Soros & the £400k Question: What constitutes ‘foreign interference’ in democracy?

Neil Clark
Neil Clark is a journalist, writer, broadcaster and blogger. He has written for many newspapers and magazines in the UK and other countries including The Guardian, Morning Star, Daily and Sunday Express, Mail on Sunday, Daily Mail, Daily Telegraph, New Statesman, The Spectator, The Week, and The American Conservative. He is a regular pundit on RT and has also appeared on BBC TV and radio, Sky News, Press TV and the Voice of Russia. He is the co-founder of the Campaign For Public Ownership @PublicOwnership. His award winning blog can be found at http://www.neilclark66.blogspot.com. He tweets on politics and world affairs @NeilClark66
Soros & the £400k Question: What constitutes ‘foreign interference’ in democracy?
You’d have to have a real sense of humor failure not to laugh. The news that US billionaire Soros donated £400k to an anti-Brexit group came on the day that YouTube said they found no evidence of Russian interference in Brexit.

Repeat After Me (with robotic arm movements): “Unproven Russian involvement in Brexit – terrible! Impose more sanctions on Moscow! A £400k check from an American billionaire for an anti-Brexit campaigning group – that’s no problem; it’s helping our democracy!”

You don’t have to own a brand new £999 state-of-the art Hypocrisy Detector from Harrods, to pick up on the double standards. Just having a few functioning brain cells and thinking for yourself will do. For months in the UK we’ve been bombarded with Establishment-approved conspiracy theories – peddled in all the ’best’ newspapers – that Russia somehow ‘fixed’ Brexit. Getting Britain to leave the EU was all part of a cunning plot by Vladimir Putin, aka Dr. Evil, to weaken Europe and the ‘free world.’

Even West End musical composer Andrew Lloyd-Webber, who knows quite a bit about phantoms, seemed taken in by it. “By quitting Europe, I fear that we are hastening Putin’s dream of the break-up of the EU – and with it, potentially, western civilisation,”the noble Lord declared in July.

Never mind that we don’t have a single statement from Putin or other senior Kremlin figures saying that they actually supported Brexit. These Establishment Russia-bashers know exactly what The Vlad is thinking.

And never mind that RT and Sputnik, which we are repeatedly told are “propaganda arms of the Russian government,” ran articles by pro- and anti-Brexit writers. The same people who told us Iraq had WMDs in 2003 were absolutely sure it was those dastardly Russkies who had got Britain to vote ‘leave.’ The irony is of course that there was significant foreign interference in Brexit. But it didn’t come from Moscow.

You’ve got to see the funny side of this: all that hysterical fake news about ‘Russian interference’ in Brexit & here we have one side receiving £400K from a US billionaire who is part of the US political establishment. Is that not ‘interference’ ?!! http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-42984594 

Or Obama actually visiting the U.K. to urge people to vote Remain. Imagine if Putin did the same for Leave!

The US has always wanted Britain to stay in the EU. In April 2016, two months before the Referendum, President Obama made it clear what he wanted when he visited the UK. He warned that if Britain exited the EU it would be “at the back of the queue” for trade deals with the US.

Just imagine if Putin had said that. The Russophobes would have spontaneously combusted.

Then of course there was the backing the Remain camp had from the giants of US capital. Goldman Sachs and JP Morgan donated £500,000 each to the ‘Britain Stronger in Europe’ group, Citigroup and Morgan Stanley – £250,000 each.

Again, repeat after me (with robotic arm movements): “This is not foreign interference… This is not foreign interference!”

You’ve got to see the funny side of this: all that hysterical fake news about ‘Russian interference’ in Brexit & here we have one side receiving £400K from a US billionaire who is part of the US political establishment. Is that not ‘interference’ ?!! http://www.bbc.com/news/uk-politics-42984594 

George Soros

Pro-EU campaign gets £400,000 from Soros

Group fighting against Brexit secures donation from billionaire investor’s foundation.

bbc.com

The point is not whether we are for or against Brexit. Or whether we think George Soros is a malign influence who only acts out of self-interest or an old sweetie-pie with the good of humanity at heart. The point is the double standards that are causing our Hypocrisy Detectors to explode.

