Joint Statement on behalf of President Juncker and Prime Minister May (Mlex): EU commission president Jean-Claude Juncker and UK premier Theresa May held “constructive” talks on Brexit this evening, agreeing to explore the “role alternative arrangements could play in replacing the [Irish] backstop in future.” The leaders also discussed potential guarantees to underline the backstop’s temporary nature, as well as possible additions to the “political declaration” on future relations. May and Juncker will speak again before the end of the month.
Three pro-EU Tory MPs defect to independent parliamentary group (FT): Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston will work with eight MPs who quit the Labour party on Monday to form the Independent Group. In a major challenge to prime minister Theresa May, the three Europhile MPs said they were leaving the Tory party over its “shift to the right” and Brexit policy. They added in a letter to Mrs May that the Conservatives were now dominated by the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs and the pro-Brexit Democratic Unionist party, which props up the prime minister’s minority government. “We no longer feel we can remain in the party of a government whose policies and priorities are so firmly in the grip of the European Research Group and Democratic Unionist party,” said the three MPs.
Ireland alarmed by UK’s food tariff plans in no-deal Brexit (FT): Mr Gove is preparing tariffs and quotas on beef, lamb and dairy products ahead of Britain’s scheduled exit date of March 29, sending shockwaves through an industry that sends 37 per cent of its exports to the UK. Irish beef could be hit with tariffs of up to 53 per cent if Britain applied World Trade Organisation rates, which would translate into a €750m hit in the beef sector alone. But Mr Gove is facing resistance within the British government from Philip Hammond, the chancellor, and Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, who insist that tariffs must remain low in order to protect UK consumers’ access to affordable food. One UK official said there was “an epic row” on the issue at a recent meeting, while another said that prime minister Theresa May would have to resolve the issue next week. Meanwhile, no-deal fears have spurred deep anxiety in Irish business that the failure of Brussels-London talks — which have shown little sign of movement — would trigger a “substantial slowdown” in Ireland’s economic growth.
Judge forces EU agency to pay London lease despite Brexit move (FT): The European Medicines Agency must comply with the lease on its London headquarters despite the UK’s exit from the EU, a judge ruled on Wednesday in a closely watched case dealing with the validity of contracts after Brexit. The judge, Marcus Smith, handed down a victory for Canary Wharf Group, the EMA’s London landlord, which had refused to accept that Brexit would invalidate the sector regulator’s 25-year lease and an associated £500m of costs. The judge sped up the case to ensure a ruling before the UK’s scheduled departure from the EU on March 29, but said on Wednesday that the questions of costs and permission to appeal would be adjourned until another hearing.
Retail investors at risk in Brexit dual-listing tussle (FT): The fate of dual-listed shares is the latest point of contention a hard Brexit has thrown up for Europe’s capital markets. Ryanair, British Airways owner IAG and Unilever are among the companies that will be hit by the stipulation from Brussels that EU-based investors can only trade shares on exchanges it recognises. It is a status EU authorities do not plan to extend to London venues if Britain leaves the trading bloc abruptly at the end of next month. That will force EU-based asset managers to buy and sell the shares of the affected companies at typically less liquid and competitive exchanges outside London. Retail investors have almost €40bn tied up in companies with dual-listed shares, according to an analysis of Ucits funds from the German Investment Funds Association, or BVI.
UK banks in Italy should warn customers of Brexit consequences, regulator says (Mlex): In view of the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union, the Bank of Italy has called on British financial institutions operating in Italy to inform their Italian clients about the measures adopted and the consequences for existing contractual relations, underlining the need to ensure full compliance with contractual obligations and the provisions governing their activities in Italy. The communication – sent to banks, payment institutions and e-money institutions authorized to provide their products and services according to procedures under European law – gives clear indications as to which information has to be provided promptly to all customers to ensure an orderly, transparent and correct management of existing relationships following ‘Brexit’.
Visa-free travel plan derailed again by Spanish demands over status of Gibraltar (Guardian): British tourists travelling to continental Europe may need to pay £52 for a visa in a few weeks after Spanish demands over the status of Gibraltar again derailed Brussels’ preparations for Brexit. Agreement on legislation exempting UK nationals from requiring the travel permit is mired in a dispute over whether the British overseas territory should be described as a “colony” in the EU’s statute book. Spain has insisted, with the reluctant support of the other 26 member states, that a footnote containing the contentious description of the disputed territory is added to the legislation. But on Wednesday morning the European parliament rejected the language proposed by the council of the European Union, the body that represents the member states. It is the third time the member states’ proposal has been sent back by MEPs and casts doubt over whether the legislation can be salvaged in the next few weeks.