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Ocean Shock: Portugal Mourns Sardines’ Escape to Cooler Waters 

This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them. 

A priest in a white robe swung an incense burner, leading the way for thousands of marchers as they crammed into a winding cobblestone alley decorated with candy-colored streamers in Lisbon’s ancient Alfama neighborhood. 

Behind the priest, six men carried a life-sized statue of St. Anthony, Lisbon’s patron saint, born more than 800 years ago. The musky incense swirled together with the smoke from orange-hot charcoals grilling whole sardines a few streets away. 

The procession moved along, leaving behind just the smell of the sardines. 

In this city, June is the month to celebrate the saints. Almost every neighborhood throws a party, known as an arraial. 

Some are just a scattering of makeshift tables in alleyways. Others cover several blocks and are jammed with tourists and locals alike. The saints are quickly forgotten in the din of pumping pop music, brass bands, chattering families, indiscreet lovers and flirty teens. The sardines are not. They’re the star of every party. 

The fish are so popular here, fisheries managers estimate that the Portuguese collectively eat 13 sardines every second during a typical June — about 34 million fish for the month. 

But as climate change warms the seas and inland estuaries, sardines are getting harder to catch. Just a week before the festival, authorities postponed sardine fishing in some ports out of a fear that the diminishing population, vulnerable to changes in the Atlantic’s water temperatures, was being overfished. 

In the last few decades, the world’s oceans have undergone the most rapid warming on record. Currents have shifted. These changes are for the most part invisible. But this hidden climate change has had a disturbing impact on marine life — in effect, creating an epic underwater refugee crisis. 

Effect on communities

Drawing on decades of maritime temperature readings, fisheries records and other little-used data, Reuters has undertaken an extensive exploration of the disrupted deep. A team of reporters has discovered that from the waters off the East Coast of the United States to the shores of West Africa, marine creatures are fleeing for their lives, and the communities that depend on them are facing turbulence as a result. 

Here in Lisbon, the decline of the country’s most beloved fish tugs at the Portuguese soul. A nation on Europe’s western edge, Portugal has always turned toward the sea. For centuries, it has sent its people onto the sometimes treacherous oceans, from famous explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama to little-known fishermen who left weeping wives on the shore. 

The St. Anthony’s festival commemorates a 13th-century priest who, church doctrine says, once drew a bay full of fish to hear his sermon. It is the capital’s biggest, most joyous celebration of the year. 

At the bottom of the track where two bright yellow funicular trains begin and end an 800-foot vertiginous trip through the Bica neighborhood, a social club and a local cafe set up for the festival. Mostly locals were present, though a few German and French tourists have found their way to the party. 

Four friends sat around a wobbly plastic table perched outside the G.D. Zip Zip social club. There was just enough room for others to walk past and get to the homemade grill where the sardines were being cooked. Three of the friends had sardine skeletons and heads heaped on their plates. They talked about the fish that’s as iconic in Portugal in the summer as a hamburger on the grill in America. 

This year, however, because of limits on fishing, the available fish were mostly frozen. 

“We listen to it all year round that maybe this year, we will not have sardines,” Helena Melo said. 

Fifteen feet up the hill, Jorge Rito, who has been cooking for the club every June for five years, wiped his watering eyes with the back of his hand. He’d just gotten another order and tossed a dozen whole sardines onto the grill in neat rows. 

As he flipped the silvery fish, each seven or eight inches long, a burst of smoke rose from the charcoal, and he wiped his eyes again. 

“Worried? Yes, of course,” he said, removing the fish from the grill and placing them onto a platter. “It is important for our finances, our economies, for us.” 

 

Youngest sardines vulnerable 

 

Just as the next generation of humans may pay the highest price for climate change, the youngest generation of sardines is at risk. 

Susana Garrido, a sardine researcher with the Portuguese Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute in Lisbon, said larval sardines are especially vulnerable to climate change when compared with other similar pelagic species, such as larval anchovies, which are capable of living in a wider range of temperatures. 

Deep seawater upwelling dominates the waters off the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and keeps the coastal waters cool. But small differences in temperature, especially when sardines are young, can have a significant impact on whether the fish larva dies or grows to maturity, Garrido said. 