Let’s think back to December 2016. Then, the pro-war and fiercely anti-Russian Labour MP Ben Bradshaw told Parliament that it was highly probable that Russia had interfered with Brexit.

Fourteen months on, what have we got? On Thursday, the global head of You Tube’s public policy, Juniper Downs, said her company “had conducted a thorough investigation around the Brexit referendum and found no evidence of Russian interference.”

Twitter meanwhile says it detected 49 (yes, 49) accounts from what it claimed to be a “Russian troll factory,” which sent all of 942 messages about Brexit – amounting to less than 0.005% of all the tweets about the Referendum. Twitter said the accounts received “very low levels of engagement” from users. If the Kremlin had planned to use tweets to persuade us to vote ‘leave,’ they didn’t really put much effort into it, did they?

Finally, Facebook said that only three “Kremlin-linked” accounts were found which spent the grand sum of 72p (yes, 72p) on ads during the Referendum campaign. Which amounts to the greater “interference”? 72p or £400K? Erm… tough call, isn’t it?

You might have thought, given his concern with ‘foreign interference’ in British politics, that Ben Bradshaw would have been urging ‘Best for Britain’ to return George Soros’ donation. Au contraire! His only tweets about it were retweets of two critical comments about the Daily Telegraph, and the BBC’s coverage of the story. Conclusion: Those who rail about ‘Russia meddling in Brexit’ but not Soros’ intervention aren’t concerned about ‘foreign interference’ in UK politics, only ‘foreign interference’ from countries they don’t approve of.

Those who are quite happy peddling ludicrous conspiracy theories about Russians shout “conspiracy theorist” (or worse) at those who report factually on proven meddling from others. The Daily Express hit the nail on the head in their Friday editorial which said: “Just what does George Soros think he is doing pouring £400,000 into a campaign to stop Brexit. For a start he is not actually a resident of this country so it has nothing to do with him.”

That really is the rub of the matter. And Bradshaw and co. have no adequate response except to shoot the messenger.

If we look at the affair with an even wider lens, the hypocrisy is even greater. The US has been gripped by an anti-Russian frenzy not seen since the days of Senator Joe McCarthy. The unsubstantiated claim that Russia fixed the election for Donald Trump is repeated by ‘liberals’ and many neocons too, as a statement of fact. “I don’t know that the public understands the gravity of what the Russians were able to do and continue to do here in the United States. They’ve attacked us. They’re trying to undermine our democracy,” film director Rob Reiner said.

But the number one country round the world for undermining democracy and interfering in the affairs of other sovereign states is the US itself.

While Establishment journos and pundits have been foaming at the mouth over ‘Russiagate’ and getting terribly excited over ‘smoking guns’ which turn out – surprise, surprise – to be damp squibs, there’s been less attention paid to the boasts of former Vice President Joe Biden on how he got the allegedly ‘independent’ Ukrainian government to sack its prosecutor general in a few hours. “I looked at them and said: ‘I’m leaving in six hours. If the prosecutor is not fired, you’re not getting the money…”

“I said, ‘I’m telling you, you’re not getting the billion dollars,” Biden said during a meeting of the US’ Council on Foreign Relations. “Well, son of a b***h. He got fired.”

Again, just imagine the furore if a leading Russian government figure boasted about how he used financial inducements to get another country’s Prosecutor General to be sacked. Or if a tape was leaked in which the Russian Ambassador and a Russian Foreign Ministry spokesperson could be heard discussing who should or shouldn’t be in the new ‘democratic’ government of another sovereign state. But we had the US Ambassador to Ukraine and the US Assistant Secretary of State doing exactly that in 2014 – and the ‘Russia is interfering in the Free World!’ brigade were as silent as a group of Trappist monks.

