Brexit News for Sunday 11 February

Brexit News for Sunday 11 February
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Michel Barnier is risking a UK walkout, EU states fear  

The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator has “fractured” the coalition of 27 countries by dramatically stepping up his aggression towards Britain, the Telegraph has been told. Diplomats from multiple EU countries have questioned whether “anyone” could be expected to accept terms put forward by Michel Barnier last week, with one suggesting to this newspaper that in the same position they would “walk away and then see how the EU does without the money”. A Whitehall source said that French figures had expressed particular anger at the “lack of consultation” on a draft document published by Mr Barnier on Wednesday which included a so-called punishment clause that would allow Brussels to ground aircraft and block trade if the UK failed to obey EU rules during the transition period. – Telegraph (£)

Theresa May prepares to unveil her ‘Road Map for Brexit’ in a bid to quell Eurosceptic uprising…

Pledging to make the UK a “truly global, free-trading nation”, the Prime Minister will spearhead a series of keynote speeches in the coming weeks to underline her positive vision for a post-Brexit Britain. The fightback comes as around 100 Eurosceptic Tory MPs, led by “Brexiteer-in-chief” Jacob Rees-Mogg, are preparing to step up the pressure on Mrs May to honour the 12-point plan she laid out in her original landmark Lancaster House speech on Brexit. The group is understood to be in talks over sending Mrs May a letter calling for Britain to break all ties with Brussels once we leave on March 29, 2019. – Sunday Express

  • Besieged Theresa May pressed to put some Brexit meat on the cabinet table – Sunday Times (£)
  • PM and ministers to set out ‘road to Brexit’ – BBC News
  • Remoaner Philip Hammond’s EU speeches blocked by Downing Street over Brexit negativity – Sunday Express

…as the Prime Minister says she is ‘ready to withhold EU cash’ unless we can veto rules in Brexit transition…

Theresa May is ready to pull the plug on Britain’s EU payments if we are forced to obey new directives in the run-up to Brexit. The PM has told aides she will only cough up our full contribution if we retain our veto powers. She will hammer out her “no say, no pay” warning as she gives her clearest vision yet of life outside the EU. Mrs May will set out her stall in a major speech dubbed “Road to Brexit” within the next few weeks. It will be the grand finale in a series of six keynote addresses by senior ministers detailing the end state once Britain has left. The fine details will be hammered out at a Cabinet away day in Chequers at the end of next week. – Sun on Sunday

…while pledging to keep EU arrest warrant and Europol links

Theresa May will pledge to keep Britain closely tied to the EU for security reasons this week as she launches a final push to settle the UK’s blueprint for Brexit. The prime minister will use a speech in Munich on Saturday to announce that Britain will remain part of the European arrest warrant and Europol, the EU’s law enforcement agency. She will make the case that the arrest warrant has kept British citizens safe and demonstrates that the UK can benefit from continued close co-operation with Brussels. In 2016-17, 196 people were arrested using the warrant after a request from this country, up from 150 the year before. – Sunday Times (£)

Cabinet Brexiteers reject Theresa May’s halfway house plan to keep Britain partially in the EU single market as ‘a plot to frustrate Brexit’

Theresa May’s attempt to keep Britain partially in the EU’s single market has been rejected by Leavers in her Cabinet and described as a ‘plot to frustrate Brexit’. The plan, which was cooked up by the PM’s top EU advisor, was supposed to work as a compromise between the Leavers and the former Remainers lead by Chancellor Philip Hammond. However, the Leavers rejected the compromise, claiming that it would still leave Britain at the mercy of new EU rules. – Mail on Sunday

Oliver Robbins, May’s chief Brexit adviser, was ‘student Sir Humphrey’ bent on federal Europe

