David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Ed Miliband before the Queen's Speech on June 4, 2014. Photograph: Getty Images.
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Party leaders unite to promise more powers for Scotland

Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems issue joint declaration on "further strengthening" the Scottish Parliament. 

There is no majority for Scottish independence, a situation that is unlikely to change before next month's referendum, but the polls have long shown popular support for greater powers to be transferred to Holyrood. With this in mind, and ahead of tonight's TV debate between Alistair Darling and Alex Salmond, the three main party leaders and their Scottish equivalents have united to promise further devolution in the event of a No vote. 

Here's the joint declaration they've just released:

Power lies with the Scottish people and we believe it is for the Scottish people to decide how Scotland is governed. 

 

We believe that the pooling and sharing of resources across the United Kingdom is to Scotland's benefit in a partnership of nations in which distinct national identities can flourish and be celebrated. 

 

We believe that Scotland and the United Kingdom as a whole have been strengthened since the advent of devolution. 

 

We support a strong Scottish Parliament in a strong United Kingdom and we support the further strengthening of the Parliament's powers. 

 

The three parties delivered more powers for Holyrood through the Calman Commission which resulted in the Scotland Act 2012. 

 

We now pledge to strengthen further the powers of the Scottish Parliament, in particular in the areas of fiscal responsibility and social security. We believe that Scotland should have a stronger Scottish Parliament while retaining full representation for Scotland in the UK Parliament. That can bring people together from all of Scotland, from civic society and every community. 

 

The Scottish Labour Party, the Scottish Conservative and Unionist Party and the Scottish Liberal Democrats have each produced our own visions of the new powers which the Scottish Parliament needs. 

 

We shall put those visions before the Scottish people at the next general election and all three parties guarantee to start delivering more powers for the Scottish Parliament as swiftly as possible in 2015.

 

This commitment will deliver a stronger Scottish Parliament in a stronger United Kingdom.

 

Signed by:

 

Johann Lamont, Leader of the Scottish Labour Party

 

Ruth Davidson, Leader of the Scottish Conservative & Unionist Party

 

Willie Rennie, Leader of the Scottish Liberal Democrats

 

Ed Miliband, Leader of the Labour Party

 

David Cameron, Leader of the Conservative Party

The move is designed to counter the nationalist claim that the only way to guarantee new powers for the Scottish Parliament is to vote for independence. In this respect, it is the reverse of the intervention launched by the economic spokesmen of the three main parties earlier this year when they announced that the UK would deny an independent Scotland permission to use the pound. Having focused on what the country couldn't do after separation (resulting in a largely negative tone), the leaders are now emphasising what it could do as part of the union. 

The Yes campaign will undoubtedly reject their words as too vague (and there are significant divisions between the parties over how far future devolution should go), while others will question why this positive message wasn't delivered earlier in the campaign. But as Darling prepares for what will be a testing debate with Salmond, their intervention will help to shore up his position. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Who is the EU's chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier?

The former French foreign minister has shown signs that he will play hardball in negotiations.

The European Commission’s chief Brexit negotiator today set an October 2018 deadline for the terms of Britain’s divorce from the European Union to be agreed. Michel Barnier gave his first press conference since being appointed to head up what will be tough talks between the EU and UK.

Speaking in Brussels, he warned that UK-EU relations had entered “uncharted waters”. He used the conference to effectively shorten the time period for negotiations under Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty, the legal process to take Britain out of the EU. The article sets out a two year period for a country to leave the bloc.

But Barnier, 65, warned that the period of actual negotiations would be shorter than two years and there would be less than 18 months to agree Brexit.  If the terms were set in October 2018, there would be five months for the European Parliament, European Council and UK Parliament to approve the deal before a March 2019 Brexit.

But who is the urbane Frenchman who was handpicked by Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker to steer the talks?

A centre-right career politician, Barnier is a member of the pan-EU European People’s Party, like Juncker and German Chancellor Angela Merkel.