Other researchers had tested how well adult sardines survived in a variety of conditions, and there was little evidence that environmental variables such as food abundance and water temperature affected the full-grown fish, she said. So she focused on the larval stage of the species. 

“We did a bunch of experiments varying salinity and all of these other variables, and they survived quite well,” she said. “It was when you change temperature that everything, yes, fell apart. So they have a very narrow range of temperatures where survival is good.” 

Garrido said a recently completed stock assessment showed that the larval sardine population was extremely low. 

“This is getting very serious,” she said. 

The Portuguese sardine population started to fall about a decade ago, even though there were plenty of adults at the time to sustain large catches. And around the same time, southerly species, such as chub and horse mackerel, slowly moved in. 

Chub mackerel, a subtropical species that was once found only in southern Portugal, is now caught all the way up the coast. 

“Probably as a consequence of warming, it is now invading the main spawning area of sardines,” Garrido said. 

Larger forces at work

Alexandra Silva, who works down the hall from Garrido, has been managing the Portuguese sardine stock assessment since the late 1990s — pivotal work that the organization uses to decide the size of the sardine catch. 

When she started, the northern population of the species was in trouble following a period of strong upwelling that brought unusually cold water to the surface. The southern stock, however, was relatively healthy. And in the early years of the century, the species recovered. 

It was not to last. These days, without large numbers of larvae growing to maturity, the population is near collapse all along the coast from Galicia in Spain to the southern end of the Portuguese coast. 

All officials can do is cut down on the fishing. But larger forces, especially climate change, are now affecting the stock in ways that fisheries managers cannot control, the two said. 

Regulators have tried. 

Starting in 2004, they blocked fishing during the spring, when sardines spawn. And for a while, that seemed to work. 

Between 2004 and 2011, the stock remained relatively healthy, with landings ranging from about 55,000 to 70,000 tons, even if the population seemed to be dipping. (From the 1930s to the 1960s, and as recently as the 1980s, fishermen landed more than 110,000 tons in a year.) 

In 2009, the Portuguese proudly announced that the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent monitoring body, had designated the species healthy and sustainable. That year, Portuguese fishermen landed 64,000 tons of the fish. By 2012, however, that number had dropped to 35,000 tons, and the country lost its sustainable certification.  

Since then, fisheries managers have restricted the number of days a week that fishermen can catch sardines, as well as the size of the catch. They’ve also restricted fishing to six months during a year. 

Last year, the catch was limited to about 14,000 tons. 

Further cuts ahead

Earlier this year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, a forum of scientists that advises governments about fisheries management, warned that it would take at least 15 years to restore the stock at current fishing levels.  

After the report, European Union regulators permitted fishermen along the Iberian coast to continue at the current 16,100-ton level. But it also required Portugal, which gets the bulk of the quota, and Spain to submit a plan to restore the stock in October, which may well lead to further quota cuts. 

Fisheries manager Jorge Abrantes handles landings for Peniche, a sleepy fishing town about 60 miles north of Lisbon. He doesn’t think the fishing industry is the culprit. 

For example, Portuguese government stock assessments indicated that the sardine population had decreased by 10 percent to 25 percent in just a few months. Abrantes argued that the dip clearly wasn’t caused by fishermen pulling sardines from the sea, because no sardine nets were in the water during that period. Instead, he said, there are just not enough juvenile sardines to replenish the population. 

In Peniche, fishermen Erbes Martins and Joao Dias sat among piles of nets on a bright but chilly February morning. The two 75-year-old men would have preferred to be fishing for sardines. But the fish were spawning, so they were not allowed to catch them. 

Sure, there were other fish they could catch, but it wasn’t worth it, they say. 

 

Horse mackerel, or carapau in Portuguese, one of the southerly species that now thrive all along the coast, is abundant but doesn’t sell for much at market, Dias said. 

 

“We can’t fish for sardines in October, November, December, January, February, March — six months,” Dias said. “And carapau just doesn’t pay the bills.” 

He said the restrictions on fishing sardines were keeping a new generation from going to sea, because they can’t make enough money. 

 

“When we die,” he said, “no one is going to do the work.” 

