There is 'one last chance' to get Brexit done, says Theresa May: Brexit News for Wednesday 22 May

There is 'one last chance' to get Brexit done, says Theresa May: Brexit News for Wednesday 22 May
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There is ‘one last chance’ to get Brexit done, says Theresa May…

Theresa May has told MPs they have “one last chance” to deliver Brexit, as she set out a “new Brexit deal”. MPs will get a vote on whether to hold another referendum if they back the EU Withdrawal Agreement Bill, she said. The bill also contains new guarantees on workers’ rights, environmental protections and the Irish backstop as well a customs “compromise”. If MPs reject the bill, she warned them a negotiated exit would be “dead in the water” and Brexit could be stopped. MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU three times. In what is seen as a last roll of the dice, Mrs May is now bringing the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – legislation required to bring the agreement into UK law – to Parliament in early June. In a speech in London, the prime minister said the deadlock over Brexit was having a “corrosive” impact on British politics and stopping progress in other areas. “We are making a new offer to find common ground in Parliament,” she said. “That is the only way to deliver Brexit.” – BBC News

  • Theresa May issues ‘last chance’ plea to Jeremy Corbyn after Tory Brexit backlash – Sky News

> WATCH: Prime Minister’s full statement on her “new Brexit deal”

> READ: Full text of Theresa May’s speech introducing her “new Brexit deal”

…as she promises vote on a second referendum in bombshell bid to pass her deal…

Theresa May today promised MPs a bombshell vote on holding a second referendum in a last-ditch bid to pass her Brexit deal. In a humiliating final gamble, she pledged a legally-binding vote will be included in her Withdrawal Agreement Bill when it comes to the Commons, starting in the week of June 3. That means if MPs vote for a second referendum the government will be FORCED to legislate for it. Potentially that will allow the public to have the final choice between the existing Brexit deal and remaining in the EU. But there’s a catch – it will only be held if MPs pass the Bill, which contains the Brexit deal. And within minutes of the speech both a string of Eurosceptic Tories and the SNP confirmed they would not back the PM’s vote. If they reject it, Theresa May is likely to quit within weeks – and the Tories will spiral into a hard-right leadership contest. The Prime Minister took her last throw of the dice in a hurriedly-announced speech at PWC HQ in central London. – Mirror

  • Theresa May offers MPs a vote on a second referendum in bid to break Brexit deadlock – Huffington Post
  • Theresa May’s Brexit deal will include MPs’ vote on second referendum – ITV News

…and says she has listened to ‘Unionist concerns’ on the Irish backstop…

British Prime Minister Theresa May said her new Brexit deal will seek to conclude alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop by December 2020. As part of her proposed Withdrawal Agreement, the House of Commons could hold a vote on whether a second referendum should take place ahead of any ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement. This means the deal could be voted through the House of Commons, but a second referendum could be held before that deal takes effect. Unveiling her new proposals earlier this evening, Mrs May said she had listened to “Unionist concerns” about the backstop, saying that if the backstop ever comes into force, the Government will “commit to ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland”. She also warned MPs that rejection of this deal could lead to a “nightmare future”. In her statement, Mrs May said the new Brexit deal will seek to conclude alternative arrangements for the Irish backstop by December 2020. “Although it’s not possible for (alternative arrangements) to replace the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement, we can start the work now to ensure they are a viable alternative. “So as part of the new Brexit deal we will place the Government under a legal obligation to seek to conclude alternative arrangements by December 2020 so that we can avoid any need for the backstop coming into force.” Mrs May said her new Brexit deal had “listened to Unionist concerns” about the backstop. “So the new Brexit deal goes further,” she said. “It will commit that should the backstop come into force the Government will commit to ensure that Great Britain will stay aligned with Northern Ireland. “We will prohibit the proposal that a future government could split Northern Ireland off from the UK’s customs territory.” – Belfast Telegraph

…but finds herself under fire from unconvinced Tory backbenchers over her new Brexit plan