To his allies and admirers, Oliver Robbins is the very model of a modern major mandarin whose cool devotion to duty is helping Britain achieve a smooth departure from the EU. To his Eurosceptic critics Theresa May’s chief Brexit negotiator is the great betrayer, a pro-Brussels Machiavelli driving a Trojan horse into the heart of government and steering the prime minister inexorably towards a soft Brexit. Now the more suspicious among them will really have something to chew on when they learn that Robbins, 42, was a pro-EU activist who fought for a federal Europe during his days at Oxford University two decades ago — and was such a sinuous operator that he was even dubbed “Sir Humphrey” — after the pompous civil servant in the BBC’s Yes Minister — by his fellow students. – Sunday Times (£)

George Soros defends £400,000 donation to pro-EU campaign

Billionaire investor George Soros has defended his decision to hand £400,000 to a campaign arguing against Brexit – and says he considers leaving the EU a “tragic mistake”. Mr Soros came under fire last week after the Telegraph revealed he was backing the Remain-supporting campaign group Best for Britain. The investor is one of three senior figures linked to the group who plan to launch a nationwide advertising campaign this month, which they hope will lead to a second referendum to keep Britain in the EU. The campaign is trying to recruit major Tory donors in an attempt to undermine Theresa May. – Telegraph

EU environment plan ‘putting 20,000 defence jobs at risk’

Britain risks losing £5billion worth of defence contracts to France amid a looming EU trade war. The two countries are bidding to sell fighter jets and other kit to Malaysia in a deal which would safeguard 20,000 jobs. But the move has been thrown into jeopardy to ban imports of palm oil from the would-be buyers. Malaysian minister Mah Siew Keong has branded it a “hate campaign” and has threatened a tit-for-tat boycott of European goods. France, which wants to sell its own Rafale fighters to Kuala Lumpur, has outflanked Britain by promising to oppose the EU ban. Mr Mah travels to Britain this week to demand our support – but his arrival has sparked a Cabinet rift. – Sun on Sunday

UK’s food and drink exports hit record £22billion after Brexit

British food and drink exports hit a record £22billion last year as Brexit sparked a boom in global demand. Overseas demand hit an all-time high as the world clamoured to try our most popular products. Whisky, salmon, meat and dairy products flew off the shelves as orders from China, America and Hong Kong triggered a surge in sales. Treasury figures reveal that 13.2 tons of food was sold abroad in 2017 – bringing in an extra £2billion since we voted to leave the EU. The huge foreign sales spike saw 484 million bottles of whisky shipped overseas last year – equivalent to 1.3 million bottles a day. The overall value of Scotch exports rose nine per cent to £4.36billion, the strongest growth in six years. – Sun on Sunday

‘Passports for Pets’ scheme allowing cats and dogs free movement across the Continent will be preserved post-Brexit, Government pledges

It was a warning shot in the Brexit stand-off that caused concern for animal-lovers across the UK. But now the Government has pledged that the ‘Passport for Pets’ scheme which allows vaccinated cats, dogs – and even ferrets – free movement across the Continent will be preserved after Britain leaves the EU. Brussels’ chief negotiator Michel Barnier sparked fears that British travellers might not be able to take their pets with them on European holidays when he warned in November that a ‘no deal’ Brexit would have consequences ‘including the ability of dogs and cats to cross the Channel’. – Mail on Sunday

Emmanuel Macron’s rush for federal Europe runs into Berlin’s coalition wall

The champagne is still on ice in Paris as French diplomats come to grips with the fact that the new German coalition government is not going to join up to President Emmanuel Macron’s soaring vision for Europe. Macron set out his wish for a common budget, a finance minister and a parliament for the 19 members of the eurozone, in a speech at the Sorbonne last year. “Those who want to go further, faster, must do so without being stopped . . . faced with these challenges the Franco-German impetus will be decisive,” he said. But the young French leader has run into the sands of coalition politics in Germany, despite his personal chemistry with Angela Merkel. – Sunday Times (£)

Telegraph: Message to Brussels – if the transition is in doubt, so is the divorce bill

