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After a slow news period post-‘inauguration’, everything accelerated again to the point where there is too much to cover in one week.

At the end of January 2021, the EU tried to block the UK’s coronavirus vaccine supply, specifically to the AstraZeneca vaccine developed in Oxford!

The EU poked at the softest, most vulnerable part of the UK-EU agreement post-Brexit: not to create division between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, covered by Article 16.

However, the EU, being short of coronavirus vaccines, briefly invoked the sacrosanct Article 16 on Friday, January 29, 2021, despite Jean-Claude Juncker’s old commitment to Ireland that there would be no hard border with a post-Brexit EU-UK trade agreement. This debate in the Irish parliament took place long before coronavirus. What a sloppy dress code:

Then, just less than a month after the UK made a full Brexit with a trade agreement, the EU did this:

On Friday, January 29, Guido Fawkes reported (emphases in the original):

As part of its plot to block vaccine exports to the UK, the EU has invoked Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol. This has effectively removed Northern Ireland from the EU’s customs. In plain English, Article 16, the so-called safeguard clause, allows both the EU and the UK to unilaterally suspend part of the Northern Ireland Protocol (which keeps Northern Ireland in the EU’s customs territory) in specific circumstances.

Most discussion around this particular article had been how or whether the UK would use it. The fact that the EU has implemented it less than a month after coming into effect could set a big precedent.

Practically this new EU-imposed hard border won’t make a huge difference as Northern Ireland will receive their jabs via Great Britain, but this political move is extraordinary, after a week of terrible news for the Union. After years of arguing to keep Northern Ireland in its customs territory, the EU has just merrily kicked it out.

However, such an action threatened the long-standing peace agreement between North and South.

EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen’s action managed to unite Britain’s — and Ireland’s — Right and Left for the first time in years:

Guido’s article says of the centre-right Democratic Unionist Party:

UPDATE: The DUP have, not unsurprisingly, slammed the EU’s decision as “an incredible act of hostility”. Arlene Foster says:

“This is an incredible act of hostility. By triggering Article 16 in this manner, the European Union has once again shown it is prepared to use Northern Ireland when it suits their interests but in the most despicable manner — over the provision of a vaccine which is designed to save lives.

At the first opportunity the EU has placed a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland over the supply chain of the Coronavirus vaccine.

With the European Union using Article 16 in such an aggressive and most shameful way, it is now time for our Government to step up. I will be urging the Prime Minister to act and use robust measures including Article 16 to advance the interests of Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom.”

As for Labour:

UPDATE II: Labour join in with the EU condemnation: Louise Haigh MP, Labour’s Shadow Northern Ireland Secretary, commenting on the European Union’s decision to invoke Article 16 of the Northern Ireland Protocol:

“This move is deeply destabilising and undermines the huge efforts being made to make the Protocol work.

Unilateral actions like this do nothing to aid the stability in Northern Ireland which the Protocol was designed to preserve.

The European Union must remember the Protocol depends on joint working and they share a responsibility to uphold that. They must think again, and revoke this action.”

Later that day, Guido recapped the previous five days of hassle for AstraZeneca and vaccine supply. CEO Pascal Soriot insisted that the company never made a hard and fast commitment to the EU. AstraZeneca made what are contractually known as best reasonable efforts to supply to the EU. Guido’s article has a copy of the contract, which you can read at the link:

AstraZeneca has committed to use its Best Reasonable Efforts (as defined below) to build capacity to manufacture 300 million Doses of the Vaccine, at no profit and no loss to AstraZeneca, at the total cost currently estimated to be [REDACTED] Euros for distribution within the EU [REDACTED] (the “Initial Europe Doses”), with an option for the Commission, acting on behalf of the Participating Member States, to order an additional 100 million Doses (the “Optional Doses”).

The ball was then in von der Leyen’s court:

Guido reported von der Leyen’s response:

No. There are binding orders and the contract is crystal-clear. AstraZeneca has expressly assured us in this contract that no other obligations will stand in the way of fulfilling the contract.

However, Guido explained:

The key obligation in the agreement is in Section 5.1, which “silos” production for the doses to go to the EU, making clear that the AZ obligation is only to use best reasonable efforts to manufacture the initial doses within the EU. If they are manufacturing doses outside the EU that’s irrelevant to that obligation. Has the EU just shot itself in the foot?

Guido’s founder Paul Staines is based in Waterford, Ireland. He thinks that, for the good of relations between North and South, the UK should share their AstraZeneca doses with the Republic:

He was not alone. The Scotland editor for The Spectator agreed:

Fine. Let’s make sure that Britons get their share first. That’s why the deal was set up in the first place.

