UK at risk of ‘sleepwalking’ into staying in the EU, warns Brexit Secretary: Brexit News for Sunday 12 May

UK at risk of ‘sleepwalking’ into staying in the EU, warns Brexit Secretary: Brexit News for Sunday 12 May
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UK at risk of ‘sleepwalking’ into staying in the EU, warns Brexit Secretary

Steve Barclay fears a further extension may not be granted by the EU, which could leave MPs pulling the plug on Brexit. He is braced for fury from Remainer Cabinet colleagues when he presents proposals in the next fortnight for ramping up No Deal exit planning. He said: “The message from Brussels is clear — if Britain has not left the EU by October 31, we will be faced with a stark choice: a No Deal Brexit or no Brexit at all. “We are at real risk of sleepwalking into remaining in the EU. “That is why I believe it would be inexcusable for the Government to not use the coming months to continue to prepare for No Deal.” Mr Barclay insists PM Theresa May has been advised to accelerate No Deal planning as a key negotiating tactic ahead of the October deadline. But he fears the Commons will vote to revoke the UK’s departure rather than accept No Deal. He said: “Every MP is now faced with a tough choice — vote for a deal or head towards a showdown in October where we may lose Brexit together. The EU will decide for us. “If we don’t roll up our shirt sleeves and pass the deal, we risk them losing patience and refusing any more time.” – The Sun

Brexit Party poll surge sparks panic among Tories and Labour

Senior Tory and Labour politicians have issued frantic calls to their voters to back them in next week’s European elections after a new poll showed support for Nigel Farage’s Brexit party had soared to a level higher than for the two main parties put together. The Opinium survey for the Observer places the Brexit party on 34%, when people were asked how they intended to vote on 23 May, with Labour slipping to 21% and the Conservatives collapsing to just 11%. Ominously for Theresa May, support for the Tories at the European elections is now less than a third of that for Farage’s party, and below that for the Liberal Democrats, who are on 12%. The poll suggests the Brexit party, launched only last month, is now on course for a thumping victory that Farage will, MPs fear, use to back his argument that the UK must leave the EU immediately without a deal. – Observer

  • Brexit Party beats Tories in general election poll and would win 49 seats in Commons – Sunday Telegraph (£)
  • Brexit Party will win more votes than Labour and Conservatives combined in European elections – MailOnline
  • Brexit Party to win more votes than Labour and Conservatives combined, new poll suggests – Evening Standard
  • Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party polling higher than Labour and Tories combined before EU elections – Sky News

Ex-Defence Secretary Gavin Williamson predicts May’s Brexit talks with Labour will fail…

Sacked defence secretary Gavin Williamson has claimed Theresa May’s attempts to do a Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn are “destined to fail” and will “end in tears”. Breaking cover after his brutal sacking by the prime minister over a security leak 10 days ago, he said the Brexit talks with Labour are “politically naïve”, a “grave mistake” and a “betrayal of democracy”. His attack, in a hard-hitting article in The Mail On Sunday, will heighten fears in Downing Street that Mr Williamson is planning to make an explosive personal statement about his sacking in the Commons. Mr Williamson has denied leaking information from the National Security Council and claimed he was the victim of a “kangaroo court”, despite the PM claiming there was “compelling evidence” against him. In his article, he says it is tempting to think the easiest way to achieve Brexit is to do a deal with Mr Corbyn, but adds: “It sounds so simple and so reasonable, but it is destined to fail. – Sky News

  • Gavin Williamson attacks PM’s Brexit talks with Labour as ‘grave mistake’ – Belfast Telegraph
  • Gavin Williamson attacks Theresa May’s talks with Labour – BBC Politics
  • Sacked defence secretary Gavin Williamson: PM’s Brexit talks with Labour will fail – Sky News