What is wrong with Michel Barnier? The EU’s chief negotiator is clearly out of control and needs to be reined in by those for whom he claims to speak. His grandstanding has now crossed a line: he insulted the UK at his most recent press conference – patronising us and effectively accusing us of lying – as he defended a ridiculous punishment clause that threatens Britain with grounded flights and blocked trade if we break with EU law during the transition. The transition itself, said Mr Barnier, “is not a given”. In which case, neither is the £39 billion we have generously offered as a divorce settlement. The whole point of making that offer was to move the negotiations on to phase two, covering the transition, and if Brussels wants to reopen the debate about the transition then we can reopen the debate about the divorce bill. – Sunday Telegraph editorial

Sun on Sunday: Stand up to EU bully boy Barnier, Mrs May – we have too much to gain

Prime Minister Theresa May is right to demand that Britain can veto EU diktats during the two-year transitional period. Brexit supremo David Davis wants “a deep and special partnership” with the bloc once we leave in March 2019. But clearly the feeling is not mutual. Brussels chief Michel Barnier would rather punish us instead of striking deals that would be in BOTH our interests. Why should we fill their coffers with billions and not have any say on the rules imposed upon us? In the coming weeks, Mrs May and her ministers will outline what Brexit Britain will look like. About time. It is vital she emphasises that we could walk away with no deal and leave under WTO rules — if EU bigwigs continue aggressively punishing us. – Sun on Sunday editorial

Liam Fox: Ignore the Remoaners’ slick marketing… the facts simply show what’s best for Britain

Earlier this week it was reported that huge sums of money are pouring into a new campaign to fight Brexit. Best For Britain is planning a massive media operation with the sole aim of overturning the referendum result and keeping Britain in the EU. They have every right to do that, but in response I’d like to make my own case about what’s “best for Britain” based on the reality of what we’ve seen since the referendum. I won’t need to rely on slick marketing, and it won’t cost me a penny, because I can simply point to the facts. In 2017, we saw the highest level of Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) projects into the United Kingdom in our history — a vote of confidence in the future from real investors. We also saw that exports of our goods increased by 15.9 per cent and services rose by 11.6 per cent to  £617billion in the year to October 2017. – Liam Fox for the Sun on Sunday

James Forsyth: Where the Brexit inner Cabinet is heading

There have been two meetings of the Brexit inner Cabinet this week. But as I say in The Sun this week, the government is still making its way towards a detailed, negotiating position. Indeed, in one of the meetings this week, Theresa May emphasised that the ministers didn’t need to come to a decision that day. That may have led to a more constructive conversation. But as Jeremy Heywood delicately pointed out, taking these decisions won’t get easier with time. With the crunch EU council meeting next month, the UK doesn’t have much more time either. The longer the UK waits, the harder it will be to build diplomatic support for its preferred solutions. – James Forsyth for the Spectator

Sean O’Grady: Leaving the customs union doesn’t have to be the disaster it’s made out to be – here’s why

Experience shows that there are some checks at the Turkey-Bulgaria border and on the roads between Norway and Sweden, to offer two different examples, but changing the UK’s customs arrangements need not mean chaos or a return to the Irish Troubles. “A new customs partnership”, like agreeing to be friends after a divorce, may not look realistic or desirable during a breakup, and is obviously inferior to marriage, but it is not unprecedented in either case. Barnier is right to make his warning, and he is usually right, but he underestimates the ability of his own officials to deal with new customs regimes. – Sean O’Grady for the Independent

Daniel Hannan: No Left-winger should want to stay in the customs union

When Jeremy Corbyn announced that Labour would leave the EU’s customs union, not a single commentator remarked on the reason he gave. Labour was against the customs union, said the old boy, because it was “protectionist against developing countries”. Spot on, Jezza! Euro-protectionism was, in large measure, why Labour opposed joining the Common Market in the first place. Clement Attlee was acutely aware of the millions of Commonwealth volunteers who had rushed to Britain’s aid in the war. He didn’t see why his East End constituents should pay more to wealthy French farmers than to poor African farmers. – Daniel Hannan for the Telegraph (£)