‘I would miss this’ 

Lisbon’s Graca neighborhood sits at the highest point in the capital, its pastel homes looking down over the city’s six other hills. For the St. Anthony festival, two stages were set up for music, along with about 20 temporary food and drink stalls. 

 

Luis Diogo Sr., his wife, Rita, and their two children, Luis Jr. and Vera, came out to join the party. Luis Sr. looked across a picnic table at his son, who was well into his third plate of sardines. 

“This is a country between Spain and the sea, so we went to the sea very soon in our history,” he said. The talk turned to the present, and the dwindling catch of the city’s favorite seafood. 

Luis Jr. didn’t pay much attention to his father. He was too focused on his sardines. 

 

“I would miss this very much,” the 17-year-old said, wiping his lips clean after polishing off the last sardine on his plate. 

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Ocean Shock: Portugal Mourns Sardines’ Escape to Cooler Waters 

This is part of “Ocean Shock,” a Reuters series exploring climate change’s impact on sea creatures and the people who depend on them. 

A priest in a white robe swung an incense burner, leading the way for thousands of marchers as they crammed into a winding cobblestone alley decorated with candy-colored streamers in Lisbon’s ancient Alfama neighborhood. 

Behind the priest, six men carried a life-sized statue of St. Anthony, Lisbon’s patron saint, born more than 800 years ago. The musky incense swirled together with the smoke from orange-hot charcoals grilling whole sardines a few streets away. 

The procession moved along, leaving behind just the smell of the sardines. 

In this city, June is the month to celebrate the saints. Almost every neighborhood throws a party, known as an arraial. 

Some are just a scattering of makeshift tables in alleyways. Others cover several blocks and are jammed with tourists and locals alike. The saints are quickly forgotten in the din of pumping pop music, brass bands, chattering families, indiscreet lovers and flirty teens. The sardines are not. They’re the star of every party. 

The fish are so popular here, fisheries managers estimate that the Portuguese collectively eat 13 sardines every second during a typical June — about 34 million fish for the month. 

But as climate change warms the seas and inland estuaries, sardines are getting harder to catch. Just a week before the festival, authorities postponed sardine fishing in some ports out of a fear that the diminishing population, vulnerable to changes in the Atlantic’s water temperatures, was being overfished. 

In the last few decades, the world’s oceans have undergone the most rapid warming on record. Currents have shifted. These changes are for the most part invisible. But this hidden climate change has had a disturbing impact on marine life — in effect, creating an epic underwater refugee crisis. 

Effect on communities

Drawing on decades of maritime temperature readings, fisheries records and other little-used data, Reuters has undertaken an extensive exploration of the disrupted deep. A team of reporters has discovered that from the waters off the East Coast of the United States to the shores of West Africa, marine creatures are fleeing for their lives, and the communities that depend on them are facing turbulence as a result. 

Here in Lisbon, the decline of the country’s most beloved fish tugs at the Portuguese soul. A nation on Europe’s western edge, Portugal has always turned toward the sea. For centuries, it has sent its people onto the sometimes treacherous oceans, from famous explorers like Ferdinand Magellan and Vasco da Gama to little-known fishermen who left weeping wives on the shore. 

The St. Anthony’s festival commemorates a 13th-century priest who, church doctrine says, once drew a bay full of fish to hear his sermon. It is the capital’s biggest, most joyous celebration of the year. 

At the bottom of the track where two bright yellow funicular trains begin and end an 800-foot vertiginous trip through the Bica neighborhood, a social club and a local cafe set up for the festival. Mostly locals were present, though a few German and French tourists have found their way to the party. 

Four friends sat around a wobbly plastic table perched outside the G.D. Zip Zip social club. There was just enough room for others to walk past and get to the homemade grill where the sardines were being cooked. Three of the friends had sardine skeletons and heads heaped on their plates. They talked about the fish that’s as iconic in Portugal in the summer as a hamburger on the grill in America. 

This year, however, because of limits on fishing, the available fish were mostly frozen. 

“We listen to it all year round that maybe this year, we will not have sardines,” Helena Melo said. 

Fifteen feet up the hill, Jorge Rito, who has been cooking for the club every June for five years, wiped his watering eyes with the back of his hand. He’d just gotten another order and tossed a dozen whole sardines onto the grill in neat rows. 