It’s fair to say that Orwell would have a field day with the doublespeak that’s currently on show. The cognitive dissonance is there for all to see. Repeat After Me: Unproven Russian interference – Bad. Proven interference from other external sources – Good. What’s your problem?

Follow Neil Clark @NeilClark66

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

Welfare state: Who’s bigger on benefits, Germany or the UK?

The welfare states in Germany and the UK have been able to create a lot of legitimacy for governments. Politicians just had to promise to increase benefits and people would vote for them. But how do the systems compare?

Protest against welfare cuts in London (Getty Images/J. Talyor)

By now we’ve become accustomed to US President Donald Trump’s twitter tirades against everybody and everything. Nonetheless, it did come as surprise — on two fronts — that he felt it necessary to tweet his displeasure at the state of the UK’s welfare system mainstay, the National Health Service (NHS)

The Democrats are pushing for Universal HealthCare while thousands of people are marching in the UK because their U system is going broke and not working. Dems want to greatly raise taxes for really bad and non-personal medical care. No thanks!

First of all there will probably have been mild astonishment that he’s even heard of the NHS; secondly, consternation will have set in at his perspicacity of the situation.

For the NHS is, according to many observers, indeed “broke” and “not working” — witness its chronic underfunding, canceled operations and patients being treated in corridors or stuck in ambulances because beds aren’t available.

Read moreThe NHS and Brexit: Don’t get sick in the UK

NHS — the pride and joy of the welfare system

But it wasn’t always thus. Established in 1948 by Health Minister Nye Bevan, who championed social justice and the rights of working people, the NHS was set up to be egalitarian and non-contributory, funded instead directly from taxation. But that approach is expensive as it covered everyone, not just the employed.

“In Britain it’s a tripartite [system] made up of the individual, the employer and the state. And so there is a sense in which you either have to find a way to make changes to the tax base to pay for it within the economy that you’ve got, or you have to explore a separate way of paying for it via an insurance model. Or the alternative is that you move away from the idea that the NHS is a universal service model,” says Chris Renwick, senior lecturer in Modern History at the University of York and author of Bread for All: The Origins of the Welfare State.

Infographic showing health spending in UK and Germany

It’s success within the post-war welfare state, says Renwick, is largely attributed to the middle class demographic’s buy-in of the system, which could explain a certain reluctance to tinker with it. “If you introduce a system in which middle-class people are expected to contribute in a kind of transactional way for health care, there is a concern that it represents a break down of the social contract around certain things.”

Germany has a multi-payer, dual system and is mandatory for everyone living in the country. Depending on income and employment status, citzens choose between statutory health insurance provided by non-governmental “sickness funds,” and private insurers. Contributions are based on a percentage of income (statutory) and age and risk (private). The state, in its various levels of government, play next-to no role in the financing of health care.

Read more: German hospitals ‘carrying out unnecessary operations’

Renwick says that “historically speaking the German system is something of an important point of comparison. The Bismarckian structure of the late 1800s, which created the first universal health care, was in many ways the kind of inspiration for particular aspects of the British system in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.”

Watch video26:00

Made in Germany – The Economics of healthcare

Who’s bigger on benefits?

Traditionally, Germany has always had a much more generous type of welfare benefit. This is especially true of unemployment benefits whereby if someone becomes unemployed that person gets a very high percentage of his or her last income for a year.

“So for example as a university lecturer I would get paid 80 percent of my current wage and I would be very well placed and it wouldn’t be much of an incentive to get back into the workplace,” says Patrica Hogwood, Reader in European Politics in the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Westminster, who specializes in German politics and the welfare system.

In 2003, the then German coalition government’s introduced so-called Hartz IV welfare reforms to toughen the conditions on unemployment benefits, which proved deeply unpopular.

Read more: German issues in a nutshell: Hartz IV

By contrast British workers had at the back of their minds that if they became unemployed, income would be cut radically, thus creating the incentive to find a job as quickly as possible.