…while John McDonnell says the fight to replace May is complicating the talks

The battle among leading Conservatives to replace Theresa May as prime minister threatens to derail talks with the opposition Labour Party and the bid to find a Brexit compromise, Labour’s John McDonnell said. May, who has offered to quit if lawmakers accept her Brexit deal, opened cross-party talks with Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party more than a month ago after parliament rejected her European Union withdrawal deal three times. The talks with Labour are a last resort for May, whose party’s deep divisions over Brexit have so far stopped her getting approval for an exit agreement and left the world’s fifth largest economy in prolonged political limbo. McDonnell, Labour’s financial spokesman and a member of the party’s negotiating team, said the situation was precarious. “The problem they have is that literally in front of us they will fall out,” he told the Sunday Mirror. “So the exercise here is holding themselves together. And that is proving impossible. The administration is falling apart.” – Reuters

Even Theresa May loyalists believe she’ll be forced to go within weeks…

Theresa May’s closest cabinet allies believe she is finished and her premiership will “end in tears” unless she sets out plans to leave Downing Street by June 15. Loyalists — including Karen Bradley, James Brokenshire, Julian Smith, Chris Grayling and her deputy, David Lidington — think she has next to no chance of having a Brexit deal approved by parliament and will have to step aside in the next few weeks. Liam Fox, who has also stood by May, has privately revealed he is prepared to resign and lead a cabinet walkout if she agrees a deal with Labour to keep Britain in a customs union with Brussels. One close ally even suggested that May’s husband Philip, who has repeatedly urged her to fight on, wants a “dignified” way out. Cabinet ministers say the prime minister will be forced from power after the European elections on May 23 and before a convention of grassroots Tories meets on June 15 to deliver a vote of no confidence in her leadership. “It feels like this is going to end in tears very quickly,” one loyalist said. “The parliamentary party wants her to go, the voluntary party wants her to go, the cabinet doesn’t believe she can survive. My view is her time probably is up.” – Sunday Times (£)

…as Sir Graham Brady says she could set her exit date this week…

Prime Minister Theresa May could set a date for her resignation in the coming days, the chairman of the Conservative backbench 1922 Committee has said. The PM said she will step down when her Brexit deal is ratified by Parliament – but some MPs want a fixed date. Sir Graham Brady said he expected a “clear understanding” of that timetable once she has met the committee, which she would do on Wednesday. He also said he expected Brexit talks with Labour to “peter out” within days. And Sir Graham also refused to rule out running himself to replace Mrs May. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s The Week in Westminster, he said the 1922 Committee had asked her to give “clarity” about her plans for the future, and she had “offered to come and meet with the executive”. “It would be strange for that not to result in a clear understanding [of when she will leave] at the end of the meeting,” he added. The 1922 Committee is an elected body of Tory MPs that represents backbenchers and oversees the party’s leadership contests. On why the PM had so far been unwilling to set a date to step down, Sir Graham said: “I do understand the reticence about doing it. “I don’t think it’s about an intention for staying indefinitely as prime minister or leader of the Conservative Party. “I think the reticence is the concern that by promising to go on a certain timetable, it might make it less likely she would secure Parliamentary approval for the withdrawal agreement, rather than more likely.” – BBC News

  • Clear understanding of PM’s departure date expected next week – Sir Graham Brady – ITV News
  • May should reveal her departure date next week, Brady says – Observer

…and claims the talks with Labour ‘will peter out within days’

Brexit talks between the government and Labour will “peter out” within days, the chairman of the influential 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers has claimed. Sir Graham Brady has said he also expects Prime Minister Theresa May to set out her timetable for departure at a meeting with him on Wednesday. Speaking to the BBC’s Week In Westminster programme, Sir Graham, the Tory MP for Altrincham, said he would be bringing forward his own amendment on the Irish backstop to try and get a deal past MPs. This is, in part, because he believes last-ditch talks between the government and Labour to try and save May’s Brexit deal are about to break down, the Press Association reports. “I find it very hard to see how that route can lead to any sensible resolution,” Sir Graham said. “If the customs union is agreed without a second referendum then half the Labour Party won’t vote for whatever comes through regardless, and if a customs union is agreed then most of the Conservative Party isn’t going to support it. “So, I can’t see that is a very productive route to follow, and I may be wrong, but I suspect it will peter out in the next few days without having come to any significant conclusion.” – Huffington Post

