U.K.'s Raab Says He's Bringing `Vim' to Talks: Brexit Update

(Bloomberg) -- Dominic Raab arrived for his first meeting as Brexit Secretary with EU counterpart Michel Barnier in Brussels, with the Frenchman warning there’s just 13 weeks to get a deal.

Raab Says He’s Bringing ‘Vim’ to Brexit Talks (4:15 p.m.)

Raab and Barnier made brief statements but didn’t take questions from the media as they prepared to meet for the first time following the resignation of David Davis.

“I’m looking forward, with renewed energy, vigor and vim,” Raab said. His aim is “intensifying, heating up negotiations and making sure we’re in the best position to get the best deal.”

Barnier’s refrain was the usual one, warning of time running short.

“We must finalize the withdrawal agreement and we are not yet there,” he said. “It is a matter of urgency to agree on a legally operative backstop for Ireland and Northern Ireland.”

The pair will hold talks in Barnier’s office before retiring to the plush surroundings of the British ambassador’s residence to continue discussions over dinner.

EU Wants No-Deal Preparation to Be ‘Stepped Up’ (12:06 p.m.)

The European Commission published a document calling on governments and businesses to step up contingency plans for Brexit talks collapsing without a deal. Preparation must “be stepped up immediately at all levels and taking into account all possible outcomes,” the commission said in its document.

The document covers a range of industries and networks from aviation, food safety, financial services, customs and the flow of personal data.

On financial services, the commission reiterated that, contrary to the Bank of England, it doesn’t see an “issue of a general nature” related to financial contracts because -- in principle -- they won’t be harmed when the U.K. leaves the EU. But “every type of contract needs to be looked at separately,” it said.

An EU official, speaking to reporters in Brussels on condition of anonymity, said the document didn’t reflect a belief that the negotiations were failing, but on the need to prepare -- just like the U.K. is.

Stride: Repayment Mechanism ‘A Little Way Off’ (11:41 a.m.)

Treasury Minister Mel Stride told the Lords committee it’s impossible to say when the repayment mechanism will be up and running, though it remains “a little way off.”

It’s “contingent on a number of different factors, not least the negotiation,” he said. “For the thing to be up and functioning will be a little way off but I couldn’t pin a precise date on it.”

EU Official Calls White Paper Detailed, Unclear (11:30 a.m.)

Over in Brussels, a senior European Union official has been talking to reporters about how the bloc sees May’s white paper and the state of the Brexit negotiations in general. European affairs ministers are scheduled to meet tomorrow to discuss the latest developments.

The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said May’s blueprint was detailed but in many respects unclear and, while it’s welcome that the U.K. has finally published a position, the EU says it doesn’t recognize it as a first draft of the final deal. So the bloc won’t be giving an official response to it.

With many aspects of the U.K.’s divorce from the bloc still up in the air -- including the crucial issue of the Irish border -- it’s unclear how detailed any agreement on future relations will be, the official said. He said British negotiators have said that they would be willing to give more concessions in the separation treaty if the future declaration is more detailed.

And in a comment that might send shivers through some in Westminster, the official didn’t shy away from saying that it’s perfectly possible to delay the U.K.’s exit from the EU to allow more time for negotiations -- though he didn’t give any more detail and said the possibility hadn’t been discussed between governments yet.

New Customs Setup Not All Ready by End-2020 (11:24 a.m.)

Jon Thompson, chief executive officer of HMRC, told a House of Lords committee that the government’s planned duel tariff system could be implemented by the end of 2020, but the creation of a repayment mechanism will take longer.

“That would be a unique technology project. It’s totally new and does require coders to sit down and work out how it would work,” Thompson said.

He also said it’s “reasonable to speculate” that traffic at Dover and Eurotunnel, which he described as closed-loop systems, would slow if Britain leaves the EU without a deal.

The number of customs declarations the U.K. tax authority would have to process would increase five-fold to around 250 million a year if all companies currently involved in intra-EU trade were asked to submit them, he said.

And a threefold increase in staff -- an extra 4,000 to 5,000 people -- may be needed to deal with the additional customs checks. More than 1,100 were in the process of being recruited as of the end of May and job offers have been made to around 1,500 people. Thompson said the estimates include demand for compliance officers to check the 250 million declarations.

The additional cost to business under a facilitated customs arrangement would be 700 million pounds a year, he said. The burden rises to between 17 billion pounds and 20 billion pounds if customs declarations on intra-EU trade were applied under either a no-deal scenario or a maximum facilitation arrangement.

Raab Pressed on Getting Deal Through Parliament (10:43 a.m.)

Raab was pressed again on how he’ll get the final exit deal through Parliament in the face of opposition from hardline Brexit-backing Tories.

Labour’s Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer quoted Tory Steve Baker, who told the Commons on Wednesday that at least 40 Conservatives will vote against a soft Brexit deal that ties the U.K. closely to EU rules.

Baker said during Wednesday’s debate: “A Brexit that requires a high degree of permanent alignment to the European Union will not go through this House of Commons; it will fail.”

He also said: “People who have said 40 are not out by a fraction: when they come to consider the number of Members on the Conservative Benches who do not like this deal and are willing to vote in line with that dislike, they are out by a factor, not by a fraction.”

Raab avoided answering the point directly, but it’s a question that is likely to grow increasingly urgent as the clock ticks down to Brexit day next March.

Baker Calls for More Preparation for No Deal (10:12 a.m.)

Steve Baker, who quit as a Brexit Minister earlier in July because he didn’t like May’s plan, demanded that she now steps up preparations for a “no deal” Brexit.

Baker said he had wanted to create a “parliamentary moment” last October to kick-start preparations for the breakdown of talks so the U.K. can be ready to leave the EU without an agreement. This apparently had not been allowed.

Baker urged the government to persuade May’s office to “galvanize the whole of government to deliver” and mobilize resources to prepare for Brexit with no withdrawal deal.

Raab Quizzed on Parliament Deadlock (10:05 a.m.)

Raab attempted to answer the big question that’s risen to the top of politicians’ agendas in recent days: how will the government get its Brexit deal through a deadlocked Parliament?

He said the government will ensure lawmakers ratify the Brexit deal “the same way” it got the customs bill through Parliament this week -- by “working hard, listening to all sides and delivering for the people of the United Kingdom.”

After two days of rebellions, intense deal-making, and one government defeat, May’s Brexit plan narrowly avoided disaster on Tuesday by just six votes.

Among the tactics May’s whips used were threatening to pull the entire bill and call a confidence vote in the government, potentially triggering a fresh general election. Then there was a furor over claims that the Tories broke with convention by exploiting the absence of a female lawmaker who’s away on maternity leave.

Raab: ‘No Deal Until Whole Deal Concluded’ (9:54 a.m.)

Asked by John Whittingdale about the U.K. using its financial settlement with the EU as leverage, Raab says he makes a “powerful point.” The EU has always said “there’s no deal until the whole deal is concluded,” Raab says. “If one party does not meet its side of the bargain it would inevitably have consequences for the deal as a whole.”

Raab: Banks Confident of Coping With No Deal (9:48 a.m.)

Raab says that banks in the City of London are preparing for a no-deal Brexit and are “very confident they can withstand any of the uncertainty in relation to the Brexit negotiations.” The government has also been preparing, he says, and will step up those efforts in the “weeks and months” ahead, including making those preparations more public.

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