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PM statement on EU Council: 17 December 2018

Theresa May gave a statement to the House of Commons following European Council meeting held on the 13-14 December 2018.

Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on last week’s European Council.

Before turning to Brexit, let me touch on two significant conclusions from the other business of the Council.

First, we expressed our utmost concern over the escalation we have seen at the Kerch Straits and the Sea of Azov and Russia’s continued violations of international law. We agreed to roll-over economic sanctions against Russia and we stand ready to further strengthen our support, in particular, for the affected areas of Ukraine.

And second, we also agreed to work together on tackling the spread of deliberate, large-scale and systematic disinformation, including as part of hybrid warfare. On this I outlined some of the world-leading work that the UK is doing in this field.

And I was clear that after we have left the European Union, the UK will continue to work closely with our European partners to uphold the international rules based system and to keep all our people safe. And that is why it is right that our Brexit deal includes the deepest security partnership that has ever been agreed with the EU.

Mr Speaker, at this Council I faithfully and firmly reflected the concerns of this House over the Northern Ireland backstop.

I explained the assurances we had already agreed with the EU were insufficient for this House – and that we had to go further in showing that we never want to use this backstop and, if it is used, it must be a temporary arrangement.

Some of the resulting exchanges at this Council were robust. But I make no apology for standing up for the interests of this House and the interests of our whole United Kingdom. In response, the EU 27 published a series of conclusions.

PM Press Statement 14 December 2018

Theresa May made a Press Statement following a meeting of the EU Council on 14 December 2018.

“At this Council meeting, I have held a series of discussions with my fellow leaders on the Brexit deal and I was crystal clear about the assurances which are needed on the backstop having heard the views of MPs in the House of Commons.

I reiterated that it is in the interests of the EU as well as the UK to get this over the line. A disorderly Brexit would be good for no-one.

At 27 level, the EU have published a series of conclusions.

The EU made clear:

  • That it is their firm determination to work speedily on a future relationship or alternative arrangements which ensure no hard border by 31 December 2020 so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.
  • If the backstop was ever triggered, it would apply only temporarily and the EU would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop.
  • That the EU stands ready to embark on preparations so that negotiations on the future partnership can start as soon as possible.

As formal conclusions, these commitments have legal status and therefore should be welcomed.

As I have always said, the guaranteed way of avoiding the backstop is to have the future partnership in place by the time the implementation period is over. The EU is very firmly committed to this course.

But MPs will require further assurances, and I have discussed that this morning with my EU partners, including Presidents Tusk, Juncker and others.

I note there has been reporting that the EU is not willing to consider any further clarification. The EU is clear – as I am – that if we are going to leave with a deal this is it.

But my discussions with colleagues today have shown that further clarification and discussion following the Council’s conclusions is in fact possible.

There is work still to do and we will be holding talks in coming days about how to obtain the further assurances that the UK Parliament needs in order to be able to approve the deal.

I say again. It is in the overwhelming interest of all our people – in the EU and the UK – to get this done, and as quickly as possible.”

EU Council (Art 50) conclusions, 13 December 2018

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The European Council (Art. 50) on 13 December 2018 adopted conclusions on Brexit.

https://www.consilium.europa.eu/en/press/press-releases/2018/12/13/european-council-art-50-conclusions-13-december-2018/

1. The European Council reconfirms its conclusions of 25 November 2018, in which it endorsed the Withdrawal Agreement and approved the Political Declaration. The Union stands by this agreement and intends to proceed with its ratification. It is not open for renegotiation.

2. The European Council reiterates that it wishes to establish as close as possible a partnership with the United Kingdom in the future. It stands ready to embark on preparations immediately after signature of the Withdrawal Agreement to ensure that negotiations can start as soon as possible after the UK’s withdrawal.

3. The European Council underlines that the backstop is intended as an insurance policy to prevent a hard border on the island of Ireland and ensure the integrity of the Single Market. It is the Union’s firm determination to work speedily on a subsequent agreement that establishes by 31 December 2020 alternative arrangements, so that the backstop will not need to be triggered.

