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Tories Sleepwalk Towards Soft Brexit – OpEd

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By Conor Quinn*

(EurActiv) — Theresa May has completed a last-minute ‘divorce settlement’ on the EU’s Brexit priority issues – the exit bill, citizens’ rights, and the status of Northern Ireland.

The story of the deal is essentially a long series of British capitulations that began in June. Having predicted that the sequencing of talks (whether the future relationship could be discussed in parallel with or only after the resolution of the divorce issues) would be the ‘fight of the summer’, David Davis accepted the EU’s two-stage sequencing on the opening day of negotiations.

Other issues have taken longer to resolve, but the story has been more or less the same. Having initially said that the EU could ‘go whistle’ if it expected the UK to continue making payments to the bloc after Brexit, Boris Johnson welcomed a deal that will see Britain continue paying into the EU budget “as if it had remained” in the bloc to the end of 2021.

This commitment will involve the UK making payments to the EU well into the 2030s.

The final UK concession – on the status of Northern Ireland – came this week. The Conservative party’s idea of a ‘global Britain’ prospering outside the EU was always predicated on the UK’s ability to diverge from EU regulations after Brexit.

This would, in theory, enable Britain to sign trade deals and attract investment that the EU, because of its high tax and regulation standards, could not.

But any change in the UK’s regulatory environment would require customs checks between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland in order to prevent the smuggling of unauthorised goods into the EU.

The return of a hard border would not only threaten the economies on both sides but also the island’s still-fragile peace that depends in part on the lack of a conspicuous border.

Brexiters’ initial delusions – firstly that this problem could be overcome through ‘creativity and flexibility’, and secondly that there was no need for a border and that if the EU and Ireland insisted on one it was their responsibility – finally gave way to reason last week.

On Monday Theresa May was ready to sign a deal proposing that Northern Ireland, unlike the rest of the UK, would maintain ‘regulatory alignment’ with the Republic, so as to avert the need for border checks.

Apparently, no-one thought to check this with the DUP, Northern Ireland’s staunchly unionist party that props up May’s government in Westminster. When news of the deal’s proposal broke, May was humiliatingly recalled from Brussels by the DUP leader Arlene Foster, who threatened to bring down the government if Northern Ireland was in any way differentiated from the rest of the Union.

And so the UK has been forced into the final phase one climb-down. The key paragraph in the agreement signed is as follows:

The United Kingdom remains committed to protecting North-South cooperation and to its guarantee of avoiding a hard border. Any future arrangements must be compatible with these overarching requirements. The United Kingdom’s intention is to achieve these objectives through the overall EU-UK relationship. Should this not be possible, the United Kingdom will propose specific solutions to address the unique circumstances of the island of Ireland. In the absence of agreed solutions, the United Kingdom 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.

The simple version is that Northern Ireland will maintain ‘full alignment’ in all relevant areas with the Republic of Ireland (ie with the EU), but so will the rest of the UK. This seems to undermine any hopes of the UK becoming a ‘Singapore on Thames’ and, indeed, any of the potential benefits of Brexit at all.

The question now is how Theresa May managed to convince her Eurosceptic colleagues to accept this? While the prime minister’s only goal in these negotiations appears to be her personal survival, many of her colleagues have strong views on Brexit and it is hard to understand how they have been won over.

Some of the more hardcore backbenchers, like Ian Duncan Smith and Jacob Rees Mogg, are unlikely to fall into this camp, and some degree of trouble no doubt lies ahead for the prime minister on this front. Other remain-leaning Tories like Amber Rudd and Ken Clarke will be delighted to see the UK edge closer to a ‘softer’ Brexit position that opens the door to Britain eventually remaining in the customs union or single market.

But the key group of stakeholders for May are the powerful cabinet member Brexiters like Michael Gove and Boris Johnson, who have both loudly trumpeted the Global Britain approach, but also both come out in support of the deal. Their endorsement is crucial to understanding how this deal is viewed by the government and hence to what lies ahead for phase two negotiations and the future relationship.

For most observers, the key phrase in the paragraph quoted above is ‘full alignment’. But for the May government, the operative words are on either side of it. The deal promises to maintain full alignment only on those rules which support North-South cooperation, and can be expected to attempt to loosen some EU regulations by making the argument that they are not critical to that purpose.

Secondly, it promises to maintain such alignment only ‘in the absence of agreed solutions’, by which is meant the deep and comprehensive trade agreement that Brexiters expect to strike with the EU before the end of the transition period in March 2020.

In other words, the May government is making a vague promise which it expects it can wriggle out of in important respects, and which will probably not be required anyway. But the story of the negotiations so far tells us that it is likely wrong on both counts.

It has taken almost nine months to agree the most basic exit settlement. The EU-Canada FTA took seven years to negotiate – and was far more limited than the one sought by the UK. With all the complex issues ahead, the idea that the future relationship can be settled before March 2020 is fanciful.

So the provisions regarding alignment in the deal will be required. And as that point nears the EU will seek greater specificity on their implementation. Everything about how the EU has behaved up to this point tells us that it will not accept the British interpretation.

