MEPs to be asked to approve Ursula von der Leyen as new European Commission President today: Brexit News for Tuesday 16 July

MEPs to be asked to approve Ursula von der Leyen as new European Commission President today: Brexit News for Tuesday 16 July
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MEPs to be asked to approve Ursula von der Leyen as new European Commission President today…

Von der Leyen, a close ally of the German chancellor, Angela Merkel, who has the backing of the centre-right European People’s party, will make a speech to the European parliament on Tuesday morning before MEPs cast their vote in the early evening but it is far from clear that she will be able to secure the backing of the 374 parliamentarians needed for her to take the post from 1 November. Should she fail to win enough votes the EU would be left in uncharted territory, with the parliament pitted against the leaders on the issue of commission presidency, and with few easy fixes available. Von der Leyen’s selection, after 50 hours of negotiations among the 28 leaders, was just one part of a package in which candidates were also chosen as presidents of the European council and European Central Bank, in which political affiliation, geography and gender had to be balanced. Sources said an emergency summit for 23 July was being planned in case of her rejection. – Guardian

…as she opens the door to another Brexit delay beyond the October 31st deadline

Jean-Claude Juncker’s designated successor has said the EU should delay Brexit again if the next PM asks for more time to find a way out of the impasse. Ursula von der Leyen said another extension could be granted “if good reasons are provided” – such as holding a general election or second referendum. In a letter to MEPs she vowed to build an “ambitious and strategic partnership” with Britain when she takes over the reins in November. But she insisted Theresa May’s withdrawal pact won’t be renegotiated and “is the best and only possible deal for an orderly withdrawal”. Her remarks will provide a boost to Remainer MPs who need the EU’s help in their bid to block the next PM taking us out with No Deal on October 31. Tory leadership frontrunner Boris Johnson has vowed to take us out of the bloc on that date “do or die”. – The Sun

  • Johnson told his US trade deal ‘would breach European law’, as new EU chief reveals she could extend talks beyond October – Independent

More than 40 Tory MPs vow to block a ‘tweaked’ Brexit deal if Boris Johnson merely re-writes May’s Withdrawal Agreement…

More than 40 Tory MPs have vowed to block a Brexit deal like Theresa May’s one – in a huge blow to Boris Johnson’s hopes of tweaking it. Seven more Tories are today expected to pledge to join grassroots campaign to ‘Stand up 4 Brexit’ – urging the new leader to ditch the current PM’s deal and leave by October 31 no matter what. Ex-Cabinet minister John Whittingdale, former Brexit minister Suella Braverman, and several others are set to join the campaign later today. 36 high-profile Brexiteers including Iain Duncan Smith, Esther McVey and David Davis have already made the pledge, bringing the total to 43 Tory MPs. Mr Whittingdale writes today for The Sun: “Having been defeated three times in Parliament, including the biggest defeat any government in our history has ever suffered, it must now be abandoned and we must start again. – The Sun

…as Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay tells Michel Barnier (five times) that May’s Withdrawal Agreement is dead

Brussels is preparing for “brutal” talks with the next prime minister after the Brexit secretary told Michel Barnier five times during a bad-tempered meeting that the withdrawal agreement was dead. Stephen Barclay left Mr Barnier, the EU’s lead negotiator, astonished and dismayed in a “confrontational” exchange last Tuesday. “He told Barnier that the withdrawal agreement was dead — not once but five times,” a senior EU diplomat said. “If this is what is coming then we will be heading for no deal very quickly.” Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt have both said that the withdrawal agreement, which was blocked in the House of Commons three times, must be renegotiated. The EU insists that the deal cannot be reopened. Mr Barclay held the private talks a week ago without the usual team of British negotiators and, according to various sources, took an approach described as brutal, bullying, bad tempered and confrontational. – The Times (£)

Tory leadership contenders reject time limit on Irish backstop in head-to-head debate…

The two candidates vying to be Britain’s next prime minister set a high bar on Monday for success in Brexit negotiations, saying that even a significant concession from the European Union on the Irish border would be insufficient. Both frontrunner Boris Johnson and underdog Jeremy Hunt said on Monday that they would not be willing to accept the so-called Northern Irish backstop element of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, even if a time limit was set. Britain’s next leader will be announced next week, and has to persuade the EU to restart talks that other EU leaders have been adamant cannot be re-opened, or else lead Britain into the economic uncertainty of an unmanaged exit. – Reuters