Germany essentially served as a role model until the middle of the 20th century after which the systems diverged and Britain “opts for a kind of peculiar version of the contributory system of national insurance,” as Renwick puts it. “So what Britain goes for is a flat rate system: So flat-rate contributions and flat-rate benefit payments out of the system. If you’ve paid in for 20 years you get the same amount as you do if you paid in for six months.”

Hogwood says the Anglo-Irish model was always intended to provide emergency, all-inclusive coverage.

“It wasn’t really ever thought to replace income in case of hardship. So if you become unemployed you would get a flat rate subsidy from the state. If you had been in well-paid employment it wouldn’t nearly cover the expenses that you were used to. If you’d been in low-paid employment it would be fairly similar to what you were used to. And the payments were over a short duration because it was assumed that people would find a new job fairly quickly.”

Read more:Debunking the myth of low German unemployment

Watch video05:50

No future for the young in Britain

Whither the welfare state?

These days structural and economic changes are making it very expensive to run the welfare systems.And public policy makers, says Hogwood, are struggling to cope. “Governments think that they can’t afford to maintain these old systems but they still want to retain that element of legitimacy that the welfare system generated for them because if you don’t maintain that, you get a breakdown in social cohesion. You get a conflict between social groups which we’re seeing now.”

While successive governments in both the UK and Germany have tinkered with changes to the welfare state to make it more cost-efficient and effective, the consensus seems to be that whole-sale, root and branch reform is needed.

“I think the bottom line is  that in spite of the different approaches that they’ve taken traditionally, both of these systems are going the same way because both of them are set on a neo-liberal course to prioritize flexibility of labor and competitiveness of the economy over welfare. They want to cut welfare benefits but both of them have got the challenge of how to prevent social conflict and how to maintain the legitimacy of government if people are so angry,” says Hogwood.

“Gradually there is a class of people being left out because they just cannot pay supplementary costs.”

COURTESY: DW

Remainers launch campaign for second Brexit referendum

Brexit opponents have begun pushing for a new referendum in the hopes that British voters have had a change of heart about leaving the European Union. That may be the case, reports Samira Shackle from London.

Demonstrators take part in a protest to show solidarity with the EU following Britain's Brexit referendum in 2016

At the end of December, former Labour minister Andrew Adonis resigned from his position as chair of the government-backed National Infrastructure Commission. His strongly worded resignation letter made his reasons clear: “The European Union withdrawal bill is the worst legislation of my lifetime,” he wrote. “It arrives soon in the House of Lords and I feel duty bound to oppose it relentlessly from the Labour benches.”

In the month that has passed since, Adonis has dedicated himself to campaigning for a second referendum on Brexit, introducing a proposal in the House of Lords and this week launching a nationwide tour to convince the public.

Read more: UK waits to see how the post-Brexit winds will blow

Calls for a second public vote have long been dismissed by politicians; both conservative Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition leader Jeremy Corbyn, head of the Labour party, have, at different points, ruled out the possibility. Any talk of a second referendum has been portrayed in the right-wing media as anti-democratic, a cause promoted by “out-of-touch Remoaners.” Yet it might not be out of touch after all. A January poll by ICM and the Guardian found a 16-point margin in favor of a referendum on the terms of the final Brexit deal.

Read more: Brexit Diaries: The Three Musketeers of Brexit make a return

A sitting member of the House of Lords, Adonis is hardly the ideal figurehead given the criticism of Remain supporters being elitist. On his tour around the country, he is being accompanied by a group of young anti-Brexit activists. Femi Oluwole, co-founder of “Our Future, Our Choice,” is one of these activists. He recently quit a traineeship at the EU Fundamental Rights Agency to campaign to stop Brexit.