Philip May, Theresa’s ‘rock’, crumbles

Friends have long described Philip May as the prime minister’s “rock”. Now, after months watching him suffer in public silence while her grip on her government slips away, they sense a change. “He’s had a bloody awful time,” says one minister. “We all have tough times in politics and it’s worse for our spouses, but it’s a bagatelle by comparison to what he’s been through.” On key occasions, her husband has been instrumental in persuading Theresa May to fight on. He has never urged his wife to stand down. But, in what is seen as a shift in the tectonic plates in Team May, sources who know the couple say that Philip May’s emphasis has shifted from wanting her to fight her way out of trouble to hoping she can escape from No 10 with her dignity intact. A friend said: “He loves her dearly, and he wants her to exit decently.” The problem for the prime minister this weekend is that even loyalist ministers admit this might be impossible. “It feels like this is going to end in tears very quickly,” one cabinet minister said. “I don’t see how she leaves with dignity.” – Sunday Times (£)

Nigel Farage says May’s Brexit deal is a ‘surrender document’

The Prime Minister’s Brexit deal is ‘like a surrender document of a nation that has been defeated in war’, Nigel Farage told supporters. Speaking at a rally in Houghton-le-Spring, near Sunderland, on Saturday afternoon, the Brexit Party leader was cheered by hundreds of people as he tore into Theresa May’s deal. Farage slammed both the Tory government and the Labour leadership, but didn’t mention newspaper reports he left the scene of a collision between his chauffeur-driven car and another vehicle in Kent on Thursday. Farage said: ‘It (Brexit) hasn’t happened partly because of the dishonest, duplicitous and utterly useless Prime Minister in Theresa May. ‘No question, she is the worst Prime Minister in the history of this country, bar none.’ He told the rally that May’s deal would be a new EU treaty. ‘A treaty that will cost us, for reasons I’ve yet to understand, £39 billion,’ he said. ‘A treaty that may well leave us trapped inside the EU’s custom union in perpetuity. ‘This treaty that she wants to put through is more like a surrender document of a nation that has been defeated in war.’ The former Ukip leader told the audience they had also been betrayed by the ‘London led Labour party’ and local MPs. He said: ‘Those MPs look down upon you, they think you’re morons, they tell you “you didn’t know what you voted for”. – Metro

Dominic Raab infuriating the EU with demands May ‘never dared’ make shows why he should be PM, allies say

A documentary showing the EU’s Brexit negotiator criticising Dominic Raab over demands that Theresa May “never dared” to make is being used to support the former Brexit Secretary’s burgeoning leadership campaign. Supporters of Mr Raab said the fury in Brussels at his approach to the talks showed that he would “stand up” for the UK. A clip showing Michael Barnier, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, and Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, criticising Mr Raab’s combative approach has been shared on Twitter and Facebook after being uploaded by supporters. It has been shared by MPs backing his leadership bid – which he has yet to formally declare – including Hugo Swire, the former culture minister, and Andrea Jenkyns, a staunchly pro-Brexit backbencher, as well as Mr Raab. A supportive MP said: “The comments of Barnier and Verhofstadt show that Dominic was fighting to get a fair deal for Britain. Dominic clearly wants a deal so we can move on and unite as a party but you’ll only get that by being tough in negotiations. That’s why we need him as PM.” – Sunday Telegraph (£)

Steve Baker warns Boris Johnson: back Brexit or I’ll fight you for the leadership

The arch-Eurosceptic MP Steve Baker has announced that he will stand for the Tory leadership if other Brexiteers vote for Theresa May’s deal to leave the EU. In a warning shot at Boris Johnson and Dominic Raab, the Brexiteer frontrunners to succeed May, Baker said they must oppose the second reading of the government’s withdrawal bill or face a challenge. After resigning from the cabinet to oppose May’s deal and twice voting against it, both Johnson and Raab reluctantly backed her agreement when MPs were asked to vote for a third time. Only 28 Tory Eurosceptics, including Baker, stood firm. Allies of Johnson and Raab fear that the Brexiteer vote will be split because Esther McVey has said she will run and Andrea Leadsom is considering joining the race. Baker said: “It would be highly undesirable to have a large field of Eurosceptic candidates. We need to converge on one candidate with the skills, talents and determination to take us out of the EU and win the next election. But if at the second reading of the withdrawal agreement bill all the other Euroscpetic candidates vote for the legislation, we are going to face hard decisions about who should lead.” – Sunday Times (£)

