wentworth. Labor’s Tim Murray has also complained that his posters had been removed and replaced by Liberal posters. Liberal challenger, Dave Sharma, rejects any allegation that this activity has been sanctioned by him or the Liberal Party. Today it was reported that Sharma’s posters have also been defaced.
The seats of Wentworth and Warringah are critical to the reelection of the Morrison government and it’s clear that some supporters of the conservative wing of the Coalition have “taken off the gloves”. We can only speculate if it’s because the independents are women or because they are moderates.
Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science at James Cook University
Labor leader Bill Shorten’s first hustings in Herbert coincided with reports of a deal that the Coalition will preference Palmer’s United Australia Party (UAP) over other populist parties.
UAP’s candidate, former NRL player Greg Dowling, will run for the lower house, while Palmer has his sights on the Senate. Palmer’s big cash splash announcement may cause more of a ripple than a bounce, considering former Queensland Nickel workers will have to wait until after the election to get their money back.
With One Nation and Fraser Anning’s Conservative National Party (FACN) also throwing their hats into the ring, there’s now four right-leaning minor parties vying for votes.
Herbert’s 2019 election is shaping up to be a rerun of 2013. Six years ago, preferences played a huge role in deciding 97 of the 150 seats nationally. 40% of Queensland seats were decided on preference votes in 2013.
The latest polling shows UAP at 14% – almost the same as 2013 after preferences (15.52%), but this was before Pauline Hanson’s One Nation (PHON) confirmed their candidate. In 2016, One Nation preferences helped push the incumbent, Labor’s Cathy O’Toole, over the line. With a preference deal between LNP and UAP, Palmer’s chance of a seat in the Senate is a good bet, but it’s now a four-way spilt for the lower house.
UAP and Katter’s Australian Party (KAP) will be the benefactors in the Herbert electorate, placed ahead of Liberals and Labor on the how-to-vote cards. In a battle between UAP, PHON and FACN, it’s the Greens that could benefit the most.
With UAP aligned with LNP, the Greens candidate Sam Blackadder has a chance of picking up protest votes against Labor. The Greens could also take votes from latecomers, the Animal Justice Party, thanks to its clear policy on climate change – something that has eluded the major parties.
There’s a similar picture in Dickson, with One Nation, Fraser Anning and the Animal Justice Party all putting up candidates. Plus there’s former Palmer United Party, now independent candidate, Thor Prohaska running on a democracy ticket.
Like Herbert, PHON and FACN will have to fight for votes from UAP in Dickson. In 2013, Palmer’s party polled 9.8% of the vote in Dickson. With UAP favouring LNP over ALP like it did in 2013, it could help Dutton to retain his marginal seat this time around.
Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics at Murdoch University
Attention was on Bill Shorten and Clive Palmer in WA election news this week.
Bill Shorten came under scrutiny when it was revealed that three WA Labor candidates had been forced to include him in their election advertising after they were found distributing pamphlets that made no reference to the Labor leader.
Polls consistently show that Australian voters prefer Scott Morrison to Bill Shorten as prime minister. But Shorten is a bigger problem for Labor in WA than he is elsewhere – although it’s not clear by how much.
A poll last month by Crosby Textor showed that Shorten had a minus 26 favourability in the Perth seat of Cowan, which is held by Labor’s Anne Aly by a margin of just 0.7%. That makes Shorten more unpopular in Cowan than he is in other marginal seats across the country. And it’s the reason that candidates would rather put Premier Mark McGowan in their campaign material.
Like the rest of Australia, many West Australians will vote Labor even though they don’t particularly like or trust Bill Shorten. So, we can expect more ads attacking Shorten as the Liberals look to capitalise on one of the few positives (or should that be negatives) they have to work with in WA.
Clive Palmer was in WA news for the same reason he was in everyone’s news: the Newspoll that showed that his United Australia Party would change the result in some marginal seats. That includes one of one of ours: Pearce.
Pearce is held by Christian Porter and this election is a big moment for him. Porter was Attorney-General in Scott Morrison’s government, and he has a high profile in WA. He was also on the way to becoming premier when he took a detour into federal politics. Porter undoubtedly has ambitions and is one of the bright young(ish) things in the WA Liberal Party, so his future is important to his party’s fate in the West.