By the end of last Friday, right, left, centre and the Church of England opposed the EU action:

The Archbishop’s intervention seemed to have a huge impact in Britain, which is surprising for such an atheistic nation:

The strange thing about Article 16 is that the British EU-lovers assumed that the UK Government would implement it first against the EU. That was the big stink around the Internal Market Bill, which gives the UK leeway to back out of parts of the trade agreement if the EU becomes threatening.

In the end:

Late that evening, the EU president conceded:

Boris made no mention of it on his Twitter feed.

More on the UK’s coronavirus vaccine success will follow on Monday.

For now, here’s the next EU-UK drama, which also started on Friday, January 29 — international travel:

Macron’s probably upset because the Institut Pasteur vaccine failed this week. Because of that failure, he rubbished the AstraZeneca vaccine:

As Guido said:

The French haven’t been able to produce a vaccine, and the Germans couldn’t do it without American corporate help. No wonder voices in the EU were so keen to hit out, falsely, at the success of Brexit Britain’s Oxford vaccine. Poor Little EU.

Oh, boy. Politics, politics.

2021 will be a doozy of a year.

While much of the UK is in some sort of coronavirus lockdown — England is now in the new Tier 5 — let’s cast our minds back to Christmas Eve 2020.

An imminent announcement was rumoured by news channels from the early morning.

Christmas Eve morning — in our household, at least — provided more excitement than Christmas Day, particularly since our area were in Tier 4 at the time, forbidding anything but the briefest of visits.

As December 24 unfolded, there was no final trade agreement enabling the United Kingdom to terminate the Brexit transition phase, scheduled to end at 11:59 p.m. Brussels time, on December 31.

Mid-afternoon, Sky News announced that there would be no statement that day. We stayed tuned in, which was just as well, because a short time later, they changed tack and said that that EU Commission president Ursula von der Leyen and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson would be making separate statements about a deal having been struck.

Amazingly, as Sky News announced there would be no announcement, this independent journalist called it correctly. Well done:

Guido Fawkes’s team, who run the best British political website, had been primed for this from the week before. Tom Harwood went the furthest and had worn his Merry Brexmas jumper (pullover sweater) in their news wrap up video on December 18:

Around 3 p.m., Ursula von der Leyen made her announcement from Brussels. Boris made his from No. 10. While Ursula and our chief EU negotiator Michel Barnier were downbeat, Boris was positively euphoric:

His tie had a fish motif:

Fishing was the sticking point that caused the delay to an agreement being reached:

In the end:

Leavers are very grateful to Lord David GH Frost for his tireless efforts in negotiating on the UK’s behalf. Words cannot describe how hard he has worked on our behalf:

This was Boris’s announcement about the new trade deal with the EU beginning on January 1, 2021. Guido Fawkes has a written summary (ignore the photo, which was not one from December 24):

It was on as even terms as possible. Both von der Leyen and Barnier acknowledged that we were ‘tough’ in our negotiations. Good.

Michel Barnier is in the first video:

Michel Barnier spoke after von der Leyen. Thank you, Michel:

Here he says that the UK has chosen to leave the European Union and the single market. The new agreement is the basis of a new partnership, one that is fair and equitable:

The woman on the right in that photo moderated the session, which included a press conference.

More highlights follow.

Journalist Dave Keating has an excellent thread, which he introduced with the reference to white smoke appearing at the Vatican when there is a new pope:

Boris’s usual critics doubted the ‘Canada-style’ description, until they began analysing the text. Some admitted on air and in print that it was, indeed, a Canada-style agreement.

The Telegraph had more on the agreement:

Boris sent a three-page letter to each MP and peer.

Contrary to what Boris said, the agreement was 1,246 pages long. Annexes and footnotes probably accounted for the extra length. You can read the full text here, using the links at the bottom of that page:

I couldn’t agree more with the poll results.

I also fully agree with the PM that Brexit dragged on long enough:

Agree.

We will always be European.

We love our European friends and family.

However, the EU construct, as it evolved from a common trading area to a common army (developing) and lack of national autonomy, were steps too far for 52% of the British public. Here’s a case in point: the EU Parliament — individual MEPs — won’t even be voting on this deal until early 2021. We left at the last minute of 2020. This proves further that the only EU decisions that matter come from the EU Commission.

After the announcement of the new EU-UK trade agreement, reactions poured in.

First, here’s a reaction from a member of the general public, a Leaver. I felt the same way:

Nigel Farage — without whom we never would have had a referendum (thanks again, Nigel!) — approved, even though the deal isn’t perfect:

David Cameron, who was PM at the time of the July 23, 2016 referendum, said:

Theresa May, Cameron’s successor and MP for Maidenhead, who ended up resigning over her poor handling of Brexit within Parliament, must have tweeted this through gritted teeth:

Conservative MP Mark Harper was unique in thanking Lord David GH Frost — Barnier’s British counterpart — who negotiated so well. Harper — one of the good guys — said that he would look forward to reading through the agreement over Christmas ahead of the December 30 vote.