Theresa May will make the case for her new Brexit plan in Parliament later, amid signs that Conservative opposition to her leadership is hardening. The prime minister will give a statement to MPs on her changes to the Withdrawal Agreement Bill – including her promise to give MPs a vote on holding another referendum. But Labour MPs said too little had changed for them to come on board. And one ex-Tory minister questioned whether June’s vote would even happen. MPs have rejected the withdrawal agreement negotiated with the EU three times, and attempts to find a formal compromise with Labour have failed. On Tuesday, the prime minister asked MPs to take “one last chance” to deliver a negotiated exit – or risk Brexit not happening at all. But Mrs May’s new plan had “failed to turn sceptics into endorsers”, said BBC political correspondent Chris Mason. Conservative MP Boris Johnson – who wants to succeed Mrs May as prime minister – said on Twitter: “We are being asked to vote for a customs union and a second referendum. The Bill is directly against our manifesto – and I will not vote for it. “We can and must do better – and deliver what the people voted for.” Meanwhile Dominic Raab, another leadership hopeful, said Mrs May’s deal would “break our clear manifesto promises”. – BBC News

  • Furious Tories call on Theresa May to resign immediately for ‘betraying’ Brexit by offering second referendum – Telegraph (£)
  • Tories reject May’s final attempt at Brexit deal – The Times (£)
  • Theresa May faces new coup after gamble to force deal through by offering second referendum backfired – The Sun

Cabinet ministers forced May to reject further concessions in mutinous meeting yesterday

Theresa May was forced to abandon key parts of a Brexit compromise after a testy three-hour cabinet meeting. The prime minister wanted to use forthcoming Brexit legislation to facilitate votes on a range of options, including a full customs union and a second referendum. She was rebuffed, with some fearing a walkout during the meeting. Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, Andrea Leadsom, the Commons leader, and Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, forced her to abandon some of the initial options presented to cabinet that might have won Labour support. The four options on customs that the prime minister presented in a paper included: a temporary customs union in goods until the next general election; a temporary customs union until alternative arrangements were in place; the customs plan she put forward in the Chequers deal last July that allows trade deals while maintaining elements of the customs relationship; and a permanent customs union. Mr Grayling and Ms Leadsom resisted, arguing that it would be a betrayal to present some of these choices as government options because they had come from Labour. Talks between the two parties collapsed last week. The ministers highlighted that the 2017 Conservative Party manifesto specifically ruled out a permanent customs union. Cabinet sources said that Mrs May was forced to drop two of the four customs options. No 10 denied that the prime minister was “defeated” in the meeting, arguing that she had not recommended the options in the paper. – The Times (£)

  • How Theresa May pushed her Eurosceptic ministers to the brink with her Brexit climbdown – Telegraph (£)

Philip Hammond sparks uproar from Brexiteers in rant over the consequences of a no-deal Brexit…

The Chancellor sparked fresh uproar from Brexiteers over No Deal yesterday by saying he hadn’t come into politics to “make the economy smaller”. Speaking in the Commons, Philip Hammond said there would “clearly” be short-term disruption from a cliff edge exit. But he added: “More importantly, all the analysis that the Government has done and published … shows that there will be a longer term effect, which means that our economy will be smaller than it otherwise would have been. “And I didn’t come into politics in order to make our economy smaller, I came into politics to make our economy bigger and make our people better off.” The blast came after explosive comments on Monday night where he said no preparation “in the world” would enable Britain to cope with a No Deal. And he claimed those Tories pushing for such an outcome were “hijacking” the result of the referendum. The comments were due to be made at a speech to the CBI Annual Dinner last night. One furious senior Tory last night stormed: “The Government need to be honest with the public. “They said ‘Brexit means Brexit’ and spent £4 billion of taxpayers’ money on preparations. Now they turn round and make statements like this?” Another said: “So much for collective Cabinet responsibility. “This is supposed to be our focus and he goes and talks about ‘hijacking’?” – The Sun

…with Priti Patel saying it’s ‘not acceptable’ for him to rule out No Deal

Priti Patel has slapped down the chancellor’s claims that a no-deal Brexit would be “damaging”. The Conservative MP and former international development secretary said it was “not acceptable” for Philip Hammond to warn Conservative leadership hopefuls against leaving the EU without a deal. “I never want to run my colleagues down, certainly not the chancellor,” she told talkRADIO’s Julia Hartley-Brewer. “But I think it’s wrong to effectively make remarks that rule out what the British public voted for.” She continued: “I don’t think it is acceptable anymore to constantly rule out no deal. We had a Prime Minister who said over 100 times no deal is better than a bad deal.” Mr Hammond is set to make the comments at tonight’s annual CBI dinner, and he is expected to say that supporters of no deal are trying to “hijack” the result of the EU referendum. But Commons leader, Andrea Leadsom, has also hit back at his claims about the consequences of a no deal. “We voted, 17.4 million of us, to leave the EU. There weren’t conditions attached,” she told the talkRADIO breakfast show. “The default position is that if we don’t have a deal by October 31, then we will leave without a deal. I don’t think he has made his speech yet, but clearly what the government is trying very hard to do is to get a deal across the line that delivers Brexit.” She added: “The fact is if we can’t get a deal across the line, then we leave in October.” – TalkRadio