As he flipped the silvery fish, each seven or eight inches long, a burst of smoke rose from the charcoal, and he wiped his eyes again. 

“Worried? Yes, of course,” he said, removing the fish from the grill and placing them onto a platter. “It is important for our finances, our economies, for us.” 

 

Youngest sardines vulnerable 

 

Just as the next generation of humans may pay the highest price for climate change, the youngest generation of sardines is at risk. 

Susana Garrido, a sardine researcher with the Portuguese Oceanic and Atmospheric Institute in Lisbon, said larval sardines are especially vulnerable to climate change when compared with other similar pelagic species, such as larval anchovies, which are capable of living in a wider range of temperatures. 

Deep seawater upwelling dominates the waters off the western coast of the Iberian Peninsula and keeps the coastal waters cool. But small differences in temperature, especially when sardines are young, can have a significant impact on whether the fish larva dies or grows to maturity, Garrido said. 

Other researchers had tested how well adult sardines survived in a variety of conditions, and there was little evidence that environmental variables such as food abundance and water temperature affected the full-grown fish, she said. So she focused on the larval stage of the species. 

“We did a bunch of experiments varying salinity and all of these other variables, and they survived quite well,” she said. “It was when you change temperature that everything, yes, fell apart. So they have a very narrow range of temperatures where survival is good.” 

Garrido said a recently completed stock assessment showed that the larval sardine population was extremely low. 

“This is getting very serious,” she said. 

The Portuguese sardine population started to fall about a decade ago, even though there were plenty of adults at the time to sustain large catches. And around the same time, southerly species, such as chub and horse mackerel, slowly moved in. 

Chub mackerel, a subtropical species that was once found only in southern Portugal, is now caught all the way up the coast. 

“Probably as a consequence of warming, it is now invading the main spawning area of sardines,” Garrido said. 

Larger forces at work

Alexandra Silva, who works down the hall from Garrido, has been managing the Portuguese sardine stock assessment since the late 1990s — pivotal work that the organization uses to decide the size of the sardine catch. 

When she started, the northern population of the species was in trouble following a period of strong upwelling that brought unusually cold water to the surface. The southern stock, however, was relatively healthy. And in the early years of the century, the species recovered. 

It was not to last. These days, without large numbers of larvae growing to maturity, the population is near collapse all along the coast from Galicia in Spain to the southern end of the Portuguese coast. 

All officials can do is cut down on the fishing. But larger forces, especially climate change, are now affecting the stock in ways that fisheries managers cannot control, the two said. 

Regulators have tried. 

Starting in 2004, they blocked fishing during the spring, when sardines spawn. And for a while, that seemed to work. 

Between 2004 and 2011, the stock remained relatively healthy, with landings ranging from about 55,000 to 70,000 tons, even if the population seemed to be dipping. (From the 1930s to the 1960s, and as recently as the 1980s, fishermen landed more than 110,000 tons in a year.) 

In 2009, the Portuguese proudly announced that the Marine Stewardship Council, an independent monitoring body, had designated the species healthy and sustainable. That year, Portuguese fishermen landed 64,000 tons of the fish. By 2012, however, that number had dropped to 35,000 tons, and the country lost its sustainable certification.  

Since then, fisheries managers have restricted the number of days a week that fishermen can catch sardines, as well as the size of the catch. They’ve also restricted fishing to six months during a year. 

Last year, the catch was limited to about 14,000 tons. 

Further cuts ahead

Earlier this year, the International Council for the Exploration of the Sea, a forum of scientists that advises governments about fisheries management, warned that it would take at least 15 years to restore the stock at current fishing levels.  

After the report, European Union regulators permitted fishermen along the Iberian coast to continue at the current 16,100-ton level. But it also required Portugal, which gets the bulk of the quota, and Spain to submit a plan to restore the stock in October, which may well lead to further quota cuts. 

Fisheries manager Jorge Abrantes handles landings for Peniche, a sleepy fishing town about 60 miles north of Lisbon. He doesn’t think the fishing industry is the culprit. 

For example, Portuguese government stock assessments indicated that the sardine population had decreased by 10 percent to 25 percent in just a few months. Abrantes argued that the dip clearly wasn’t caused by fishermen pulling sardines from the sea, because no sardine nets were in the water during that period. Instead, he said, there are just not enough juvenile sardines to replenish the population. 