Tony Blair launches most critical attack yet on Jeremy Corbyn over Brexit

Tony Blair has launched his most critical attack yet on Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit policy, claiming it meant the party was “doomed to fail” in last week’s local elections. The former prime minister and leading campaigner for a second referendum says Labour’s “destructive indecision” of trying to face both ways “pleased no one” and let down the country. Writing in The Observer ahead of an interview on Sophy Ridge On Sunday on Sky News, Mr Blair says that “despite everything” he will vote Labour in the European elections on 23 May. But he urges Labour supporters put off by the party’s “equivocation” to vote for one of the “unequivocal Remain parties” – the Lib Dems, Change UK, Greens, Scottish National Party or Plaid Cymru. Mr Blair’s latest anti-Brexit onslaught comes only days after he was attacked and mocked by Tory Brexiteers for claiming a second referendum would be a “healing process” for the nation. – Sky News

Gavin Williamson: A Brexit deal with Labour can only end in tears

Brexit must happen. MPs need to deliver the referendum result and honour our promise to the electorate in 2017. It is tempting to think the easiest way to achieve this is to sit across the table from the Labour Party, do a deal and deliver Brexit. It sounds so simple and so reasonable, but it is destined to fail. Even if Labour do a deal, break bread with the Prime Minister and announce that both parties have reached an agreement, it can only ever end in tears. Why do I say this? Coming from a Labour-voting family, I grew up with a clear understanding of the tribal nature of Labour politics. The Labour Party does not exist to help the Conservative Party. Jeremy Corbyn will do all he can to divide, disrupt and frustrate the Conservatives in the hope of bringing down the Government. His goal, and he has made no secret of it, is to bring about a General Election. The Prime Minister needs to understand that she now is seen by many in the Conservative Party as negotiating with the enemy. There is a clue in their title: Her Majesty’s Official Opposition. – Gavin Williamson MP for the Mail on Sunday

Bernard Jenkin: Theresa May has written the script for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party

Mrs May has written the script for Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.  He has stolen our narrative about honouring democracy. He likens her deal to the Treaty of Versailles, and calls Parliament “a coalition against the people”.  Mr Farage is storming the country, addressing football stadiums full of paying supporters. The Conservative Party must adapt or die. Every week, nothing has changed; and Mrs May squanders the national interest and consolidates his advantage. – Sir Bernard Jenkin MP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Lockwood Smith: To be, or not to be, in a customs union? Lessons from New Zealand

In New Zealand’s experience, the clear answer is – not to be. We are not part of a customs union anywhere in the world, and for good reason. A country cannot benefit from a smart global trade strategy if its ability to negotiate leading edge trade agreements is hamstrung by membership of a customs union where the least progressive member can prevent progress. New Zealand’s Closer Economic Relations (CER) agreement with Australia is one of the deepest and most comprehensive trade agreements in the world, but it is not a customs union. That’s been an important element in the economic success of both our countries. Earlier this century, New Zealand was the first developed country in the world to negotiate a free trade agreement with China. It’s been hugely successful. But had we been in a customs union with Australia, our FTA with China would not have been possible at that time. Because of our ability to pursue our own global trade strategy, we now also have free trade agreements with both Hong Kong and Chinese Taipei, the only developed country in the world to have done that. – Sir Lockwood Smith for Conservative Home

Janet Daley: Voters are now powerless in the face of our post-democratic Remain elites

