EU mistakes partly to blame for Brexit, Juncker admits (as he makes a jibe about the diminishing importance of English)

shutterstock_436039639-1000x606The European Union’s fear of admitting the truth about its own weaknesses and mistakes contributed to the Brexit vote, Jean-Claude Juncker confessed during a speech this morning. The European Commission president began a “state of the Union” speech in Florence with a joke about how Britain’s exit from the EU would diminish the English language as Europe’s lingua franca. “I will express myself in French because slowly but surely English is losing importance in Europe,” he said as the assembled politicians laughed. In a rare admission that the EU and the European continent faced a future of global economic decline, Mr Juncker admitted that the world of officialdom in Brussels had been reluctant to face inconvenient truths. “Europe does have some weaknesses that can partly explain the outcome of the referendum in the UK. There are some weaknesses that sometimes we perhaps overlook. We are maybe scared of the truth sometimes,” he said. – The Times (£)

  • Brexit: English language ‘losing importance’ – EU’s Juncker . – BBC
  • Watch Diplomats applaud Juncker’s switch to speak in French over English – Guardian
  • EU chief Jean-Claude Juncker ‘very visibly drunk’ at major UN summit – The Sun
  • Juncker’s jibes continue after Tusk calls for calm – Mark Stone for Sky News
  • The happy slapper: Meet Jean-Claude Juncker, the joker in charge of the EU – Telegraph

Michel Barnier says EU citizens with no proof they live in Britain should be handed permanent residency…

EU citizens living in Britain should automatically be given permanent residency after Brexit even if they have no proof they have been living there, the lead negotiator for Brussels demanded yesterday. Michel Barnier called for “red tape” to be cut, handing an effective amnesty to the 3.2 million Europeans in Britain. It follows concern over a number of cases where people found it difficult to satisfy Home Office requirements of proof of residency. The same would apply for the 1.2 million Britons living in EU countries. “Individuals legally residing in the UK today must remain residents after withdrawal, including in those cases when people have no documents to prove residency,” Mr Barnier told a State of the Union conference in Florence. “The same goes for UK nationals in the 27. No one should be confronted with a mountain of red tape.” His suggestion was immediately criticised by Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative cabinet minister, who said it would allow a “free for all” where “anyone” could claim they had been living in the UK without proof. – The Times (£)

…as he admits people across Europe are fed up with free movement

Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier yesterday admitted people across Europe are frustrated with EU free movement but insisted following Britain’s example and quitting the bloc is not the answer to concerns about immigration.In a keynote speech in Florence the French official embarked on an impassioned defence of the project’s cornerstone policy and laid out his detailed demands on citizens rights which the UK will have to agree to before trade talks can start.  Speaking at a summit on the future of the Brussels club Mr Barnier suggested that Theresa May’s plan to reduce net migration through border controls will not deliver the results UK voters were hoping for when they backed Brexit. – Express

Tories are reaping rewards of tough Brexit position in local elections

The overnight results further support the notion of Ukip as a “gateway drug” through which former Labour voters progressed to the Conservative hard stuff. Figures from Matthew Goodwin, a senior fellow at Chatham House, have suggested that of those who supported the party led by Nigel Farage in 2015, only 49% would back it again, while 33% could switch to the Tories and only would 3% turn to Labour. All of which explains why the prime minister wanted a photograph of herself standing at a lectern outside Downing Street, accusing the EU of meddling in British affairs, to be on the front page of every newspaper on Thursday morning. That was the image that Tory strategists wanted people to have in their minds as they headed for the polling stations. – Guardian

  • Defeated Labour candidate for West Midlands Mayor Sion Simon says ‘unclear Brexit message’ was the reason for his loss – Express
  • May accuses EU bureaucrats of questioning UK’s Brexit resolve – Guardian
  • Ukip claims party is a ‘victim of its own success’ on Brexit after dismal election results – Independent
  • No Lib Dem resurgence at local elections but share of votes increases – Guardian
  • No point campaigning for UKIP, says party’s ex-MP – Politico
  • My party’s triumphant and yet I feel fearful – Matthew Parris for The Times (£)
  • Ukip may be over but the Brexit party goes on and on – Marina Hyde for The Guardian
  • Ukip’s time could be over but it did what it set out to –  Stephen Pollard for the Express

> WATCH: Jonathan Isaby discusses the local election results on BBC News

Belgian PM: Push Brexit button and May must pay

British expectations in its divorce proceedings from the European Union are “not realistic,” Belgian Prime Minister Charles Michel said Friday, sending a clear warning that Britain will not escape having to foot a hefty bill for its momentous decision that has shaken the bloc to its core. Michel said in an interview with The Associated Press Friday that “those who think in Britain they can push the Brexit button and not have a bill to pay are seriously mistaken.” Over a few testy days this week, both sides sparred about the negotiations, which are to start after the British June 8 elections, with some questioning what, if anything, Britain should pay for. – Associated Press