In Peniche, fishermen Erbes Martins and Joao Dias sat among piles of nets on a bright but chilly February morning. The two 75-year-old men would have preferred to be fishing for sardines. But the fish were spawning, so they were not allowed to catch them. 

Sure, there were other fish they could catch, but it wasn’t worth it, they say. 

 

Horse mackerel, or carapau in Portuguese, one of the southerly species that now thrive all along the coast, is abundant but doesn’t sell for much at market, Dias said. 

 

“We can’t fish for sardines in October, November, December, January, February, March — six months,” Dias said. “And carapau just doesn’t pay the bills.” 

He said the restrictions on fishing sardines were keeping a new generation from going to sea, because they can’t make enough money. 

 

“When we die,” he said, “no one is going to do the work.” 

‘I would miss this’ 

Lisbon’s Graca neighborhood sits at the highest point in the capital, its pastel homes looking down over the city’s six other hills. For the St. Anthony festival, two stages were set up for music, along with about 20 temporary food and drink stalls. 

 

Luis Diogo Sr., his wife, Rita, and their two children, Luis Jr. and Vera, came out to join the party. Luis Sr. looked across a picnic table at his son, who was well into his third plate of sardines. 

“This is a country between Spain and the sea, so we went to the sea very soon in our history,” he said. The talk turned to the present, and the dwindling catch of the city’s favorite seafood. 

Luis Jr. didn’t pay much attention to his father. He was too focused on his sardines. 

 

“I would miss this very much,” the 17-year-old said, wiping his lips clean after polishing off the last sardine on his plate. 

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EU Trade Chief Ready to Retaliate If US Imposes Auto Tariffs

European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Wednesday that the EU has a list of potential retaliation targets ready in case U.S. President Donald Trump imposes auto tariffs on EU member states.

Malmstrom told reporters after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that the two did not speak specifically about auto tariffs but focused instead on regulatory cooperation issues and ways to enable EU countries to import more American soybeans and liquefied natural gas.

Malmstrom did not specify the U.S. products on which the EU would levy retaliatory tariffs, as consultations would need to take place with member states. But she said the list could include “all kinds” of products.

“It could be cars, it could be agriculture, it could be industrial products, it could be everything. And we will do that, but hope we don’t have to get to that situation.”

Trump administration officials on Tuesday said the president’s trade team made no decisions on how to proceed with new recommendations from the Commerce Department on whether to impose tariffs on autos and auto parts to protect the U.S. industry on national security grounds. The contents of the recommendations have not been disclosed.

Malmstrom said that the EU is willing to negotiate a limited trade deal on industrial goods, including autos, that seeks to bring tariff rates to zero for both the United States and Europe, but the scope of these talks cannot be defined until early next year, when the USTR completes its consultation process with Congress and the EU receives a negotiating mandate from member states.

 

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EU Trade Chief Ready to Retaliate If US Imposes Auto Tariffs

European Union trade commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom said on Wednesday that the EU has a list of potential retaliation targets ready in case U.S. President Donald Trump imposes auto tariffs on EU member states.

Malmstrom told reporters after a meeting with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer that the two did not speak specifically about auto tariffs but focused instead on regulatory cooperation issues and ways to enable EU countries to import more American soybeans and liquefied natural gas.

Malmstrom did not specify the U.S. products on which the EU would levy retaliatory tariffs, as consultations would need to take place with member states. But she said the list could include “all kinds” of products.

“It could be cars, it could be agriculture, it could be industrial products, it could be everything. And we will do that, but hope we don’t have to get to that situation.”

Trump administration officials on Tuesday said the president’s trade team made no decisions on how to proceed with new recommendations from the Commerce Department on whether to impose tariffs on autos and auto parts to protect the U.S. industry on national security grounds. The contents of the recommendations have not been disclosed.

Malmstrom said that the EU is willing to negotiate a limited trade deal on industrial goods, including autos, that seeks to bring tariff rates to zero for both the United States and Europe, but the scope of these talks cannot be defined until early next year, when the USTR completes its consultation process with Congress and the EU receives a negotiating mandate from member states.