Boris Johnson scrambles to ease Tory fears about his Brexit plans amid claims allies could sue MPs if they block him from leadership battle…

Boris Johnson is scrambling to ease Tory moderate fears about his hard Brexit plans as the battle to succeed Theresa May heats up.The former foreign secretary hailed a set of ‘One Nation Conservative’ principles drawn up by dozens of moderate MPs, insisting on Twitter: ‘Agree with all of this.’ The intervention comes as a ‘Stop Boris’ campaign gathers pace in the Parliamentary party, with many MPs concerned that he would shift the Tories dramatically to the right. Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd – a key Remainer in the Cabinet – fuelled talk of a ‘dream ticket’ alliance with Mr Johnson by liking his tweet. A source in the One Nation Tory bloc told the BBC’s Newsnight: ‘We want candidates to work with us to shape policy moving forward. Not just on Brexit but on everything. ‘The whole contest will be a big test for Boris to prove he actually can unite the party in the way he says he can.’ Mr Johnson prospects could also have been boosted by a poll of Labour activists suggesting he is the opponent they most fear at the next election. However, the rising Tory tensions were underlined by claims that allies of Mr Johnson are ready to launch a legal challenge if MPs block him from the final ballot. – MailOnline

  • Boris Johnson targets centre-ground Tories in bid to widen appeal – Guardian
    ‘Stop Boris’ bid surges with furious Tory attack as MP ‘mulls legal fight’ – Mirror

…while no-deal Brexit MPs warn him not to agree leadership run with ‘toxic’ Amber Rudd

Senior Brexiteers have warned Boris Johnson against entering into any leadership pact with Amber Rudd, branding the Remainer Cabinet member “toxic”. Mr Johnson is currently the clear favourite among Tory members to succeed Theresa May as the next leader of the party due to his strong pro-Brexit credentials. But the former foreign secretary is eager to expand his appeal among his fellow MPs in order to make it down to the final two candidates who will be chosen by the party’s rank and file membership. It has prompted suggestions that the flamboyant Brexiteer is courting Ms Rudd to back him for leader in return for her becoming the future Chancellor on what is being dubbed as the “Bamber” ticket. Hardline Eurosceptics in the party told i they would be opposed to Mr Johnson wooing the Work and Pensions Secretary, who is viewed as one of the biggest Cabinet opponents to a no deal Brexit. “Boris would not run a leadership battle with her [Ms Rudd] because she is just so toxic,” the Brexiteer said. “Having spoken to Boris’s team there is nothing to the rumours and it is Amber’s lot who have been putting it about.” – iNews

Lib Dems will top Labour in Euro Elections because of Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit fudge, ex-minister claims

The Lib Dems will top Labour in the Euro Elections because of Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit fudge, ex-Minister Ed Davey claims. The veteran said the “millions” switching to the Lib Dems from Labour now was bigger than the exodus sparked by the Iraq War. And he said the momentum was behind the party after it leapfrogged Labour into second place in polling over the weekend. A YouGov poll on Saturday showed the Libs were at 17 per cent – to Labour on 15 per cent, down 10. Mr Davey told The Sun: “We thrashing the Labour vote. “I’ve never seen anything like it. The switch is bigger than anything we saw during the Iraq War. We are seeing voters in the millions come to us.” He added: “We were in Haringey the other day, a Labour street, with Labour support and two-thirds were coming to us. “We are by far the strongest and biggest stop Brexit party. We are now, and we will be in the future.” Sources earlier this week claimed senior Labour figures were desperately trying to shore up support. One time leadership challenger Clive Lewis said this weekend it would be a real problem if the consequence of Labour’s Brexit position was to “detoxify” the Lib Dems. He added: “It feels like we’ve given [the Lib Dems] the political equivalent of resuscitation.” – The Sun