…and rule out a snap election before Brexit because it would destroy the Tories…

The Tories will collapse if Britain ends up holding a snap election before Brexit, Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt both warned today. Both candidates to be PM ruled out calling an early General Election as they clashed for the last time at a debate hosted by The Sun and talkRADIO. It came as the two Tory rivals appeared to kiss and make up after a bruising campaign, cracking a string of gags in front of an audience of Sun readers at our London HQ. The candidates were asked nine questions by Sun readers in a debate broadcast live on this website and talkRADIO. Asked by host Tom Newton Dunn if he’d rule out a snap election, Mr Johnson replied: “Absolutely.” – The Sun

…while Boris Johnson refuses to commit to bringing down immigration…

Boris Johnson has refused to commit to bringing down net immigration after Brexit if he becomes Prime Minister as he and Jeremy Hunt went head-to-head in the final debate of the leadership contest. Mr Johnson, who is the frontrunner to win the race to be Tory leader in a week’s time, said he was not “going to get into a numbers game” when asked if he would bring down net immigration levels. The comments are likely to fuel concerns among Tory members that Mr Johnson – whose politics are socially liberal – will not bear down on immigration numbers if he gets the keys to Number 10. In a leadership debate hosted by The Sun newspaper and Talk Radio, Mr Johnson said: “What I think we will have is control, which is what the people voted for and it’s high time we got it.” – Telegraph (£)

  • Conservative leadership race: Boris Johnson accused of Brexit betrayal on immigration – The Times (£)

…and Jeremy Hunt says he would be his own Brexit Secretary

Jeremy Hunt has pledged that he would take on the role of Brexit Secretary himself because it is “too big” a responsibility not to be carried out by the prime minister. The Conservative leadership contender said he would scrap the Brexit department and coordinate no-deal preparations from Downing Street, if he took charge, with regular meetings across Whitehall to hold officials to account. Mr Hunt’s pledge, as the leadership contest enters its final week, came as supporters of Boris Johnson jostled for senior roles in his Cabinet. Mr Johnson is expected to announce a  new Chief Whip and Chancellor within hours if he is installed in Downing Street next Wednesday, paving the way for a wider reshuffle. – Telegraph (£)

Post-Brexit US trade deal may take some time, says Liam Fox…

The international trade secretary, Liam Fox, has said a post-Brexit trade arrangement with the US may take longer to agree than some people hope, after reports that Boris Johnson would make this a priority if he becomes prime minister. Fox said potential complications could include different rules across American states and the start of the presidential electoral cycle. He also stressed that no deal could be agreed before the UK formally left the EU. Fox told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme there had already been six meetings of a trade working group with the US to examine the issues. “One of the things you have to remember about the US is that not all trade policy is actually done at the federal government level,” he said. “A great deal of the trade policy is done at the state level, particularly in the non-tariff barriers to trade, things like regulation. We have been increasing the number of our staff in the US who are expert at the state-to-state level.” – Guardian

…as does outgoing Chancellor Philip Hammond

Philip Hammond has dismissed the prospect of Boris Johnson reaching a quick trade deal with President Trump after Brexit and said that it will take more than a year to complete. Yesterday The Times disclosed that Mr Johnson plans to fly to the US to meet Mr Trump within two months if he wins the Conservative leadership election. The former foreign secretary wants to secure a limited agreement in time for his “do or die” deadline of leaving the EU by October 31. He and the US president would also establish the outlines of a full deal. Asked about the possibility of completing a trade deal within a year, Mr Hammond told CNBC: “I don’t think delivery in that kind of timescale is realistic. Trade deals are intrinsically complex. What I hear the president say is ‘America First’. The president’s idea of a trade deal may not coincide with some people in the UK’s idea of a trade deal.” – The Times (£)

Emily Thornberry breaks from Labour policy to say the party should campaign for Remain in any new vote

Shadow foreign secretary Emily Thornberry has departed from Labour policy by saying the party should campaign for Remain in any referendum on a Brexit deal “regardless of which party has negotiated it”. Her comments came at a People’s Vote rally in Boris Johnson’s constituency of Uxbridge and Ruislip South where she denounced the probable next prime minister as a “lazy, incompetent (and) dangerous” figure who wants to deliver the UK into the hands of the “racist, sexist, bullying monstrosity” Donald Trump. Ms Thornberry’s appearance on the People’s Vote platform made her the first senior Labour figure to take advantage of this week’s policy shift – unveiled by Jeremy Corbyn after months of wrangling within the shadow cabinet and trade unions – which commits the party to campaigning for a Final Say referendum and Remain vote on any Brexit outcome produced by the Tory government. – Independent