 

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May’s Brexit ‘Moment of Truth’

Britain’s Theresa May scrambled Wednesday to sell to her Cabinet a draft Brexit divorce agreement British negotiators concluded after months of wrangling with their European Union counterparts.

But the 500-page draft remains a source of deep dispute within Britain’s ruling Conservative party and also in the country’s parliament, which will have the final say on whether to approve it.

As news emerged Tuesday that a text had been agreed, hardline Brexiteers lined up to attack the proposed agreement with former British foreign minister Boris Johnson, who resigned earlier this year, urging other ministers to join him in opposing the terms of the deal. Britain’s main opposition parties also announced their disapproval of the deal, which has not even been published yet. 

The agreement, if approved by the Cabinet and subsequently the British parliament, would see Britain remaining in a customs union for several years with the EU after it formally exits the bloc in March, but with an unclear legal path to quitting the customs arrangement while a fuller trade deal is negotiating.

Remaining in a customs union allows Britain and the EU to avoid introducing customs checks along the border separating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and would also allow “frictionless trade” between Britain and its erstwhile partners in the EU.

Tough sell

But critics say it would reduce Britain to the status of a “vassal state” by requiring it to accept EU rules and regulations without having any say about them. It would also block Britain from signing trade deals with other countries while a trade agreement is concluded with the EU, which itself could take three or four years or even longer. Reaching trade deals independently with non-EU countries was a key selling point of Brexit for many who voted nearly two years ago in a referendum to relinquish EU membership.

“This is just about as bad as it could possibly be,” Johnson fumed Tuesday to reporters in the corridors of the British House of Commons. Other Brexiteers joined him to denounce the proposed deal, one they are determined to sabotage and which runs, they say, contrary to the Conservative Party manifesto they fought an election on a year.

“For the first time in a thousand years this place, this parliament will not have a say over the laws which govern this country. It is quite an incredible state of affairs,” Johnson added.

“She hasn’t so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels… the UK will be a slave state,” said Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Conservatives’ future at stake

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Theresa May. The draft agreement, May’s fate as Prime Minister and the longevity of the Conservative government are all hanging in the balance. The consequences of the process to get the draft agreement approved are difficult to guess and could end up sinking May, the Conservative government and even Brexit itself. “I don’t think anyone knows, to be truthful,” said Labour lawmaker Chuka Umunna.

May’s minority government relies on the votes in the House of Commons on a handful of lawmakers from a quirky Protestant-based Unionist party, which is also opposed to the draft deal.

Without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, and faced with an inevitable revolt by dozen of Conservative lawmakers, May will need to persuade opposition lawmakers to break with their party leaderships by arguing her deal is the best Britain can get.

Second vote?

But an increasing number of opposition lawmakers are jumping on the bandwagon of the People’s Vote movement, which is calling for a second Brexit referendum. Recent opinion polls suggest a majority of voters now, especially in traditional Labour heartlands, many of which voted in June 2016 for Brexit, now want Britain to retain EU membership, fearing the economic fallout from departure.

But even before seeking next month parliamentary backing for the draft customs union deal, May has to persuade her cabinet to back her — and that is not even a sure thing. On Tuesday — ahead of a full cabinet meeting called for Wednesday afternoon — May took a leaf out of the playbook of her Conservative predecessor Margaret Thatcher, who in 1990 called in ministers one by one to place them on the spot and demand their support. However, the tactic backfired on Thatcher and she was forced to resign. 

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith predicts May’s days will be numbered if she fails to reverse course and decides not to pursue a cleaner break from the EU. “If the cabinet agrees it, the party certainly won’t,” he said. Conservative lawmakers who want Britain to remain in the EU are also publicly opposing the draft agreement, placing May in a tight political vice.

Leave-supporting ministers were coming under intense pressure from hardline Brexiteers in the hours leading up to the cabinet meeting to reject the deal. They pointed to a leaked EU document outlining a strategy to force Britain to accept an almost permanent alignment with its rules and regulations governing state aid, environmental protection and workers’ rights.

In a note to EU ambassadors, Sabine Weyand, a deputy EU negotiator, said the customs union will form the basis for Britain’s future trade deal with the bloc. “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. UK wants a lot more from the future relationship, so EU retains leverage,” she wrote. 