After One Nation’s disastrous campaign in the last state election, WA voters are obviously looking elsewhere and Palmer has spent a lot of money on the UAP campaign. Christian Porter and the WA Liberals will be hoping that it isn’t enough to make the difference in Pearce.
Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer in Politics and Public Policy at Flinders University
It would be ironic, to say the least, if former Labor state Premier Jay Weatherill’s legacy will be to have delivered the final nail in the coffin of the Turnbull-Morrison governments.
Last week, water policy dominated the political and campaign agenda, with the issue of water buybacks causing significant problems for the Coalition, and the Nationals in particular. Yet the groundwork for this poisonous issue was laid when the Weatherill government set up a state royal commission into alleged water theft by the upstream states.
Since then, the issue has been a lingering problem, exacerbated by the dead fish in the Menindee. Since the revelations of the water buybacks story, this has proved a problematic issue, culminating with a remarkable interview on the ABC with the former Minister for Agriculture and Water Resources Barnaby Joyce.
While elections are rarely ever decided in key marginal South Australian seats, this issue could be the exception. It’s striking how it has unified South Australians. When the original allegations of water fraud were revealed by the ABC, there was a press conference with all key South Australian senators, including Sarah Hanson-Young, Cory Bernadi, Nick Xenophon and Penny Wong. Commonwealth governments rarely benefit from this issue in the state where the Murray ends.
The Nationals have no presence in South Australia, and the electoral damage is likely to be limited to the Liberals in the seat of Mayo, where Centre Alliance MP Rebekah Sharkie has been strong on water policy. But this issue, so close to South Australian politics, could prove problematic on the national stage.
Michael Lester, researcher and PhD student at the Institute for the Study of Social Change
The Tasmanian North West Coast seat of Braddon is sitting on a knife-edge. Braddon is notoriously fickle, having changed hands five times since 1998, and margins are always tight.
Labor’s Justine Keay won the seat from the Liberal’s Brett Whitely in 2016. She retained the seat after having to resign and recontest it in the July 2018 citizenship byelections, but failed to make any electoral gains. She is now defending a very slim 1.7% margin.
In 2018, Keay had seven opponents. This election she is up against eight:
Braddon is hard to call. In the absence of polling, local commentators are looking to the betting odds which presently place Keay as clear favourite at $1.45, with Pearce at $2.65. Despite that, some see Braddon as Liberal Party’s best chance of winning a seat in Tasmania – especially since an electoral boundary redistribution in 2017 added the more affluent Port Sorell area.
There is no single electorate-wide issue here. Braddon is a diverse mix of regional centres and agricultural districts extending from Devonport and Latrobe in the east, through Ulverstone, Burnie, Wynyard, Stanley, Smithton and Waratah, then down the west coast to the mining towns of Rosebery, Zeehan, Queenstown and the tourism and fishing village of Strahan. It also includes King Island in Bass Strait.
Tasmania’s recent economic renaissance has been slow to reach many areas of this electorate. So, candidates are aiming their promises at people’s concerns over economic development, jobs, youth training, health services and education. And both major parties have been careful to match almost anything the other side offers up.
Labor’s commitment of a A$25 million grant to support a Tasmanian AFL team has emerged as one big point of difference in the strongly pro-football Braddon, while the Liberals run a campaign on what better uses that money could be put to.
We’ll be back with an update on Victoria next week.
Chris Aulich, Adjunct Professor at the University of Canberra, University of Canberra; Ian Cook, Senior Lecturer of Australian Politics, Murdoch University; Maxine Newlands, Senior Lecturer in Political Science: Research Fellow at the Cairns Institute, James Cook University; Michael Lester, PhD candidate, University of Tasmania, and Rob Manwaring, Senior Lecturer, Politics and Public Policy, Flinders University
On June 23, 2016 the United Kingdom held a referendum to decide whether it should leave or remain in the European Union. More than 30 million people took part in the vote with 51.9% choosing to leave and 48.1% to remain.
Six months later, the new Prime Minister Theresa May delivered a speech in which she said:
the British people voted for change… And it is the job of this government to deliver it.
Where it got messy is deciding how to leave the Union. Would it be a clean break, the so-called hard Brexit, or a softer version where some links to the EU remained?