It will insist that, if the UK wants any future trade deal, it must honour the commitments made in the exit deal – and on the EU’s terms. This will mean accepting continued UK alignment with the vast majority of EU regulations.

So the deal effectively means the ‘Singapore’ option is off the table. The UK will not become a low regulation, low tax economy on the edge of Europe. Its commitment to avoiding a border either on the island of Ireland or in the Irish Sea effectively guarantees that.

It also sets up an almighty row later in the negotiations when the clash of interpretations between the EU and UK comes to the surface. This will create a heated inflection point at which the UK could refuse the EU’s demands and walk away with no deal.

But everything about how the UK has behaved up to now tells us that that is unlikely. More likely is that it will accept this reality as it has all the others thus far – belatedly, begrudgingly, but accepting all the same.

If so, this increases the possibility of the UK remaining in the Customs Union or Single Market: there is little point in being outside these bodies if you cannot remodel your economy to attract new business.

There is a long way to go, and much could happen to change the calculus. But there is a real sense that, instead of sleeping towards hard Brexit, the deal means that the Tory party may now be sleepwalking away from it. Delusion, it would seem, is the one constant in this government’s handling of Brexit.


Caspian Sea states sign landmark convention on sea’s legal status

During the fifth summit of the Caspian states, the leaders of the Five coastal countries – Kazakhstan, Russia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan and Iran – signed the long-awaited Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea.

This document had been preparing for 22 years. It establishes clear rules for the collective use of the Caspian Sea. The presidents of the Caspian five themselves call it not only the “Constitution” of the Caspian sea, the world’s largest body of water that has no access to the world ocean. Initially, the Tehran Convention, which regulated all the activities of coastal countries, was considered a special document. Then, with subsequent meetings at the level of heads of state, foreign affairs agencies, as well as meetings of the Joint Working Group, additional documents were adopted that gave impetus to the negotiation process. But there was still no concrete outcome document. And he really was all needed.

“The Convention is a kind of Constitution of the Caspian Sea. It is designed to resolve the whole range of issues related to the rights and obligations of the coastal countries, as well as to become a guarantor of security, stability and prosperity of the region as a whole”, such an explanation to the signed document on in historic day was given by the President of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev.» One of those who all these years sought to solve the painful “Caspian” issue painlessly for each of the parties, wishing to turn the Caspian into a zone of peace, good-neighbourliness and friendship.

Speaking at the plenary meeting of the Caspian summit in Aktau, the head of Kazakhstan stressed the important geopolitical significance of the Caspian Sea because of its favorable location on the world map. This region, noted the President, has a unique history and diverse culture, there are huge human resources and the richest natural reserves. The total population of the five Caspian States is about 240 million people. All this has led to the need to develop joint solutions to the whole range of issues related to the Caspian.

As a result, the Convention has become the main comprehensive document regulating the rights and obligations of the parties in relation to the Caspian Sea, including its waters, the bottom, subsoil, natural resources and airspace. Particular attention in drafting the document the parties paid to the issues of ensuring security, warnings and preventing the consequences of emergencies and military activities of the Caspian states.

The most important principles of the activities of the member countries of the Convention are, as mentioned earlier, the transformation of the Caspian Sea into a zone of peace, good-neighborliness and friendship, its peaceful use, respect for sovereignty and territorial integrity, and the absence of armed forces on the Caspian Sea that do not belong to the parties. Experts say, it is very important that the document clearly regulates the issues of necessary delineations, modes of navigation and fishing, fixes the principles of military-political interaction of the participating countries.

The essence of the Convention is not just to share the sea. Its exact boundaries have yet to draw out and fixed. It was much more important to agree on the use of water space and the bottom so that it would fit all the countries of the “five”. As a result, we chose an option that suits all parties.

“We have established territorial waters with a width of 15 nautical miles, and their external borders acquire the status of state. To the territorial waters adjoin ten-mile fishing zones, where each state has exclusive rights for fishing. Outside the fishing zones, the total water area is preserved. The freedom of navigation for ships under the flags of coastal countries will operate outside the Maritime state borders. An agreement on freedom of transit to other seas and oceans is important. Each state exercises sovereign rights to subsoil use within the boundaries of its bottom sector. At the same time, it is possible to lay trunk pipelines and cables on the seabed with the condition of compliance with environmental requirements”, – said the head of Kazakhstan Nursultan Nazarbayev, speaking at a press conference on the results of the 5th summit of the Caspian States.

The President of Kazakhstan stressed that the observance of these principles is designed to promote the development of transport infrastructure of coastal States, increase the transit potential of the Caspian region, as well as the preservation of the ecological system and the unique population of biological resources of the Caspian sea.