 

 

 

 

 

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May’s Brexit ‘Moment of Truth’

Britain’s Theresa May scrambled Wednesday to sell to her Cabinet a draft Brexit divorce agreement British negotiators concluded after months of wrangling with their European Union counterparts.

But the 500-page draft remains a source of deep dispute within Britain’s ruling Conservative party and also in the country’s parliament, which will have the final say on whether to approve it.

As news emerged Tuesday that a text had been agreed, hardline Brexiteers lined up to attack the proposed agreement with former British foreign minister Boris Johnson, who resigned earlier this year, urging other ministers to join him in opposing the terms of the deal. Britain’s main opposition parties also announced their disapproval of the deal, which has not even been published yet. 

The agreement, if approved by the Cabinet and subsequently the British parliament, would see Britain remaining in a customs union for several years with the EU after it formally exits the bloc in March, but with an unclear legal path to quitting the customs arrangement while a fuller trade deal is negotiating.

Remaining in a customs union allows Britain and the EU to avoid introducing customs checks along the border separating Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland and would also allow “frictionless trade” between Britain and its erstwhile partners in the EU.

Tough sell

But critics say it would reduce Britain to the status of a “vassal state” by requiring it to accept EU rules and regulations without having any say about them. It would also block Britain from signing trade deals with other countries while a trade agreement is concluded with the EU, which itself could take three or four years or even longer. Reaching trade deals independently with non-EU countries was a key selling point of Brexit for many who voted nearly two years ago in a referendum to relinquish EU membership.

“This is just about as bad as it could possibly be,” Johnson fumed Tuesday to reporters in the corridors of the British House of Commons. Other Brexiteers joined him to denounce the proposed deal, one they are determined to sabotage and which runs, they say, contrary to the Conservative Party manifesto they fought an election on a year.

“For the first time in a thousand years this place, this parliament will not have a say over the laws which govern this country. It is quite an incredible state of affairs,” Johnson added.

“She hasn’t so much struck a deal as surrendered to Brussels… the UK will be a slave state,” said Conservative lawmaker Jacob Rees-Mogg.

Conservatives’ future at stake

The stakes couldn’t be higher for Theresa May. The draft agreement, May’s fate as Prime Minister and the longevity of the Conservative government are all hanging in the balance. The consequences of the process to get the draft agreement approved are difficult to guess and could end up sinking May, the Conservative government and even Brexit itself. “I don’t think anyone knows, to be truthful,” said Labour lawmaker Chuka Umunna.

May’s minority government relies on the votes in the House of Commons on a handful of lawmakers from a quirky Protestant-based Unionist party, which is also opposed to the draft deal.

Without the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party, and faced with an inevitable revolt by dozen of Conservative lawmakers, May will need to persuade opposition lawmakers to break with their party leaderships by arguing her deal is the best Britain can get.

Second vote?

But an increasing number of opposition lawmakers are jumping on the bandwagon of the People’s Vote movement, which is calling for a second Brexit referendum. Recent opinion polls suggest a majority of voters now, especially in traditional Labour heartlands, many of which voted in June 2016 for Brexit, now want Britain to retain EU membership, fearing the economic fallout from departure.

But even before seeking next month parliamentary backing for the draft customs union deal, May has to persuade her cabinet to back her — and that is not even a sure thing. On Tuesday — ahead of a full cabinet meeting called for Wednesday afternoon — May took a leaf out of the playbook of her Conservative predecessor Margaret Thatcher, who in 1990 called in ministers one by one to place them on the spot and demand their support. However, the tactic backfired on Thatcher and she was forced to resign. 

Former Conservative leader Iain Duncan Smith predicts May’s days will be numbered if she fails to reverse course and decides not to pursue a cleaner break from the EU. “If the cabinet agrees it, the party certainly won’t,” he said. Conservative lawmakers who want Britain to remain in the EU are also publicly opposing the draft agreement, placing May in a tight political vice.

Leave-supporting ministers were coming under intense pressure from hardline Brexiteers in the hours leading up to the cabinet meeting to reject the deal. They pointed to a leaked EU document outlining a strategy to force Britain to accept an almost permanent alignment with its rules and regulations governing state aid, environmental protection and workers’ rights.