The European Union is an economic and political partnership of 28 European countries across the whole continent, including France, Germany, Italy, Sweden, Finland, the UK and Ireland. It operates under a “single market” which means goods, services, capitals and people can move around as if the member states were one country.
Nineteen of the member countries, not including the UK, share a common currency, the Euro. The EU also has its own parliament which sets rules in areas including the environment, transport and consumer rights.
Theresa May’s vision for leaving the European Union came in a Brexit White Paper, which she delivered to Parliament on February 2, 2017. The paper explained that, in negotiating the exit with the EU, the UK would:
In substance, this white paper is a clear indication for the hard Brexit option. A soft Brexit would be where the UK would somehow remain in the European single market, or at the very least become an external member of the EU Customs Union. This is the case for Turkey and some micro-nations including Monaco, Andorra and San Marino.
A customs union is an arrangement between two or more countries which allows goods to circulate freely in the area of the union. This is done by removing tariffs between the countries inside the union and introducing a common external tariff for the countries outside the union.
A customs union does not cover trade in services and flows of capital and people. But the treaties that have established the EU enshrine the single market (of which the customs union is a component) in four inextricable pillars: the free movement of goods, services, capital and labour. For the EU this is an all-or-nothing package, so that single market members cannot pick and choose only some of the four freedoms.
The issue of a hard or soft Brexit is different from that of the deal, or no-deal, Brexit. The first issue has already been set: it’s a hard Brexit, as Theresa May is not seeking membership of both the EU single market and Customs Union.
This allows the UK to independently negotiate international trade agreements either with individual countries or other customs unions after the UK’s official withdrawal date: March, 29 2019. After this date, the UK and EU may or may not strike a deal on what happens next.
So, the post-withdrawal arrangements with the EU comprise the deal or no-deal issue currently at stake: will the UK crash out of the EU with or without shared plans, and with or without a gradual implementation period?
Both the UK government and the EU governing bodies clearly prefer to split with a deal and a more gradual separation process. To this aim, the two sides have spent nearly two years in the painstaking negotiation of a withdrawal agreement.
This is the now infamous “Brexit deal” – a 585-page legally-binding text agreed to by the EU and UK government on November, 14 2018. The deal sets the terms of the UK’s divorce from the EU and can only enter into force once ratified by the UK parliament.
But, on January 15, 2019 Britain’s House of Commons rejected the Brexit deal by a stunning and unprecedented majority of 230. More than one third of Theresa May’s majority MPs joined the opposition parties against the Brexit deal despite confirming their confidence on the government the following day.
So what’s the problem with the deal?
Like in an actual divorce, the rejected agreement sets the terms for splitting the assets, liabilities and people shared across the two sides. Leaving aside the numerous legal resolutions especially affecting commerce, the deal in particular defines how much money the UK owes the EU and the terms under which the estimated £39bn will be paid.
The deal also preserves the existing residency and working rights of UK citizens living elsewhere in the EU and of the EU citizens living in the UK up until the end of the Brexit implementation period set for 31 December 2020.
But the thorniest issue of the Brexit deal, and the one that proved to be its major fault line, is the proposed method of avoiding the return of a physical border between the UK’s Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – an EU member state.
The island of Ireland is divided into two separate entities: the Republic of Ireland, which is an independent nation member of the EU, and Northern Ireland, which is part of the UK and has 18 seats in the UK parliament.
The Northern Ireland backstop is a convoluted measure of last resort to maintain an open border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland until the UK and the EU can find a long-term solution for an indefinite period – even after the expiration of the Brexit implementation period (December, 31 2020).
The fact is – with or without the Brexit deal – the Brexit White Paper’s outline to stay outside the EU Single Market and Customs Union means that, eventually, a physical border will reappear on the island of Ireland.
This is an ominous prospect as memories of the “Troubles”, the bloody Northern Ireland conflict triggered by border clashes in the late 1960s – between the majority unionist or UK loyalist Protestant population and the minority Catholic or Irish nationalist one – are still fresh.
Over the years the UK and Ireland’s EU membership eliminated any hard borders in Ireland. This played a major part in spelling the end of the Troubles in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement, which is also based on keeping the whole of Ireland border-free.