4. The European Council also underlines that, if the backstop were nevertheless to be triggered, it would apply temporarily, unless and until it is superseded by a subsequent agreement that ensures that a hard border is avoided. In such a case, the Union would use its best endeavours to negotiate and conclude expeditiously a subsequent agreement that would replace the backstop, and would expect the same of the United Kingdom, so that the backstop would only be in place for as long as strictly necessary.

5. The European Council calls for work on preparedness at all levels for the consequences of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal to be intensified, taking into account all possible outcomes.

https://www.consilium.europa.eu/media/37508/13-euco-art-50-conclusions-en.pdf

UK citizens visa-free travel to the EU after Brexit

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The EU Commission today (13 December 2018) proposed to grant UK citizens visa-free travel to the EU after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the EU. It is separate to the ongoing negotiations on the UK’s orderly withdrawal.

http://europa.eu/rapid/press-release_IP-18-6402_en.htm

Is travel by UK citizens to the EU important to the EU ?

Residents in the United Kingdom undertook 53 million trips to the EU-27 in 2016, whether for business, leisure or other purposes, spending about EUR 28 billion while in the other Member States. Imposing a visa requirement on United Kingdom nationals who are British citizens could diminish the economic benefit for the Union that results from these trips, reduce trade relations and harm the economic interest of the Union.

For more details, see the following document by the Centre for Economics and Business Research (referenced by the proposal)

The economic importance of UK outbound tourism to the EU27 economies. September 2017

(copy pdf)

The EU is proposing that

The proposal would mean that UK citizens would not need a visa when travelling to the Schengen area for short stays of up to 90 days in any 180-day period. In the scenario where the UK leaves the EU without a deal, this would apply as of 30 March 2019. If a deal is reached, however, it would apply as of the end of the transition period, as outlined in the Withdrawal Agreement. This follows the Commission’s continued commitment that citizens’ rights must come first in the negotiations on the UK’s withdrawal from the EU.

This proposal is entirely conditional upon the UK also granting reciprocal and non-discriminatory visa-free travel for all EU Member States, in line with the principle of visa reciprocity. The UK government has declared its intention not to require a visa from citizens of the EU27 Member States for shorts stays for the purposes of tourism and business. EU rules on non-EU nationals travelling to the EU, such as those on border control, would of course apply to UK citizens once they are no longer EU citizens.

Today’s proposal is one of the preparedness measures needed as a consequence of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union. It is separate to the ongoing negotiations on the UK’s orderly withdrawal.

The proposal needs to be adopted by the EU Parliament and the EU Council. The EU Commission has called on both institutions to make quick progress on this proposal so that it can be adopted in good time before 30 March 2019.

However it’s worth noting the following paragraphs:

Regulation (EU) 2017/222610 establishing an Entry/Exit system (EES) further improves the security and management of the Union’s external borders. The main objectives of this regulation are to improve the quality of border checks for third-country nationals and to ensure a systematic and reliable identification of overstayers. The future Entry/Exit system (EES) will thus be an important element to ensure lawful use of the visa-free stays in the Schengen area by third country nationals and to contribute to preventing irregular migration of nationals from visa-free countries.

Regulation (EU) 2018/124011 establishing a European Travel Information and Authorisation System (ETIAS) will close the information gap regarding travellers exempt from the requirement of being in possession of a visa when crossing the external borders. The system will determine the eligibility of visa-exempt third-country nationals prior to their travel to the Schengen area, and whether such travel poses a security, illegal immigration or high epidemic risk.

This means that UK citizens will be required to follow the requirements of the European Visa Waiver and Electronic Travel Authorisation System (ETIAS) which is due to be introduced in 2020.

Proposal for a Regulation amending Council Regulation 539/2001

EU Visa Proposal (copy pdf)

In the spirit of reciprocity, which the EU is keen on, will the UK consider a similar sysem for EU citizens wishing to visit the UK ?