Dominic Lawson: Only indecision will make us a vassal state

‘Confused? You won’t be.” This catchphrase from the 1970s sitcom Soap has been on my mind over the past few days, as the British and EU’s chief Brexit negotiators — David Davis and Michel Barnier — have been commenting testily on each other’s demands. That catchphrase always followed a convoluted summary of the plots and capers of previous episodes, and was, naturally, telling us the opposite: such was the complexity of the various domestic conflicts in the family portrayed that confusion was the viewers’ only rational response. So it is with each latest instalment of The Brexit Talks. First of all, are they talks? Or talks about talks? Or talks about talks about talks? Originally we understood there would just be a divorce deal — described as The Withdrawal Agreement. But then the parties decided it would not be possible to construct such an agreement by March 2019, the date on which, having invoked Article 50, Britain would cease to be a member of the EU. – Dominic Lawson for the Sunday Times (£)

Macer Hall: Brexiteers are being drowned out by flag-waving, pro-Brussels angry mob

Kate Hoey, the Eurosceptic Labour MP and high-profile Leave campaigner, says she has been frequently called “traitor” and was this week confronted by one angry activist wearing a hat in the EU’s blue-and-gold livery who shouted at her: “You would sell your own mother.” Colleagues from across the House report similar experiences. Such ugly scenes in the precincts of Parliament symbolise a wider coarsening of the Brexit debate as next year’s departure date looms. Arguments which were bad-tempered enough in the run-up to the 2016 referendum are becoming ever more rancourous. The bitterness reflects a deepening sense among the hardliners who want to stop Brexit that their time is running out. – Macer Hall for the Express

Janet Daley: The EU is panicking. Theresa May’s ‘paralysis’ on Brexit could help her to triumph

What kind of organisation threatens people who want to leave? Offhand, I can think of only three examples: mafia families, secret societies attempting to undermine the existing order, and religious cults. Arguably, the European Union is a bit of all of those, contrary to its view of itself as the very model of an idealistic, enlightened political entity. The next-but-last splenetic ultimatum from Michel Barnier and his friends, which David Davis described with epic restraint as “discourteous” (only to have even this mild epithet fervently denounced by Mr Barnier), was peculiarly startling. First, it contained warnings which Mr Barnier could scarcely have discussed with the heads of member states for whom the consequences would be critical. Is he seriously suggesting that Spain, whose economy would probably tank without British tourism, will happily agree to refuse landing rights to UK airplanes? Or that Italy – with 60 per cent youth unemployment – would welcome a trade war with us? You only have to say these things to realise how ridiculous they are. – Janet Daley for the Telegraph (£)

Charles Moore: Remainers need to understand the depth of their failure – and wait a generation

The Brexit drama is a strange mixture of deep passions and mind-bending technicalities. Most of us react to it in terms of the former – quite rightly, because that is what it is about. What did you feel on Monday, for example, when the EU’s chief negotiator, Michel Barnier, chose a visit to Downing Street to announce that if Britain were outside the customs union, trade barriers would be “unavoidable”? Or yesterday, when he told us what sort of border we must have with Ireland? Brexiteers, I would guess, felt affronted, as people in far-flung lands must have felt in the 19th century when an arrogant pro-consul of the British Empire walked confidently into a hallowed institution of their country and issued them with orders. – Charles Moore for the Telegraph

Brexit in brief

  • Some questions for the long term forecasters – John Redwood’s Diary
  • The Belfast Agreement should not be hijacked to sacralise all of Dublin’s demands – Henry Hill for ConservativeHome
  • The EU’s ‘punishment period’ is an affront to our most fundamental democratic & constitutional foundations – Reece Coombes for Bruges Group
  • Put your trust in your Brexit  – Sunday Express editorial
  • Why the solution to our Brexit impasse is to join EFTA – and thereby rejoin the EEA – Mark Burrows for ConservativeHome
  • On Brexit, Theresa May should not try to appease the Tory right – Anna Soubry for the FT (£)
  • A new agenda of respect can strengthen us after Brexit – Kevin Pringle for the Sunday Times (£)
  • UK Brexit commitments must be put in writing, says Ireland’s Flanagan – RTE
  • Senior Scottish Tories believe Whitehall resistance to devolution has held up a deal on the smooth transfer of powers from Europe to Holyrood after Brexit – Sunday Times (£)