A hard Brexit repudiates one of the cornerstones of the Good Friday Agreements and, short of a customs union with the EU, any deal would only kick the can down the road. Theresa May’s proposed solution is the Irish border Brexit backstop.
It’s called a backstop precisely because it pushes the UK border with the EU back away from Northern Ireland. This would mean Northern Ireland would all but remain subject to the EU legal framework and be kept virtually separate from the rest of the UK for an indefinite time.
And this is why the conservative Brexit hardliners, and the small but indispensable Northern Irish Democratic Union Party (DUP), voted against Theresa May’s deal. Despite the fact a majority of Northern Irish voted to remain in the EU in the 2016 referendum, the DUP fears the backstop would provide momentum to those who wish to reunify Ireland.
On the other hand, despite Theresa May’s insistence, the EU is not providing any legally binding guarantee of a definite expiry date for the Irish backstop. The EU’s strategic game is clear, as the continuing existence of the Irish backstop provides yet another strong negotiating chip in respect to any future dealings with the UK.
So what are the alternatives to Theresa May’s hard Brexit deal? Wild guesses include delaying or withdrawing the withdrawal, so to speak, while some even call for a second Brexit referendum. Considering the political uncertainties and legal realities, any guess is little more than wishful thinking.
The Morrison government has sent qualified signals that it might agree to some refugees from Nauru being settled in New Zealand.
It says it would be “more likely” to support the New Zealand option if Labor agreed to pass legislation to stop these people then being able to reach Australia by the back door, via the free travel arrangements between the two countries.
The positive note comes ahead of Saturday’s Wentworth byelection, in which the situation of the refugees is one of the issues.
New Zealand has for years had on the table an offer to take 150 of the refugees a year.
The legislation at issue – which has not been able to obtain Senate support – would prohibit anyone who’d come by boat and was settled in another country from ever being allowed into Australia.
But Labor remains opposed to the legislation in its current form.
Opposition immigration spokesman Shayne Neumann said Labor welcomed the government’s “sudden and unexplained interest” in considering a deal with New Zealand.
But the “lifetime ban” legislation “is not required to secure regional resettlement arrangements,” he said.
Labor argues the government should negotiate a special arrangement with New Zealand to stop people resettled there from entering Australia, rather than having the catch-all bill.
The issue of the children on Nauru – many of them with serious health issues – escalated in recent weeks, with campaigning by doctors for a more humane approach and pressure from government backbenchers.
On Tuesday the crossbench gave notice of a bill to temporarily relocate children from Nauru for medical treatment.
Crossbencher Rebekha Sharkie asked Scott Morrison whether he would support calls to do this.
It is understood these transfers have been increased after backbenchers Russell Broadbench and Craig Laundy made representations to Morrison in a meeting last month. Victorian backbencher Julia Banks has also spoken out.
Replying to Sharkie, Morrison hinted at more movement recently, when he offered crossbenchers an update “on the issue of transfers that continue to take place on a case-by-case basis”.
There had been quite a number of transfers undertaken, recently and over a longer period, he said, adding that “some work has been done further over the last month on these issues”.
Sources said the sick children were already off Nauru.
At the Liberal party meeting on Tuesday, NSW backbencher Trent Zimmerman asked Morrison about the children and the New Zealand option.
Shorten wrote to Morrison saying Labor would introduce legislation to ensure children received proper medical care.
Among other things this would ensure the recommendation of treating clinicians was prime when determining a temporary medical transfer for a child and ensure the minister, not the bureaucracy, was the final decision-maker on transfers.
President Donald Trump’s unilateral decision to withdraw from the multilateral agreement to restrain Iran’s nuclear program will inevitably have far-reaching consequences, including the further destabilisation of the Middle East.
More immediately, it risks fracturing a Western alliance that has provided the cornerstone of global security since the end of the second world war.
In a joint statement, the leaders of France, Germany and Britain raised the possibility of the US being in breach of a United Nations Security Council resolution endorsing the deal. The resolution remained the “binding international legal framework for the resolution of the dispute,” Emmanuel Macron, Angela Merkel and Theresa May said.
As such, France, Germany and Britain said they would still adhere to the agreement. The other participants – Russia and China – would also be unlikely to abandon the deal. And Iran itself, in a measured reaction to the Trump announcement, said it, too, would stick with the agreement.