Another Conservative MP, Chris Heaton-Harris, said, that contrary to negative reports circulating in the media, no MP objected to studying the agreement over Christmas.

The leaders of the devolved nations — Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland — also reacted to the news.

Scotland’s Nicola Sturgeon said that Brexit is happening ‘against Scotland’s will’ and issued yet another plea for Scottish independence.

Another socialist, Mark Drakeford, the First Minister — Prif Weinidog — of Wales, offered a more balanced assessment. Perhaps he recalled that most Welsh voters wanted Brexit. Drakeford said that it wasn’t the deal hoped for (probably not enough links with the EU) but was workable.

Northern Ireland’s First Minister, Arlene Foster (DUP), said that, provisionally, the agreement looked like ‘good news’ and issued a full statement on it.

Kate Hoey, the former Labour MP for Vauxhall (London) and the current Baroness Hoey of Lylehill and Rathlin in the County of Antrim, was a staunch supporter of Brexit and was one of the main Leavers in 2016 on the public stage. Even though her heart is in Northern Ireland, her homeland, she participates actively in the House of Lords. She had this to say about the agreement:

Her friends at Labour Leave were equally relieved:

Emmanuel Macron, France’s petit président, played the tough guy. In one tweet, he said that European unity and firmness paid off; the agreement with the UK had to protect France’s citizens, fishermen and producers. He assured them that this was the case, pointing towards a Europe that is sovereign and strong. In a second tweet, he thanked Michel Barnier for his tenacity and engagement in defending European interests and unity. He also said that, thanks to von der Leyen, European solidarity showed its force.

That evening, Boris posted his Christmas message. The first half is about coronavirus. The second part is about Brexit:

That day, all 52% of us wanted to focus on was this great achievement — a happy one, brightening a coronavirus-dominated Christmas:

The second day of Brexmas will follow tomorrow.

The UK-EU deal deadline looms.

With fewer than 100 days left, October is a decisive month:

On October 8, The Independent reported (emphases mine):

So what are the chances of a Brexit trade deal between the UK and EU before the end of 2020? Michael Gove told MPs on Wednesday the chances were around “66 per cent” – while No 10’s negotiator also sounded relatively upbeat.

But EU officials are sceptical about the shift in tone from Downing Street, claiming the UK side was “pushing a sense of positivism and momentum, but we just don’t see it”.

One Brussels official has told Politico: “We are seriously questioning their tactic and why they are sending these kinds of messages as there is no deal in sight at all at this point.

There’s clearly a spin that the UK wants to get out there: a deal is within reach, only fish is still a problem. That’s complete nonsense, as a deal on none of the EU’s red lines is nowhere in sight at this stage.”

Well, we’ll see.

This is what our chief negotiator David Frost had to say on September 13:

On Friday, October 2, he issued a statement after Round 9 of the negotiations:

These were constructive discussions conducted in a good spirit.

In many areas of our talks, although differences remain, the outlines of an agreement are visible.  This is true of most of the core areas of a trade and economic agreement – notably trade in goods and services, transport, energy, social security, and participation in EU programmes.  This has however been true for some time.

I am also encouraged that progress has been possible on a law enforcement agreement and that there has been convergence on the structure of the overall partnership.

In other areas familiar differences remain. On the level playing field, including subsidy policy, we continue to seek an agreement that ensures our ability to set our own laws in the UK without constraints that go beyond those appropriate to a free trade agreement.  There has been some limited progress here but the EU need to move further before an understanding can be reachedOn fisheries the gap between us is unfortunately very large and, without further realism and flexibility from the EU, risks being impossible to bridge.  These issues are fundamental to our future status as an independent country.

I am concerned that there is very little time now to resolve these issues ahead of the European Council on 15 October.

For our part, we continue to be fully committed to working hard to find solutions, if they are there to be found.

In any event, by now, ‘no deal’ might not be such a big deal, given the replies to this tweet from a London Assembly member:

One wonders if the UK and EU negotiators are aware of the following:

On Tuesday, September 29, the third reading of the Internal Market Bill passed the House of Commons:

It then went to the House of Lords:

Most of the Lords are Remainers, so what happens if they reject it?

The first reading of the Internal Market Bill in the House of Lords, a brief formality, took place on Wednesday, September 30.

The following day, Ursula von der Leyen, the president of the EU Commission, said that legal proceedings against the UK were underway:

This is not unusual:

The bill’s second reading in the Lords, which includes a debate, takes place on October 19.