A committed European and architect of closer eurozone banking integration, Barnier rose to prominence after being elected aged just 27 to the French National Assembly.  He is notorious in Brussels for his repeated references to the 1992 Winter Olympics he organised in Albertville with triple Olympic ski champion Jean-Claude Killy.

He first joined the French cabinet in 1993 as minister of the environment. In 1995, Jacques Chirac made him Secretary of State for European Affairs, teeing up a long and close relationship with Brussels.

Barnier has twice served as France’s European Commissioner, under the administrations of Romano Prodi and José Manuel BarrosoMost recently he was serving as an unpaid special advisor on European Defence Policy to Juncker until the former prime minister of Luxembourg made him Brexit boss.“I wanted an experienced politician for this difficult job,” Juncker said at the time of Barnier, who has supported moves towards an EU army.

 

Barnier and the Brits

Barnier’s appointment was controversial. Under Barroso, he was Internal Market commissioner. Responsible for financial services legislation at the height of the crisis, he clashed with the City of London.

During this period he was memorably described as a man who, in a hall of mirrors, would stop and check his reflection in every one.

Although his battles with London’s bankers were often exaggerated, the choice of Barnier was described as an “act of war” by some British journalists and was greeted with undisguised glee by Brussels europhiles.

Barnier moved to calm those fears today. At the press conference, he said, “I was 20 years old, a very long time ago, when I voted for the first time and it was in the French referendum on the accession of the UK to the EU.

“That time I campaigned for a yes vote. And I still think today that I made right choice.”

But Barnier, seen by some as aloof and arrogant, also showed a mischievous side.  It was reported during Theresa May’s first visit to Brussels as prime minister that he was demanding that all the Brexit talks be conducted in French.

While Barnier does speak English, he is far more comfortable talking in his native French. But the story, since denied, was seen as a snub to the notoriously monolingual Brits.

The long lens photo of a British Brexit strategy note that warned the EU team was “very French” may also have been on his mind as he took the podium in Brussels today.

Barnier asked, “In French or in English?” to laughter from the press.

He switched between English and French in his opening remarks but only answered questions in French, using translation to ensure he understood the questions.

Since his appointment Barnier has posted a series of tweets which could be seen as poking fun at Brexit. On a tour of Croatia to discuss the negotiations, he posed outside Zagreb’s Museum of Broken Relationships asking, “Guess where we are today?”

 

 

He also tweeted a picture of himself drinking prosecco after Boris Johnson sparked ridicule by telling an Italian economics minister his country would have to offer the UK tariff-free trade to sell the drink in Britain.

But Barnier can also be tough. He forced through laws to regulate every financial sector, 40 pieces of legislation in four years, when he was internal market commissioner, in the face of sustained opposition from industry and some governments.

He warned today, "Being a member of the EU comes with rights and benefits. Third countries [the UK] can never have the same rights and benefits since they are not subject to same obligations.”

On the possibility of Britain curbing free movement of EU citizens and keeping access to the single market, he was unequivocal.

“The single market and four freedoms are indivisible. Cherry-picking is not an option,” he said.

He stressed that his priority in the Brexit negotiations would be the interests of the remaining 27 member states of the European Union, not Britain.

“Unity is the strength of the EU and President Juncker and I are determined to preserve the unity and interest of the EU-27 in the Brexit negotiations.”

In a thinly veiled swipe at the British, again greeted with laughter in the press room, he told reporters, “It is much better to show solidarity than stand alone. I repeat, it is much better to show solidarity than stand alone”.

Referring to the iconic British poster that urged Brits to "Keep Calm and Carry On” during World War Two, he today told reporters, “We are ready. Keep calm and negotiate.”

But Barnier’s calm in the face of the unprecedented challenge to the EU posed by Brexit masks a cold determination to defend the European project at any cost.

James Crisp is the news editor at EurActiv, an online EU news service.