This means the Trump administration risks finding itself further isolated from the international community, following his decision to also pull out of the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Paris Climate Change accords.
It is hard to exaggerate the many negative outcomes that may well flow from the decision to pull out of the Iran nuclear deal, including an escalation of tensions between Iran and US clients in the Middle East. In fact, heightened tensions across the Middle East and an intensification of a regional arms race would seem to be almost inevitable.
Following through on his threats during his 2016 presidential election campaign to tear up the Iran deal, Trump could hardly have been more explicit in his rejection of a foreign policy centrepiece of his predecessor’s tenure in his announcement on Tuesday.
The fact is, this was a horrible, one-sided deal that should have never, ever been made. It didn’t bring calm, it didn’t bring peace, and it never will.
What this announcement confirms – if confirmation is even necessary – is that the US leader has unshackled himself from the moderating influences of advisers who have been shoved out of his national security team in recent weeks. These include Harold McMaster, his former national security adviser, and former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who had both argued strenuously against a withdrawal from the Iran deal.
Trump is now in the hands of what is one of the more bellicose teams of advisers assembled by an American president in recent memory. Where this leaves James Mattis, Trump’s defence secretary is unclear. Mattis has called the verification element of the Iran deal “robust” and has been opposed to actions that would undermine an existing treaty.
Understandably, former President Barack Obama and his secretary of state, John Kerry, have expressed dismay over an unravelling of an agreement that took years to negotiate with the aim of forestalling Iran’s acquisition of a nuclear weapons.
In a rare rebuke of Trump, Obama said the decision would make the world less safe. He described it as a “losing choice between a nuclear-armed Iran or another war in the Middle East.”
Understandably – as one of the architects of the agreement – Kerry also expressed his dismay. “Instead of building on unprecedented nonproliferation verification measures, this decision risks throwing them away and dragging the world back to the brink we faced a few years ago,” he said.
In addition to tearing up the deal, Trump announced a re-imposition – and strengthening – of sanctions against Iran. These will be phased in over 90-day and 180-day periods. What is not clear is what impact these sanctions will have on international companies doing business in Iran.
Under a previous sanctions regime, companies risked being shut out of the US economy if they invested in – or traded with – Iran.
An interpretation of just what is implied for international business will be an early test of America’s ability to make the sanctions stick. This is sure to get messy.
Already, US companies such as Boeing, which had negotiated US$20 billion in aircraft sales to Iran, are finding such business is now in jeopardy.
Further complicating the picture is Trump’s proposed face-to-face meeting with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to put an end to Pyongyang’s nuclear program.
Kim may well ask himself what value might be placed on negotiations with Trump. Under these circumstances, neither side would be likely to invest much trust in one another.
Katy Hayward, Queen’s University Belfast; Alan Wager, King’s College London; Brendan Ciarán Browne, Trinity College Dublin; David Phinnemore, Queen’s University Belfast; Feargal Cochrane, University of Kent; Gavin Barrett, University College Dublin; Patricia Hogwood, University of Westminster, and Stijn Smismans, Cardiff University
EU negotiators announced on December 8 that enough progress has been achieved in Brexit negotiations for talks to move on to a second phase – the nature of the future relationship between the UK and the EU. A deal on the Irish border, a major sticking point in the talks, was given the go-ahead by both the EU and UK. Here academic experts explain aspects of the agreement.
Katy Hayward, Reader in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast
The UK government still seeks a future deal with the EU that brings the benefits of single market and customs union membership without the obligations. This goal set alarm bells ringing in Brussels and Dublin long ago. Its sheer impossibility meant hurtling towards either a “no deal” scenario (in which case the Irish border would become a hard border) or an “ignore the problem” scenario, in which case the border would be a dangerously gaping hole in the top left corner of the single market.
The joint agreement between the UK and EU secures against both these risks. It asserts that the UK seeks to realise its aims of avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland “through the overall EU-UK relationship”. But it then allows that “should this not be possible”, it will propose “specific solutions” to tie up the loose ends.
In the event that there is a failure to find such agreed solutions, the UK will “maintain full alignment with those rules of the Internal Market and the Customs Union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation, the all-island economy and the protection of the 1998 Agreement.”