You read it here first. Some weeks ago (or maybe it was months, I’ve lost track of time), this column presented a step-by-step trajectory for Remain forces to deliver the stop-Brexit plan that so many of them had been confidently predicting (“This is never going to happen…”) since June 2016. First would come an admission from Downing Street that the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement would never get parliamentary approval. Thus, the only available recourse would be another series of indicative votes, which was to come this time with a promise that the result would be binding: the final decision on our exit from the European Union would be handed to Parliament itself. The last time we held indicative votes, the option that came closest (indeed, breathlessly close) to gaining a majority was a “deal” that involved a permanent customs union. So it seemed most likely that, this time, such a proposition would be the winner. Given this controversial result, I surmised, it would be decided – by whichever mysterious being makes these decisions – that it was necessary to hold a second referendum to ensure that the country could be said to have given its approval. In the tradition that had been established the first time round, it would be agreed that the referendum had to be binary. So the people would be offered the choice of leaving with a permanent customs union “deal” or staying in the EU. Whereupon almost every Brexiteer in public life and the commentariat (including this column) would be obliged to advise voting to stay in, on the grounds that remaining an active member of a declining, corrupt protectionist bloc was preferable to being a colony of a declining, corrupt protectionist bloc. – Janet Daley for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

James Forsyth: When will Theresa May bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to the Commons?

Theresa May has one last hope for getting her Brexit deal through. As I say in The Sun this morning, she can bring the Withdrawal Agreement Bill to parliament and try and get MPs to vote for it. Not John Bercow, or anyone else, can stop her from using this as a fourth attempt to get her deal through. But if MPs defeat it again, then Mrs May will have nothing left. If the WAB was voted down, then a new Queen’s Speech would be required to bring it back—and Mrs May would struggle to pass one of those. This is why there’s such intense debate about when to bring this bill to the Commons. Number 10 is more gung-ho than the Brexit Department which worries about the consequences of bringing the bill and losing it. One ally of the Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay tells me that his view is that ‘there’s no point in introducing this until you have a chance of winning.’ Some in Number 10 still hold out hope that an arrangement might be reached with Labour that would allow a vote on the bill before the European Elections. One Cabinet Minister says that May is prepared to make concessions to get a deal: ‘People are underestimating how prepared she is to do it. She thinks the future of the party is better served by her doing it and going down with the ship’. But most are sceptical that these talks will come to anything. If a deal with Labour can’t be done, what are the other options? – James Forsyth for The Spectator

Sunday Telegraph: The Conservative Party faces a Canada-style death-blow

The Conservative Party faces electoral annihilation. According to our bombshell poll, if there were a general election tomorrow, they would get just 19 per cent of the vote – their worst result in history, far worse than the 29 per cent they received in 1832, hitherto the lowest. They would lose 139 seats, including those held by many household names. The Brexit Party would do remarkably well with 20 per cent, an astonishing second place that secures them 49 seats – but, thanks to our first-past-the-post system, not enough to form an anti-Labour coalition. Jeremy Corbyn would become leader of a minority government or a far-Left coalition with the SNP. The centre-Right electorate would be almost perfectly divided. The Tories would wave goodbye to the economy, goodbye to Brexit and goodbye to the Union. The incredible thing is that the Conservative leadership seems oblivious. Theresa May refuses to resign despite her unpopularity. She has asked Mr Corbyn to help save her deal; she is willing to sign off on a temporary customs union, despite its economic insanity and the opposition of any Eurosceptic worth their salt. And most of the Tories vying to replace her are still reaching out to a centre ground that doesn’t exist any more, especially when it comes to leaving the EU, because a country is either in or out of it. Brexit has changed everything except the Conservatives. Too many of them are still working from the Blairite playbook, convinced they can only win the country by repudiating the values of their most loyal supporters, all the while convinced, with the arrogance of centuries, that here in Britain things never change that much and a great party like theirs can never die. – Sunday Telegraph (£) editorial

Brexit in Brief

  • We can thrive under No Deal – Ruth Lea for The Conservative Woman
  • Theresa May must go now if the Conservative Party is to survive – Daniel Hannan MEP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)
  • Where does the Liberal Democrat revival leave Change UK’s cursed campaign? – Henry Hill for Conservative Home
  • Brexit requires an exceptional leader like Boris Johnson to win the Tory leadership race – Jacob Rees-Mogg MP for The Sun
  • Nigel Farage interview: ‘At the end of this campaign the Brexit Party will be a lot bigger than the Conservatives’ – Sunday Telegraph (£)