And here it is necessary to tell separately about this point of the adopted new Constitution of the Caspian sea-a question of protection of biodiversity of the sea. Poaching in this region is a problem of all five States. If earlier sturgeon in the Caspian sea was more than 80% of the total world volume, today, because of the criminally large fish catch, as well as pollution of the natural environment by oil products, the populations of these valuable fish species have fallen hard. With the signing of the Convention, the preservation of the flora and fauna of the Caspian Sea and the solution of environmental problems are given special attention and place. “As a result, all activities in the Caspian will be more regulated through the prism of environmental policy. The environmental aspect will limit activities in many sectors, primarily in extractive industries and transport, and also affect the fishing regime, “analysts note.

Another significant clause of the agreement is an agreement on cooperation in the field of combating terrorism. Experts call the document timely, because it is known that the Caspian Sea is located near the centers of terrorist activity (Syria, Afghanistan), and here, under the impact of crime, both the transportation routes for energy resources passing through the Caspian region and the offshore oil and gas production platforms themselves can fall. In this case, this can lead to severe consequences for all.

In General, following the meeting, the leaders of the five countries signed seven documents, including the Convention on the Legal Status of the Caspian Sea, as well as agreements on trade and economic partnership, cooperation in the field of transport, on the prevention of incidents in the Caspian Sea, and the interaction of border agencies . Most importantly, a legal framework has been established in many areas for a long period. Now the countries of the “five” will concentrate more on the ecological aspects of development and preservation of bioequilibrium in the region, without forgetting, however, about economic interests.



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Israel buying Kurdish oil shipped via Turkey in ‘disappearing’ tankers,Report

ANKARA(turkey):Israel is secretly buying oil from Kurdish-controlled northern Iraq through the Turkish port of Ceyhan, the Israeli daily Haaretz reported, citing an article by Ellen Wald in the Cairo Review of Global Affairs.

Haaretz describes an unusual situation observed in November by Samir Madani, a Kuwaiti oil trader living in Sweden who created the website, involving the Valtamed oil tanker heading to the Suez Canal from Turkey’s port of Ceyhan, which is supplied by the oil pipeline from the Kurdish area of northern Iraq. The tanker suddenly stopped somewhere in the eastern Mediterranean, off Tel Aviv but outside Israel’s territorial borders, turned off its identification transponder and “resurfaced” a few days later, mysteriously lighter than when it had left Ceyhan.

The Valtamed then sailed to Cyprus and returned to its home base in Turkey, loaded up on oil that had arrived from northern Iraq and repeated the whole journey, including the disappearing act.

“His conclusion was that the Valtamed had been shipping oil that wasn’t recorded anywhere to a country that wasn’t supposed to buy it – in other words, Israel was secretly buying Kurdish oil through Turkey,” according to Haaretz.

Oil was officially discovered in northern Iraq’s Baba Gurgur area in 1927, one of the world’s largest fields, but Kurdish oil needs to be refined and reach the sea, which has been accomplished for years by a pipeline running from Kirkuk to Ceyhan.

After the Kurdistan Regional Government (KRG) held an independence referendum in 2017 that was condemned by the central Iraqi government, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan threatened to impose a blockade on the oil, halting the KRG’s primary source of income and stifling the Kurdish economy by refusing to load the KRG’s oil into tankers at Ceyhan. But to the surprise of many, Erdoğan did no such thing, and Kurdish oil continued to flow unimpeded through Turkey to customers mainly in Greece, Israel, Poland, Cyprus and Croatia. The Iraqi government subsequently took over control of Kirkuk’s oil in a military action supported by Iranian-backed Shia militia.

In another incident, reports Haaretz, “TankerTrackers says a tanker called Kriti Diamond tends to suddenly assume a new identity – Kiton – offload oil in Israel and then resume its original identity before sailing back to Turkey. ‘It is with great pride that we present you the missing KRITI DIAMOND, currently operating under her new pseudonym: KITON,’ the site tweeted on February 16.Four days later, it was followed by another tweet: ‘The MARIKA/KRITI DIAMOND forgot to take off her disguise as KITON after leaving Ashkelon empty’.”

Tanker Trackers noticed that another crude oil tanker, the Mabrouk, left Ceyhan, assumed the disguise of Maro – an unknown, unregistered identity – near the Israeli shore, disappeared for a few days and then popped up again as the Mabrouk, said Haaretz.

When asked by the daily for a response, Oil Refineries in Haifa and the Trans-Israel Pipeline company said they do not comment on commercial matters.

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Enterance in Afrin would lead to a catastrophe,Turkish Deputy PM

ANKARA:Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu warned Damascus against supporting the Kurds, while the country’s Deputy Prime Minister Bekir Bozdag said that if Syrian forces entered Afrin, this would lead to a catastrophe.

“Turkish forces will encircle Afrin’s center in the upcoming days. Thus, we will cut out any external help, so that nobody could strike a secret bargain. We will show those, who want to create a terrorist corridor on Turkey southern border, that it’s not an easy task,” Erdogan said at a meeting with lawmakers of the ruling Justice and Development Party.

Speaking further, Erdogan said that possible deployment of Syrian government forces into Afrin had been “halted through our communications.”

At the same time, opposition Nationalist Movement Party (MHP) leader Devlet Bahceli said today that the Turkish military will clear Syria’s Afrin region of terrorists “no matter the consequences.”

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