Merkel vows fair, constructive Brexit talks

German Chancellor Angela Merkel is renewing a pledge to conduct Brexit talks “fairly and constructively,” while also stressing the importance of European Union unity and the need to protect the interests of EU citizens in Britain. Merkel says that Germany will push to “create clarity and planning security as quickly as possible” for EU residents in Britain, including about 100,000 Germans. She added that the EU also must “limit the damage that Britain’s withdrawal could bring for the European Union as a whole if the withdrawal and transition did not succeed.” Merkel said during a speech in Hamburg that it’s important that the remaining EU 27 members remain as united in the negotiations as they have been since the Brexit referendum in June. – Associated Press

European Commission: We’re done with the Juncker-May dinner

Before heading into the weekend, the Commission was eager to say the Brexit drama was over. Commission deputy spokesman Alexander Winterstein several times declined to make any substantive comment on Donald Tusk’s calls to tone down the rhetoric on Brexit after a week of back and forth between Brussels and London on how the dinner between Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker really went. “I think we discussed everything about the dinner,” said Winterstein, reflecting the EU’s softer line of recent days, with Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier backing evidence-based Brexit talks and Jean-Claude Juncker saying he respected May. – Politico

May needs more time for Brexit, says Varoufakis

Scathing about his own experience of negotiating with the EU, when Greece began to flounder in the eurozone in 2015, the left-wing academic said of the bloc: “It’s the worst combination of authoritarianism, contempt for democracy and technical incompetence. I’ve never met such bad economists as I have in Brussels. If a first-year university student of mine had presented me with their economic models I would have failed him but they don’t care because it’s all about power.” Turning to domestic British politics, Mr Varoufakis said that Jeremy Corbyn’s analysis of widespread discontent among Britons was “fundamentally correct”, but said the Labour leader was “too old-fashioned for the electoral system”. – The Times (£)

  • ‘May’s tactics are precisely wrong … Brussels will want to crush Britain’ says Varoufakis – The Times interview (£)

Is Spain Softening over Gibraltar?

Spain’s government seems to be softening its position on Gibraltar, according to a blueprint for Brexit negotiations. Instead of seeking Madrid’s immediate assumption of sovereignty over the Rock, the new plan focuses on abolishing Gibraltar’s low tax regime while preserving the rights of Spanish workers in the territory. The blueprint is contained in a Brexit briefing sent to lawmakers in Congress. – Politico

Spanish military aircraft ‘intrudes in Gibraltar’s air space’

Gibraltar’s government has accused Spain of “completely unacceptable” interference after a Spanish military aircraft strayed inside its air space. A passenger jet using the territory’s airport was delayed after the Spanish military P3 Orion flew to within two miles of Gibraltar’s coastline, a statement said. Fabian Picardo, Chief Minister, said the incursion on Friday was the latest in a deliberate campaign of harassment.The incident delayed a British Airways flight bound for Heathrow as air traffic controllers tracked the aircraft. He said: “It is no secret that Spain has been deliberately causing problems for Gibraltar at our border and through its incursions into British Gibraltar Territorial Waters. – Telegraph

Former Finnish PM claims EU made up Brexit rules to punish UK

The rules of the EU have been manipulated to give Theresa May an unfair and uphill battle to strike a fair Brexit rule, according to the former Finnish Prime Minister. Alexander Stubb, the former Finnish prime minister, said there are a number of EU bureaucrats who “just want to punish” Britain for standing up to the bloc. This comes after David Davis told the BBC there had been a “deliberately misleading briefing” by the European Commission about the Downing Street dinner last week.  Mr Stubb told the BBC Today Programme this was a “silly leak” and warned Juncker and his allies to “learn their lesson” before acting out again. – Express

Brussels plans to saddle UK with EU nuclear waste

Britain will be on the hook for large volumes of dangerous radioactive waste — some of it imported from the rest of Europe — under proposals by Brussels to transfer ownership of a range of nuclear materials to the UK after it leaves the EU. Almost 130 tonnes of plutonium stored at Sellafield in Cumbria is among the nuclear material that would formally shift to UK control, according to draft documents issued by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator. All “special fissile material” — forms of uranium and plutonium used in nuclear fuels and some of the resulting waste — within the EU are technically owned by Euratom, the pan-European regulator of civilian nuclear activity. – FT (£)

What does Marine Le Pen mean for the EU?

The deeply Eurosceptic populist, who wants France to exit the EU, is entering the final hours of her campaign against pro-EU centrist Emmanuel Macron. Marine Le Pen is trailing more than 20 points behind the centrist in the polls with the most recent surveys putting her at 39 per cent versus his 62 per cent. Mr Macron is almost certain to win the French election to the relief of Brussels, according to Aarti Shankar, a policy analyst at Open Europe. “In the event of a Macron victory, there would be big sigh of relief. They have been dreading the possibility of a Le Pen victory,” Ms Shankar said.If Ms Le Pen wins the French election, she would push for France to leave the Schengen Area, eurozone and even the EU itself. – Express

  • After ‘Brexit’ and Trump, Trust Is an Issue With French Polls – New York Times
  • Macron offers the best hope for French reform and for Britain – Andrew Sentance for The Telegraph (£)
  • France going Eurosceptic regardless of election result –  Joseph Hackett for The Commentator
  • Emmanuel Macron as French president would be terrible for Britain – but not as bad as Marine Le Pen – Daniel Hannan MEP for The Telegraph (£)

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