ETIAS stands for EU Travel Information and Authorisation System

The system will check the security credentials and charge a fee to travellers visiting EU member countries for business, tourism, medical or transit purposes. The current EU visa application and vetting procedures for entering the Schengen area depend only upon the citizenship of the visitor and are cost-free. The ETIAS, like the ESTA, will streamline this visa process for those people who do not need a visa at present but will undergo additional security checks prior to allowing entry into the EU. The ETIAS travel authorisation will be mandatory for citizens of countries who currently do not require visas to enter Europe.

Information on ETIAS can be found at

https://etias.com

How will it work ?

Application – The ETIAS must be applied for online prior to arrival to the EU. Each eligible traveller to the EU will require an ETIAS.

Form fields – The following data will be required for each ETIAS application: personal biometric data (e.g. name, gender, data of birth, etc), passport or travel document information, EU member state of entry, background questions on an applicant’s health, criminal record as well as previous EU immigration history.

Fee – The cost of an ETIAS is €7, however, individuals under the age of 18 will not need to pay the fee.

Application process – Upon submission, each application will be checked across SIS / VIS / EUROPOL DATA / SLTD (Interpol) / EURODAC / ECRIS etc), the ETIAS screening rules as well as the ETIAS watchlist. If the application is matched to information from any of these databases, the application will undergo manual processing by the ETIAS Central and / or ETIAS National Units.

Application Decision – Usually, a decision will be reached by the system within minutes. If an ETIAS application is approved, it will be issued for a period of three years or until the date of the applicant’s passport expiry, whichever date is sooner. If an ETIAS application is denied, the applicant will receive a reason for the refusal as well as information on the country or authority deciding against the ETIAS being approved.

Boarding – The ETIAS can only be used for transit, tourism and business travel. As ETIAS will be checked by carriers prior to a traveller boarding by air, land or sea. If an ETIAS is not approved, the traveller will not be allowed to board the travel vessel, be it an airplane, boat or bus.

Arrival at the EU – Upon entry into the Schengen zone, a border guard will make the decision on admitting a traveller based on the information in the EES system, the approved ETIAS, as well as the travel documents and disposition of the traveller.

Theresa remains as PM

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Theresa May wins the vote of “No Confidence” by 200 votes to 117 and remains as Prime Minister (at least for the time being). According to Conservative Party rules she can not be challenged again for 12 months.

Before the vote, she addressed the 1922 Committee and promised that she would not be leading the Conservative Party into the next election, due in 2022.

The vote was held between 18:00 and 20:00 with the results announced at 21:00 by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the Conservative 1922 Committee.

The result of the ballot held this evening is that the Parliamentary Party does have confidence in Theresa May
as leader of the Conservative Party. The number of votes cast in favour of having confidence in Theresa May was
200 and against was 117. Under the rules set out in the constitution of the Conservative Party, no further confidence vote can take place for at least 12 months

Following the result, Theresa May made a statement outside Number 10

This has been a long and challenging day, but at the end of it I’m pleased to have received the backing of my colleagues in tonight’s ballot. Whilst I am grateful for that support, a significant number of colleagues did cast a vote against me, and I have listened to what they said.

Following this ballot we now need to get on with the job of delivering Brexit for the British people and building a better future for this country.

A Brexit that delivers on the votes that people gave, that brings back control of our money, our borders and our laws. That protects jobs, security and the union, that brings the country back together rather than entrenching division. That must start here in Westminster with politicians on all sides coming together and acting in the national interest.

For my part I have heard what the House of Commons said about the Northern Ireland backstop and when I go to the European Council tomorrow I will be seeking legal and political assurances that will assuage the concerns that members of Parliament have on that issue.

But while delivering Brexit is important we also need to focus on the other issues that people feel are vital to them that matter to them day to day. The issues that we came into politics to deal with, building a stronger economy, delivering first-class public services, building the homes that families need.

We owe it to the people who put us here to put their priorities first. So here is our renewed mission: delivering the Brexit that people voted for, bringing the country back together, and building a country that truly works for everyone.

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