“I know what’s coming if Brexit happens, and if I look back in 20 years, and I haven’t done everything in my power to stop it, I’d hate myself,” Oluwule told DW. “The fact is, the under-55 population of the UK voted to remain in the EU. If Brexit is supposed to mean making ‘all our own laws’ and negotiating ‘all our own trade deals,’ then Brexit can’t be completed in less than 20 years. By anyone’s maths, by 2021 we’re a “remain” country, based purely on age statistics.”

New referendum is an outside possibility

Until recent weeks, the whole idea of a second referendum seemed preposterous. But it remains an outside possibility as the clock ticks and political pressure over the Brexit deal mounts.

Read more: 2018: The year of Brexit decisions

“A second referendum is still a long shot, but it is gathering momentum and it looks more likely than it has at any time before — partly because the government is at serious risk of splitting as reality bites around reconciling the promises they’ve made on leaving the customs union and having no border in Ireland,” said Polly Mackenzie, director of the think tank Demos. “If that splits the government in a way that triggers a crisis, then a second referendum maybe the only way forward.”

In mid-January, Brexit campaign leader Nigel Farage appeared to advocate a second vote — although he later backtracked from this, saying he’d only meant that “Leave” supporters should prepare for the possibility. Adonis recently unearthed some 2011 comments by Brexit-supporting Tory MP Jacob Rees-Mogg: “We could have two referendums,” he said. “As it happens, it might make more sense to have the second referendum after the renegotiation is completed.”

Read more: Irexit: Brexit’s Nigel Farage takes fight to Ireland

A person holds a sign that reads 'Don't blame me I voted #Remain'Remainers only hope is a new referendum

Such statements from Brexit’s most high-profile advocates certainly make it harder to portray a second referendum as a plot by “Remain” campaigners. “Saying we should ignore the legitimate result of the referendum is out of touch,” says Mackenzie. “Saying we should ask people what they think cannot logically be out of touch — that’s just a convenient argument to shut people up.”

Conservatives split

Although Adonis and others are mobilizing to campaign for a second referendum, if it happens, it will most likely be because of splits in Westminster rather than political activism. “It all depends on whether the EU sticks to its guns on a final decision by autumn, or allows May to delay further,” Tom Follett, policy and projects manager at think tank ResPublica, told DW. “Politicians waiting for a big change in opinion won’t get it until May is forced once and for all to demonstrate that there is no ‘have cake and eat it’ option.”

The question of Europe has long divided the Conservative Party, and these divisions are still very much present. In recent months, May has been attacked by Brexiteers such as Rees-Mogg, because, despite her tough rhetoric, her actions point to a softer Brexit. Meanwhile, Remain-supporting Tories such as Anna Soubry have also criticized the government. It might be that a second referendum is needed in order to get unity in parliament.

Read more: The NHS and Brexit: Don’t get sick in the UK

Andrew AdonisAndrew Adonis may not be the most appealing figure to lead the campaign

“Going to the people could look like an attractive get-out for politicians facing a choice between a jobs-killing Brexit or a rule-taking relationship with the EU,” added Follett. “It is then that Adonis’s campaign will really matter because it establishes a second referendum as a ‘serious’ option. But by the time that big decision must happen, there could be very little opportunity left for parliament to arrange a referendum.”

For his part, Oluwole plans to continue campaigning. “It is not democracy if the decision of the people is based on the lies of those who hold the power. For the most part, I don’t blame people for voting Brexit. They listened to what their trusted politicians told them and did their best to make the right decision. However, we know that those most affected by Brexit voted against it. So we have a moral obligation to correct that injustice.”

Watch video04:36

The Brexit Big Band

COURTESY: DW

UK’s Boris Johnson: ‘Abundant evidence’ of Russian meddling

UK Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has repeated allegations of Russian meddling in Western politics after talks with his Russian counterpart Sergey Lavrov. Ties between the two countries have reached a low point.

Boris Johnson and Sergey Lavrov (picture alliance/AP Photo/P. Golovkin)

British Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson told a Moscow press conference on Friday that London could not ignore Russia’s interference in political processes around the world, its involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine or the ill-treatment of gay people in the republic of Chechnya.