No-deal Brexit scare stories increase risk of medicine shortages, says Royal Pharmaceutical Society President

Scotland’s Brexit minister has heightened the risk of possible medical shortages by “scaring” people, according to the president of the Royal Pharmaceutical Society. Professor Ash Soni rejected claims by Mike Russell, the SNP MSP, that access to medicines would be under threat under a no-deal exit. Mr Soni said that increased fear would boost stockpiling, heaping more pressure on supplies. “Trying to scare the public is not a great thing to be doing at this time,” he told the BBC’s Good Morning Scotland. “We need the public to be working with us in making sure that we have full access to medicines. What we don’t need is patients starting to stockpile because that itself will create a shortage in the market.” – The Times (£)

BeLeave Brexit activist begins appeal against £20,000 fine

A former fashion student who was fined £20,000 by the Electoral Commission over his role in campaign spending during the Brexit referendum has begun an appeal against its decision. Darren Grimes, 24, a political activist, campaigned as part of pro-Brexit group BeLeave during the 2016 vote to leave the EU… Timothy Straker QC, the barrister acting for Mr Grimes, claimed on Monday that the commission had made “multiple errors of fact and law” and said Mr Grimes’ penalty was “unreasonable”. The commission had also allowed itself to be “be subject to outside influence”, he claimed. He said part of the appeal centred around whether the commission had misinterpreted the law around unincorporated associations such as BeLeave. The errors “serve to reveal a shocking tale of incompetence on the part of the commission with an attempt to make that incompetence rebound on Mr Grimes”, Mr Straker claimed in written arguments to the court. – FT (£)

William Hague: Yes, we could have a bright no-deal future, but not with this Parliament

Let us imagine that it is the morning of Friday November 1, and that we have left the European Union without a deal. Whatever we think about such a scenario, it is something that could easily happen. Boris Johnson has said that if he becomes prime minister next week, October 31 will become the absolute deadline to leave the EU. The EU says it is not backing down on the deal Theresa May negotiated. And although quite a few Conservative MPs say they will block a no-deal Brexit, they don’t know how they are going to do that. So it is not a fantasy to think we might be waking up that morning to find we are suddenly free of all the EU’s rules but also deprived of all its benefits – blinking in the sunlight of freedom or crying in the darkness of isolation, depending on your point of view. Over the next three months, acres of newsprint and long hours of parliamentary debate will be devoted to whether that moment should happen. Yet, strangely, there is little discussion of what exactly ought to happen after that. – Lord Hague for the Telegraph (£)

Robert Peston: Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt make no-deal Brexit probable

With just a week to go before the result is announced of the election to choose the new Tory leader – and our new PM – Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt are shape-shifting into each other. On Brexit Hunt is adopting more and more of Johnson’s rhetoric about the need to keep open the option of a no-deal Brexit. And in Monday night’s Sun debate, both of them made a new commitment that makes no deal the most likely outcome – they both said they wanted to scrap the so-called backstop, the mechanism for keeping open the border on the island of Ireland. Johnson said that putting a time limit on the backstop, or acquiring a unilateral right for the UK to withdraw from the backstop, would no longer be an acceptable reform. The backstop had to go altogether. – Robert Peston for ITV News

Tim Stanley: Brexit isn’t some imperial fantasy – it just means we want to be ourselves

What is Britain for these days? I hear it said that Brexit Britain has lost its mission in foreign policy, that we’ve cut ourselves off from the continent, that Donald Trump is abusing us, and so we splash about in the Atlantic like a drowning bulldog. We have no clear purpose because we don’t know if we’re European or American, conservative or liberal, imperial or in retreat. And we’re nothing without a purpose, right? Actually, if one listens to Vernon Bogdanor’s smashing history lectures on foreign policy – available on YouTube – one senses that Britain has always been as uncertain about its role as Selwyn Lloyd was when Churchill surprised him with a foreign ministry he didn’t want. “There must be some mistake,” said Lloyd, “I do not speak any foreign language. Except in war, I have never visited any foreign country. I do not like foreigners.” Churchill growled: “Young man, these all seem to me to be positive advantages.” Two key points emerge from Professor Bogdanor’s lectures. One is that we’ve long had a difficult relationship with the continent, caused in no small part by geography. We are a European country, undoubtedly, but the English Channel cuts us off physically and emotionally from the continent and, like any island nation, we must trade overseas to survive. Thus the argument was made prior to the First World War that if Germany conquered much of Europe it had nothing to do with us because we were all about Asia and Africa. – Tim Stanley for the Telegraph (£)