This is such a major concession, of the tail-wags-dog type, that efforts will be concentrated on finding those “agreed solutions” for Northern Ireland – which we can safely assume will be necessary. The Irish question is far from resolved and there are laborious and detailed negotiations to come.
As such, the joint agreement wisely allows for a special strand of the phase two discussions between the EU and the UK to be dedicated to the “detailed arrangements” necessary to give effect to the ambitious commitments to Northern Ireland/Ireland contained here.
Feargal Cochrane, Professor of International Conflict Analysis, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent
So there we have it – more constructive ambiguity, which is fitting in terms of the Good Friday Agreement and broader peace process. This agreement can, and is, being read differently by the Irish government and the DUP, which is hardly surprising.
However, the Irish government position is unequivocal and the deal is essentially much the same as the one rejected by the DUP just days previously, certainly in terms of the implications for trade harmonisation in the two parts of Ireland.
The Irish government is clearly convinced that this means there will, in practice, be no need for border checks between the two jurisdictions after the UK leaves the EU.
The DUP, for its part, is reassured that Northern Ireland will be constitutionally aligned with the rest of the UK after Brexit and there will be no air-lock at Great Britain that differentiates Northern Ireland from the rest of the UK. However, the DUP has, at the same time, admitted that the details of how full alignment will work in practice while maintaining NI’s alignment with the rest of the UK require more detailed explanation.
The implication of the wording is that the UK will have to harmonise with Ireland (which, by the way, means the EU). So it’s not entirely clear how the UK is leaving the customs union and single market, other than saying it has left but in practical terms not actually leaving. This might put the wind up some of prime minister Theresa May’s colleagues, who thought Brexit was going to give them their country back.
It seems like the Irish government has received the guarantee it needed that there will be no visible border in Ireland after Brexit. The UK government and DUP have also bought some time to unscramble how to do this in the next phase of the process.
In essence, while the DUP may choose to dress it up in red, white and blue, it looks like Northern Ireland will be clad in blue and gold for the foreseeable future following this agreement.
Brendan Ciarán Browne, Assistant Professor & Course Coordinator MPhil Conflict Resolution, Trinity College Dublin
Beyond practical realities, symbolically the deal is important. In explicitly dismissing the notion of a hard border on the island of Ireland the negotiating teams have been sensitive to what this could lead to in terms of further political instability in Northern Ireland and the potential for a return to violence.
The hard fought strand in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement focusing on self-determination, that affords citizens born in the north the right to determine as Irish, has undoubtedly been safeguarded as a result of the deal. This allows those in the north who identity as Irish to also remain as European citizens.
By placing the Irish question at the heart of this phase of the negotiations, the EU negotiators realised the symbolic importance of the right to self-determination for citizens in the north. They have also further demonstrated their commitment to upholding the values that are enshrined in the Good Friday Agreement.
David Phinnemore, Professor of European Politics, Queen’s University Belfast
The Irish dimension of Brexit has at last gained the profile it deserves in UK political debate. The assumption that you can leave the EU, its customs union and its single market and avoid any hardening of the Irish border has been exposed as folly.
This is made abundantly clear in the text agreed by the UK and the EU. It commits the UK to regulatory alignment with those EU rules regarding the single market and the customs union that support not just north-south cooperation on the island of the Ireland, but also the “all-island economy” and the protection of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement.
How this is to be achieved has still to be worked out. The same goes for the range of regulations where alignment would be required. Ultimately, if the UK and EU don’t reach agreement on all this when striking a trade deal, the UK has committed to maintaining the “full alignment” necessary. Given the EU’s insistence on respecting the integrity of its own legal order and the UK pledge not to impose a border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, that could in effect mean the whole of the UK staying in the single market and a customs union arrangement with the EU.
The autonomous alignment this entails does not sit well with the “take back control” mantra of many Brexiteers, and that’s before its decided who oversees the eventual arrangement. Whether London can and will deliver remains to be seen.
Gavin Barrett, Professor at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin
With this joint agreement, an unfamiliar concept has found its way into the world’s political lexicon: regulatory alignment. It seem innocuous but don’t be fooled. Regulatory alignment will be the terrain on which Brexit’s ultimate shape will be determined.