Johnson, who was making the first official visit by a UK minister to Russia in five years, did not hesitate to repeat allegations that Russia had interfered in elections in Germany, France, the US and other countries, saying there was “abundant evidence” that it had done so.

In a tweet, Johnson said talks also covered the issues of the nuclear deal with Iran, the conflict in Syria, the nuclear tensions with North Korea and bilateral relations.

Frank talks w/ Russian foreign minister Lavrov in Moscow. We recognised many significant differences but agreed shared interests & global duties require dialogue. Talks covered UN security council priorities inc Iran/Syria/DPRK & bilateral relations

No ‘business as usual’

In a statement on Friday before arriving in Moscow for talks, Johnson had said normal bilateral relations could not exist while Russia persisted in its interference.

“Our relations with Russia cannot be ‘business as usual’ whilst Russia continues to attempt to destabilize European states, including Ukraine,” he said, adding, however, that it was “vital for international security” that the two countries talked.

Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov told the press conference that Moscow was ready to engage with London on equal terms, although the UK had made “insulting” statements in the past.

Watch video04:19

Russian hackers to target German elections

“We are ready to develop dialogue on a very wide range of issues on the basis of principles of equality (and) taking into account and respecting each other’s interests,” he said.

Ahead of the talks, Lavrov admitted that ties between the two countries were “at a very low point” but said that was “not at our initiative.”

Lavrov also said the two sides had agreed to discuss the impact of Brexit on trade ties between the UK and Russia.

Deteriorating ties

London-Moscow relations first took a turn for the worse after Britain demanded, and was refused, the extradition of a Russian security official over the murder by radiation poisoning of Kremlin critic and former spy Alexander Litvinenko in 2006.

Alexander Litvinenko (AP)Litvinenko’s murder continues to cloud UK-Russia ties

Russia’s involvement in the conflict in eastern Ukraine, its annexation of Crimea in 2014 and its military intervention in the Syria conflict on the side of President Bashar al-Assad dealt further blows to the two countries’ relationship.

Concern over the Kremlin’s use of cyber tactics and misinformation to destabilize European states has also undermined trust, with British Prime Minister Theresa May accusing Russia last month of “threatening the international world order on which we all depend.”

Moscow has also been angered by actions taken by British media regulators against Kremlin-funded news outlets such as RT UK, which have been accused of deliberately disseminating false information.

Russia continues to flatly deny the allegations.

tj/jil (AFP, Reuters)

courtesy: DW

Ireland border deal collapses after Northern Ireland’s DUP objects

A deal preventing a “hard border” from splitting the island of Ireland has collapsed at the last minute. Ireland’s premier said he was “disappointed” that the UK is no longer in a position to conclude the deal.

Watch video00:33

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar says Brexit deal failed at last minute

Ireland’s Prime Minister Leo Varadkar (pictured) on Monday said he was “disappointed” after the UK pulled out of an agreement on the status of the Irish border at the last minute.

“I am surprised and disappointed that the British government now appears not to be in a position to conclude what was agreed earlier today,” Varadkar told reporters in Dublin.

Earlier Monday, the UK appeared to agree for Northern Ireland to continue applying European single market and customs union rules to avoid a hard border with the Republic of Ireland post-Brexit.

‘Regulatory divergence’

The draft text on Ireland reportedly stated that the “UK will ensure continued regulatory alignment to the rules of the internal market and customs union which, now or in the future, support North-South cooperation and the protection of the Good Friday agreement.”

Although the precise definition of “regulatory alignment” remains unclear, it was believed to refer to the select single market rules that support ongoing co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

Read more: Northern Ireland’s fragile peace ‘all about the border’

However, Arlene Foster, who heads the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in Northern Ireland that forms part of the British government, said they would not accept a different status than that of the entire UK, effectively torpedoing hopes of a deal.

“We will not accept any form of regulatory divergence which separates Northern Ireland economically or politically from the rest of the United Kingdom,” said Foster.