Anthony Browne: Would no-deal Brexit be a disaster? Probably not – and here’s why

The change of leader means the politics of no deal will change. If it’s Boris Johnson, then I suspect (having once advised him) that he’ll press ahead and demand full preparations from the offset. This would strengthen his negotiating position, and reassure voters and MPs, by highlighting how prepared the UK is. Senior civil servants are already planning to switch from Project Fear to Project Reassurance. Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, who previously sounded the alarm, said recently the public sector was ‘in pretty good shape’. Business groups should carry on pushing for problems to be tackled, but focus more on helping members prepare. None of this means that no-deal Brexit will be without turbulence. I supported a deal and still do, but no deal could happen. And if it does? The preparations show that the former governor of the Bank of England, Lord Mervyn King, was right when he said recently that MPs had ‘lost the plot’ when talking about ‘national suicide’. – Anthony Browne for The Spectator

Brian Monteith: It’s Brussels which is driving a hard Brexit

The EU will soon be on the horns of many a dilemma. Not surprisingly, with the majority of the UK’s political focus concentrating on the final stages of the Conservative leadership election, scant attention is being given to how the EU leadership faces its own challenges that should significantly weaken its hand in dealing with Britain’s departure. Much of our media coverage is exceedingly introverted, displaying an inverted chauvinism that likes nothing better than doing our own country down, especially suggesting the end of our world is nigh. This is counterbalanced only by patriotic sports coverage always looking for new British heroes. This confusing concoction can give a false political perspective and a tendency to underestimate the significant influence our country has, how popular it is and how our politicians might have a better hand in any negotiations than we appreciate. When confronted by a new British prime minister – most likely to be a bullish Boris Johnson who will be thinking, let’s get the job done or I’ll be out on my ear tout suite – I expect him to highlight the EU’s own problems so the British public’s expectations can be reset. – Brian Monteith MEP for the Scotsman

Andrew Lilico: The penny has finally dropped for the political elite that Remain has lost

Some of the most prominent Remainers appear to be starting to believe no deal might actually happen. Amber Rudd now accepts that no deal is “part of the armoury going forward”. Gina Miller threatens to take the government to court if Parliament is prorogued to prevent no deal. But many Brexiteers remain doubtful that a Boris Johnson government can deliver. Nigel Farage says he’d “love to know what [Boris Johnson] really, really, really truly believes. Our attitude, as the Brexit Party, is why would we trust anybody?… Boris now tells us…that we’re leaving on October 31, and we are pretty sceptical about that.” Anti-no deal MPs plot and stir. We have efforts to block spending in the event of no deal. But is that credible? Why wouldn’t Boris simply take us out with no deal and then see how long Parliament continued to vote to block spending after the deed was already done — surely no more than days? – Andrew Lilico for the Telegraph (£)

Leo McKinstry: Boris can ditch the gloom and get our nation behind Brexit

During last week’s televised Conservative leadership debate, Jeremy Hunt accused rival Boris Johnson of “peddling optimism”. It was a bizarre charge, for optimism is exactly the quality that the new Government needs to deliver Brexit. For the past three years, there has been far too much gloom within the political establishment. What should have been a moment of joyous freedom has been swamped by paralysis and prevarication. Boris Johnson could be the man to change this. With his charisma and belief in national independence, he will galvanise the Brexit cause, if elected. Indeed, despite the formidable obstacles in his path, including the apparent intransigence of the EU and the lack of a Commons majority, there are real grounds for hope that the autumn deadline for our departure could be met. For a start, Brussels may be more flexible over future negotiations than its current hardline stance seems to indicate. Because of their own economic interests, the EU member states will be under tremendous pressure to reach a new agreement more favourable to Britain. – Leo McKinstry for the Express

  • Brexit in Brief
  • Our report on Alternative Arrangements holds the key to leaving the EU at last – and avoiding a general election – Nicky Morgan MP for ConservativeHome
  • Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt claim they’d take a no-deal Brexit. There’s just one small problem  – Michael Deacon for the Telegraph (£) 
  • Final face-off between Boris Johnson and Jeremy Hunt showed both would make a decent PM – The Sun says
  • Tory MP Guto Bebb says he’ll step down before the next election because Boris Johnson would be a ‘disastrous’ Prime Minister – i News
  • Anti-Brexit MPs claim Boris Johnson would be on a ‘kamikaze’ mission if he pursues Brexit without another referendum – Independent