In a note to EU ambassadors, Sabine Weyand, a deputy EU negotiator, said the customs union will form the basis for Britain’s future trade deal with the bloc. “They must align their rules but the EU will retain all the controls. UK wants a lot more from the future relationship, so EU retains leverage,” she wrote. 

 

 

 

 

 

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Britain’s May Seeks Cabinet Approval for Brexit Deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a test Wednesday as she tries to get approval from her Cabinet for a draft agreement on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Negotiators from Britain and the EU reached the deal Tuesday after lengthy negotiations, but details have not been made public.

May must convince her senior ministers to support the agreement, which would later also need to be approved by Britain’s parliament.

But that task will not be easy with lawmakers sharply divided on the so-called Brexit, including criticism of May’s approach by both those who want Britain to leave the bloc and those who would rather it remain an EU member.

May has sought to keep as close a relationship as possible to the EU when Brexit becomes official on March 29, 2019.

One of the major sticking points in negotiations has been what to do about Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland. With Britain leaving the EU, an area that currently allows freedom of movement for people and goods requires new rules governing how those activities can continue.

Irish broadcaster RTE said the draft agreement includes a customs arrangement with special conditions for Northern Ireland.

During the negotiations, Britain has sought some sort of time limit for such an arrangement, while the EU has said it would need to be permanent.

May’s party does not have a majority in parliament and relies on the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

DUP leader Arlene Foster said a potential customs arrangement would weaken Britain and that the prime minister could not argue it is in the interest of the nation.

“It would be democratically unacceptable for Northern Ireland trade rules to be set by Brussels,” she said in a statement. “Northern Ireland would have no representation in Brussels and would be dependent on a Dublin government speaking up for our core industries.”

Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson expressed similar views in calling a customs deal “utterly unacceptable to anyone who believes in democracy.”

But May’s chief whip, Julian Smith, expressed optimism the agreement with the European Union will succeed.

“I’m confident we’ll get this through parliament and that we can deliver on what the prime minister committed to on delivering Brexit, but making sure that that is in the best interests of companies, businesses and families,” Smith said.

 

Build a better website in less than an hour. Start for free at us.

Britain’s May Seeks Cabinet Approval for Brexit Deal

British Prime Minister Theresa May faces a test Wednesday as she tries to get approval from her Cabinet for a draft agreement on the terms of Britain’s exit from the European Union.

Negotiators from Britain and the EU reached the deal Tuesday after lengthy negotiations, but details have not been made public.

May must convince her senior ministers to support the agreement, which would later also need to be approved by Britain’s parliament.

But that task will not be easy with lawmakers sharply divided on the so-called Brexit, including criticism of May’s approach by both those who want Britain to leave the bloc and those who would rather it remain an EU member.

May has sought to keep as close a relationship as possible to the EU when Brexit becomes official on March 29, 2019.

One of the major sticking points in negotiations has been what to do about Northern Ireland, which shares a border with EU member Ireland. With Britain leaving the EU, an area that currently allows freedom of movement for people and goods requires new rules governing how those activities can continue.

Irish broadcaster RTE said the draft agreement includes a customs arrangement with special conditions for Northern Ireland.

During the negotiations, Britain has sought some sort of time limit for such an arrangement, while the EU has said it would need to be permanent.

May’s party does not have a majority in parliament and relies on the support of the Northern Irish Democratic Unionist Party (DUP).

DUP leader Arlene Foster said a potential customs arrangement would weaken Britain and that the prime minister could not argue it is in the interest of the nation.

“It would be democratically unacceptable for Northern Ireland trade rules to be set by Brussels,” she said in a statement. “Northern Ireland would have no representation in Brussels and would be dependent on a Dublin government speaking up for our core industries.”

Former Foreign Minister Boris Johnson expressed similar views in calling a customs deal “utterly unacceptable to anyone who believes in democracy.”

But May’s chief whip, Julian Smith, expressed optimism the agreement with the European Union will succeed.

“I’m confident we’ll get this through parliament and that we can deliver on what the prime minister committed to on delivering Brexit, but making sure that that is in the best interests of companies, businesses and families,” Smith said.

 

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