The British prime minister, Theresa May, effectively needed Ireland’s assent to move to phase two of Brexit negotiations. Ireland wanted protection against any prospect of renewed controls on the Northern Irish frontier. The result was article 49 of the agreement, promising Ireland that the UK will “maintain full alignment” with the customs union and those internal market rules supporting Ireland’s all-island economy, cooperation and the 1998 Good Friday Agreement. But to please the DUP, article 50 of the agreement nonetheless promises Northern Irish businesses “unfettered access” to the UK single market.
For hardline eurosceptics such as Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ability to diverge from EU regulations in pursuit of international trade deals is an “indelible” red line in Brexit talks. Pleasing them, May still insists the UK will leave both the customs union and the single European market.
These three commitments seem impossible to square – unless the UK does one of three things, each of which anger somebody. First, it angers Eurosceptics by recreating the present EU customs union with another similar EU-UK customs arrangement and by mirroring most single European market rules. Second, it angers the DUP by introducing customs controls on Northern Ireland, while keeping Northern Ireland in the UK’s single market, like a little Norway to the EU’s single market. Or, third, it angers Ireland by giving “full alignment” much less significance than Ireland thinks it has.
It is an impossible trilemma. Something has to give. But that is for another day. For now May’s government, and the truly lunatic escapade that is Brexit, hurtle onwards.
Stijn Smismans, Professor of European Law, Director of the Centre for European Law and Governance, Cardiff University
EU citizens in the UK and British citizens in Europe remain in a lot of uncertainty following the deal on the first stage of Brexit negotiations.
There is some progress in the Joint Agreement on the status and rights people will hold once they have obtained what’s called “settled status”, particularly in relation to family reunion and their acquired social security rights. However, this is far from a guarantee protecting their current rights.
Settled status will not be as protective as the current status of permanent residence. Even people who already hold permanent residence could be deported more easily on grounds of criminality, which goes beyond the restrictive criteria on when EU citizens can be deported that the EU currently allows.
The main problem is that the criteria and checks for registration to get “settled status” remain unclear. Neither is it clear which documents people will need to provide as proof. The previous application system for permanent residence for EU citizens led to nearly 30% of applications being rejected. If similar criteria are applied, such as applicants needing to prove being in work or having sufficient resources to live on, the consequences would be dramatic.
The agreement promises a simplified registration system but does not explain how this will be organised. Neither the criteria for application nor the way in which the online system could reach those most vulnerable are explained.
EU citizens have been promised to have their status guaranteed for life – but the proposal that the EU Court of Justice would lose its control powers over this after eight years undermines that principle.
Patricia Hogwood, Reader in European Politics, University of Westminster
The first reactions from Europe to the deal were predictably anodyne. Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, gave all the credit for the breakthrough to Theresa May. While this flatters the prime minister, it also serves the main aim of the European institutions and leading member states – to prop up May’s failing government long enough to conclude a viable Brexit deal.
The Dutch prime minister has declared that he is “happy” that the talks can move on. Only a few have dared to prod the gap between the constructive ambiguity of the statement and the problems that will arise in translating it into an acceptable political compromise in practice. Sven Giegold, a German MEP, has branded the deal a “fake compromise” and claimed that regulatory alignment won’t be enough to avoid a hard border.
Alan Wager, Research Associate, The UK in a Changing Europe at King’s College London
This agreement looks like a political fudge that tells us very little, but keeps the show on the road. In fact, it’s the opposite. We now have a much clearer idea of what Brexit will look like. But, as a result, its political shelf life is limited.
Brexit means “full alignment” – putting the UK firmly in the EU’s sphere of influence when it comes to rules on trade. The Brexit choice at this stage can be boiled down to two different paths: one that continued to hug the EU27 close and remain in their trading sphere of influence, and another that returned “British laws” to the UK and facilitated expansive global trade deals. The first path is looking a lot more likely.
The key issue – how to leave the EU’s frameworks, while not hardening the Irish border – remains unresolved. This is because it is an intractable logical problem that cannot be meaningfully resolved. So the UK will, in any meaningful sense, remain subject to these rules and regulations. The question is, once all this comes out in the wash, whether this softer form of Brexit will still be sellable to Theresa May’s party.