Open border only

The Irish government had sought such a commitment. Earlier on Monday, Ireland’s Europe minister, Helen McEntee, told the BBC that Ireland would reject any proposals that didn’t guarantee that the border between Northern Ireland and the Republic remained open.

Read more:The Irish border — what you need to know

Britain is aiming to strike an agreement on the progress of Brexit negotiations so that talks can move on to the next-phase discussion over a post-Brexit trade deal.

Before the deal fell through, the British team reportedly insisted that the phrase “no regulatory divergence” be changed to “regulatory alignment,” as the former would have insinuated that Northern Ireland would have to continue accepting all EU single market rules.

Three outstanding issues

The text on Ireland is part of a paper entitled “The Joint Report from the European Commission and the United Kingdom Negotiators on Progress.”

Alongside the Irish border issue, Britain’s financial settlement and EU citizens’ rights are also under contention.

The EU negotiation team had given Britain until Monday to prove that sufficient progress had been made in the Brexit negotiations to advance talks.

Read more: Brexit poll: Half of Britons support second referendum

Elmar Brok, a member of the European parliament’s Brexit group, said he believed there was a “very good chance” of a comprehensive Brexit deal. Brok added that he was “astonished” at how far the negotiations had progressed and that differences remained over “just a few words.”

amp, dm, ls/se (Reuters, AFP, AP, dpa)

Courtesy: DW

Brexit: EU and UK ‘close to financial agreement’

Reports suggest the UK government has made a significantly improved offer to the EU on the terms of its Brexit financial settlement. There’s talk of “sufficient progress” before a December 4 meeting but doubts remain.

Belgien Brexit-Verhandlungen (picture alliance /dpa//ZUMA Wire/W. Dabkowski)

The EU and the UK are close to agreement on the final Brexit ‘divorce bill’ — the share of EU liabilities the UK will pay upon leaving the bloc — according to several reports in the British media reported late on Tuesday.

The BBC, the Financial Times, the Guardian and several other British newspapers and media outlets are reporting that following a UK government cabinet meeting last week, the British significantly upped their offer to Brussels, coming much closer than they previously had to the EU’s estimate of the UK’s financial obligations.

According to several EU diplomats and officials, intense negotiations have led to the UK broadly agreeing to the terms of a financial settlement that could see the country paying a net amount of at least €50 billion ($59 billion) over a period of several years after it leaves the EU in March 2019.

When asked on Wednesday about the reports, the EU’s chief negotiator on Brexit Michel Barnier said: “We are working really, really hard on these subjects. I hope that I can report that we have been able to negotiate a deal.”

While nothing official has been announced, the reports suggest the two sides are close enough on the issue for the EU to deem “sufficient progress” has been made on it when a crucial meeting takes place between British prime minister Theresa May and European Commission president Jean-Claude Juncker on Monday, December 4.

Theresa May (Getty Images/G.V. Wijngart)

“I think we can reach sufficient progress, but again we haven’t seen anything on paper yet, so I am always extremely cautious,” said one EU official involved in the talks.

Splitting the bill

The so-called ‘divorce bill’ relates to a series of liabilities the UK has in relation to its 44-year membership of the EU.

Membership of the bloc means member states are committed to paying a share of various EU liabilities— thought to be around €745 billion — that relate to various costs ranging from the EU budget to pensions and loan repayments.

Both the EU and the UK government have declined to comment in any significant detail so far. However, the reports have raised hopes that the UK is edging closer to moving onto the next stage of talks, which will deal with trade and the UK’s future relationship with the EU.

Watch video01:06

Hoping to move negotiations forward, UK said to prepare new Brexit bill offer

Theresa May is expected to formally present the change in the British position to the EU next week, although both sides say no final exit settlement figure will be agreed on at this stage.

The UK has been pushing for a calculation model which avoids one lump-sum figure, and which instead recalculates the level of liabilities on a year by year basis into the future.