On October 6, news emerged that European leaders want Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get involved in talks:

There’s a Boris alert in tweet 3:

Things are tricky at the moment:

The thread ends with another call for Boris to get involved:

However, another commentator thinks that the request for Boris to get involved reveals the EU’s panic:

On September 17, Guido Fawkes explained what would happen in the worst case scenario involving EU negotiations and rejection of the Internal Market Bill in the Lords (emphases in the original):

There it faces not only opposition from a lawyer-stuffed house dominated by non-Tory remainers Peers, but also Brexiteers like Michael Howard who have today refused to accept the compromise. One Lords source tells Guido that after the Commons won a concession the Lords will expect something now too…

In reality, the Government is considering a likely defeat. A senior source tells Guido that in the event the Bill is rejected by the Lords then the Government would have to convene a new session of Parliament in order to ‘Parliament Act’ the legislation through without the Lords’ consent. To convene a new session the Government would have to prorogue Parliament again (Because it went so well last time)…

If the EU fails to engage constructively by Boris’s 15th October deadline, talks will be cut off. After that date, heading for no FTA, the UK will either seek to escape the jurisdiction of the Withdrawal Agreement by declaring the EU did not act in good faith, or act more decisively to start a new session of Parliament to get the Internal Market Bill past the Lords. Or both.

Meanwhile, on the upside, Marshall Aerospace has won a huge contract with the United States Marine Corps:

On September 30, the UK and Norway reached an important agreement on fishing.

DEFRA (Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs) announced:

The UK has today signed an historic fisheries agreement with Norway – the UK’s first since leaving the EU and first as an independent coastal state in 40 years.

The Fisheries Framework Agreement signed today by Environment Secretary George Eustice and Norwegian Fisheries Minister Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen will mean that the UK and Norway hold annual negotiations on the issues of access to waters and quotas.

It is a significant step forward as the UK prepares to leave the EU’s Common Fisheries Policy at the end of December. Leaving the EU means the UK is able to decide who can access its waters and on what terms, in the best interest of its marine environment and its seafood and fishing sectors.

The agreement demonstrates the shared will of the UK and Norway to cooperate as independent coastal states and seek effective and sustainable management of their fisheries. The treaty incorporates the same principles that the UK is currently seeking with the EU – a framework agreement which reflects the UK’s and Norway’s rights under international law.

The Norwegian government was equally enthusiastic:

This is a great day! I am pleased that we have reached an agreement with the United Kingdom, which will be an important coastal state and partner from January 2021, says the Norwegian Minister of Fisheries and Seafood Odd Emil Ingebrigtsen.

Arrangements for reciprocal fishing access and the exchange of fishing quotas will be made through annual fishing agreements, as today. Other parts of the fisheries cooperation in the North Sea will, however, need to be regulated by a separate tripartite agreement between the EU, Norway and the United Kingdom.

– I am glad that we now have an agreement that provides a framework for extensive fisheries cooperation with the UK, which is an important country for Norway. The agreement is consistent with our obligations under the law of the sea to cooperate with other coastal states on the joint management of shared fish stocks, in line with modern sustainable management regimes, an ecosystem-based approach and the precautionary principle. We will also maintain our close cooperation with the EU on fisheries in the North Sea. We look forward to putting in place a trilateral agreement between Norway, the UK and the EU on the management of joint fish stocks in the North Sea, once Brexit becomes a reality, said Minister of Foreign Affairs Ine Eriksen Søreide.

The City of London is well positioned as a leading global financial centre:

On September 25, Guido reported (highlights in the original):

London has managed to significantly close the gap on New York in the competition to be the leading global financial centre, gaining 24 points in the latest Global Financial Centres Index and leaving the capital just four points behind the Big Apple. Despite Brexit and Corona…

The 24 point jump is by far the largest of the top 20 index, with Shenzhen seeing the second-highest rise of 10 points to 9th place. On top of London’s triumph, Edinburgh has also risen two points 14th place. The best the EU can muster is Luxembourg in 12th place and Paris in 18th. Shanghai, which remains in 3rd place, was previously only 2 points behind London, however has now opened up a -18 gap…

On September 23, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer told ITV’s Robert Peston that he sees no reason to delay Brexit.

The new leader of the Liberal Democrats, Sir Ed Davey, found that the Britons he spoke with had no appetite to delay our departure. I wonder if he was surprised. A year ago at this time, the Lib Dems were desperate to reverse Brexit and made that the focus of their general election campaign:

On September 13, the UK finalised a trade deal with Japan:

And there’s a bit more good news about British beef and the prospect of our joining the Pacific Rim trading bloc:

I truly hope that we do exit from the EU once and for all on December 31, 2020.

That would be a real treat — and accomplishment — in what has been, for the most part, a dreadful year.

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