Leading Brexit figures such as Boris Johnson and Michael Gove, sensing in the lead up to this crunch point that the Brexit process could have stalled, have rediscovered the joys of collective cabinet responsibility. But, in the new year, this could come to look less like a fudge, and more like one of those leftover stale mince pies: no one wants it, and harder than it looks.
Katy Hayward, Reader in Sociology, Queen’s University Belfast; Alan Wager, Research Associate, The UK in a Changing Europe at King’s College London, King’s College London; Brendan Ciarán Browne, Assistant Professor & Course Coordinator MPhil Conflict Resolution, Trinity College Dublin; David Phinnemore, Professor of European Politics, Queen’s University Belfast; Feargal Cochrane, Professor of International Conflict Analysis, School of Politics and International Relations, University of Kent; Gavin Barrett, Professor at the Sutherland School of Law, University College Dublin; Patricia Hogwood, Reader in European Politics, University of Westminster, and Stijn Smismans, Professor of European Law, Director of the Centre for European Law and Governance, Cardiff University
The government has agreed to Labor’s December 1 deadline and tougher conditions in a deal on MPs citizenship disclosure clinched between Opposition Leader Bill Shorten and deputy Senate leader Mathias Cormann on Monday.
The agreement comes after last week’s haggling over timing and the terms of disclosure, and a meeting and an exchange of sharp letters between Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Shorten. It paved the way for an immediate motion in the Senate and one in the House of Representatives after it returns on November 27.
Under changes obtained by Labor, MPs will have to go back as far as their grandparents and say what steps they have taken to confirm that they did not inherit foreign citizenship from their parents and grandparents.
The original proposal by Turnbull only went back as far as parents. It required only that MPs stated when they nominated they were not, to the best of their “knowledge and belief”, a citizen of any other country.
The resolution includes a provision requiring an MP who at the time of nomination, was a foreign citizen (or is currently), to state on what basis they contend they should not be disqualified under Section 44(i) of the Constitution.
This covers the situation of several Labor MPs, who took steps to renounce their foreign citizenship but did not receive confirmation before they nominated. Labor has legal advice these MPs are safe; the government has advice they are breaching the Constitution.
Labor claimed it got all it wanted in the deal; the government claimed the ALP wished to include further clauses designed to clear MPs on the basis that they had taken “reasonable steps” to renounce dual citizenship.
The government compromised twice in bringing forward the date of disclosure. Most recently it was saying it should be December 7.
A later disclosure date would have required a special recall of parliament to consider any referrals to the High Court. These will now be able to be dealt with in the last week, starting December 4, of the current timetable.
The government is flagging it will refer up to four Labor MPs to the court, although it is not clear whether it will wait to do this until the December 4 week, or seek to move the week before.
In the Senate, Australian Conservatives leader Cory Bernardi claimed a senator was ineligible to sit and the government was aware of it. The senator in question is not a member of the government. Tasmanian crossbencher Jacqui Lambie’s eligibility has been questioned in recent days.
Meanwhile, a ministerial vacancy has opened with the elevation of Scott Ryan to the Senate presidency on Monday morning. Ryan has been special minister of state.
Turnbull will reshuffle his ministry at some later point, in what are expected to be quite extensive changes. The High Court’s recent disqualification of the Nationals Fiona Nash has opened another vacancy. In the meantime, Cormann will take over responsibility for the special minister of state portfolio.
The byelection for the seat of Bennelong, vacated by John Alexander who believes he had dual citizenship, will be held on December 16. Alexander will have to free himself of his UK citizenship before nominations close for the byelection.
Shorten told a meeting of Labor senators: that Labor was “behind the eight ball” in Bennelong, where the Liberals have a margin of nearly 10%.
“But we are going to give it every effort,” he said, defining the battle as “about the direction in which the nation is headed.
“One point we will be making in Bennelong is that because of the increasing and disturbing closeness and proximity between One Nation and the Liberal Party, that a vote for the Liberal Party in Bennelong is effectively a vote for One Nation on the national stage.
“When you look at One Nation’s voting record in the Senate, nearly 90% of the time they are voting with the Liberals.
“So for the voters who think they are voting for One Nation as a protest against the Government, they are not. And for people who vote Liberal because they don’t agree with some of One Nation’s extreme views, they are, in fact, endorsing them,” Shorten said.