Bordering on progress?

The news comes at a particularly crucial and sensitive moment in the entire Brexit process. When May and Juncker meet in five days’ time, all three of the big issues will be on the table, namely: the ‘divorce bill’, EU citizens’ rights and the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

If the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier deems sufficient progress to have been made on all three issues, the green light may be given to progress the Brexit talks into the next stage, with the final decision on that to be made at a European council meeting of the bloc’s leaders on December 14 and 15.

While progress has been made on the issue of citizens rights’, and with the latest reports suggesting the EU may well be sufficiently satisfied with the “divorce bill” issue for now, that leaves the border issue as the primary stumbling block.

With the Irish government very unhappy with the manner in which the British government has approached the border issue to date, there remains the possibility that it may use its veto to stop Barnier deeming “sufficient progress” has been made on it, further stalling the negotiations.

As with the specific details on precisely what the UK will offer in terms of a financial settlement, the border issue and everything else ought to become at least a little clearer when May meets Juncker on Monday.

Watch video01:56

EU wants 60 billion euros

COURTESY: DW

Opinion: Trouble brewing in every corner of Europe

This EU summit proves: Trouble is brewing in every corner of Europe. But the bloc does not need grand visions; it needs practical solutions to the problems it faces, says DW’s Christoph Hasselbach.

Angela Merkel at the EU Summit (Imago/Belga/D. Gys)

It doesn’t seem that long ago that in the aftermath of the global financial crisis, the most pressing question in Brussels was simply whether the party winning the European elections should appoint the European Commission president. Today, that issue seems absurdly irrelevant. Now, nary a month passes in which some deeply troubling development doesn’t come along to threaten the very foundation of the EU.

We have all gotten used to the UK’s imminent divorce from Europe. But Brexit alone, and the ramifications thereof, puts the very existence of the EU in doubt. Hungary and Poland have dissociated themselves from the EU’s bedrock rule-of-law principles. Spain is in its deepest state crisis in decadesas Catalonia pushes for independence. The continued arrival of refugees has split the continent along deep ideological divides that seemed unthinkable just a few years ago. And parties that want to curb or do away with the EU for good are gaining new supporters each day.

Nothing is certain anymore

Things do not look much better beyond Europe’s borders. Whether Donald Trump, Recep Tayyip Erdogan or Vladimir Putin, traditional partners have now become unreliable partners, even enemies in some cases. And with that, back to the bloc: One may have expected the murder of an investigative journalist in Russia, but in quaint EU member state Malta? What has become of us?

Christoph Hasselbach (DW/M.Müller)DW’s Christoph Hasselbach

All of this is happening simultaneously. Nothing that was certain just a few years ago seems that way today. Further European integration as a founding principle? That was then.

The question is how the EU will deal with this new complexity. German Chancellor Angela Merkel, until now the bloc’s undisputed leader, has emerged weaker after national elections. She will not be able to play the role as confidently as she did in the past.

Macron already demystified

French President Emmanuel Macron has offered his services as the savior and restorer of the European ideal. But the European whiz kid is quickly losing his charm, and not just in France. Should his proposed fiscal reforms become law, they will have very adverse consequences for Germany. But that is not all: Macron has warned the EU that he intends to sign bilateral trade deals with third parties. He justified the idea by claiming that French citizens are suffering the ill effects of globalization and need to be protected. Retreat from a cold world – is that what has become of the European idea?

True, the spirit of the times is currently moving toward nationalism, identity and separation. European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker’s proposal to extend the euro and the Schengen Area to encompass all EU states therefore seems unrealistic and counterproductive.

The EU does not need grand visions in times like these; it needs practical solutions to its many problems: Stopping illegal immigration is something that all member states can agree on. So is expanding and upgrading the EU’s digital infrastructure. And all states could benefit from more cooperation on defense issues. These are all points that the summit will seek to advance. One cannot expect more than that right now, but we should not accept anything less.

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  • Courtesy: DW