Donald Tusk sparks fury after he backs Change UK and urges voters to support them in the European elections ‘if they want Britain to stay in the EU’

Donald Tusk today took the extraordinary step of urging people to vote for Change UK on Thursday if they ‘want Britain to stay in the EU’. The EU Council President, who said there is a ‘special place in hell’ reserved for people who promoted Brexit without a plan, has officially backed candidate Jan Rostowski claiming he would make a ‘great MEP for London’. His decision has caused fury with British voters telling him to ‘mind his own business’ ahead of the May 23 European elections. It is the latest intervention from EU chiefs after European Parliament Brexit negotiator Guy Verhofstadt turned up in London campaigning for the Liberal Democrats with Sir Vince Cable earlier this month.Mr Tusk has used an official statement to back Mr Rostowski, his former deputy prime minister in Poland who has now settled in the British capital. He said: ‘Not only was he the best finance minister in Europe during the financial crisis, he is also a very dear friend who would make a great MEP for London, which I know he loves. ‘I urge Londoners who want Britain to stay in the EU to vote for him.’  Mr Tusk is staunchly pro-European and admitted his hope is that Britain will never leave the EU when Brussels agreed to extend Article 50 until October 31.His backing for Change UK has caused some disquiet in the UK. – MailOnline

Brexit Party’s EU election success will topple both May and Corbyn, vows Farage…

Nigel Farage last night boasted that his supporters will ‘buy one get one free’ when the Brexit Party’s success tomorrow ends the leadership of Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn. Speaking to a crowd of about 3,000 at Kensington Olympia, west London, Mr Farage said both leaders would face the axe after the European elections. Mr Farage also called Mrs May’s premiership a ‘slow-motion betrayal’ and said she had dragged the country through a ‘constant abject humiliation’. He said: ‘Not only will we get rid of Mrs May, but – with the way we are smashing Labour in Wales – a big Brexit Party win will mean getting rid of Jeremy Corbyn as well. ‘Mrs May’s constant abject surrender to the bully boys in Brussels has turned into a constant abject humiliation and I have had enough of it.’ Every mention of the Conservative Party, including Boris Johnson, was met with resounding boos. Calls of ‘traitor’ and ‘humiliation’ rang out across the hall whenever the Prime Minister’s name was mentioned. There were Trump-esque call-and-response segments throughout, with a mainly elderly crowd chanting ‘Nigel! Nigel!’ – Daily Mail

  • Nigel Farage claims Brexit Party victory will result in ‘buy one get one free’ hit on May and Corbyn – Independent
  • Nigel Farage ends euro election campaign rally with ‘worst prime minister’ attack on Theresa May – iNews

> Michael Brown on BrexitCentral today: The Westminster establishment seem blind to the political earthquake Nigel Farage is causing

…as he blasts the Electoral Commission for being ‘full of Remainers’…

Nigel Farage has accused the Electoral Commission of being “absolutely full of Remainers” as the watchdog visited the Brexit Party’s headquarters amid a review into its donations system. Mr Farage claimed the regulator was staffed by establishment figures and was not a neutral organisation – and said he believed his party was “more compliant” than any others standing in the European elections. The Brexit Party leader also labelled Channel 4 News as “political activists”, after it reported that insurance tycoon Arron Banks had spent approximately £450,000 on Mr Farage in the year following the EU referendum in 2016. Discussing his party’s donation system, he said: “I’ve got a team of four qualified accountants looking after our money, our income. I bet we’re more compliant than any of the other parties in this election. I’ve crossed with the Electoral Commission before – they are not a neutral organisation, absolutely full of Remainers, full of establishment figures. We are about not just leaving the European Union, the Brexit Party is about changing politics for good – getting SW1 and Westminster to reflect the country more broadly and the Electoral Commission are part of that huge reform that is needed.” Mr Farage said his party was looking for repeat donations and had sent money back if it was unsure where it had come from. “I’m not stupid. I’ve set this up to take on the Labour and Conservative parties who, I think, have betrayed the biggest democratic vote in our nation’s history. “I know that when you do that the establishment will not come out with a tray of gin and tonics and say ‘well done’. – Express

…but the elections watchdog defends its scrutiny of the Brexit Party

The Electoral Commission has defended visiting The Brexit Party’s offices to review how the party receives funding. Party leader Nigel Farage accused the watchdog of acting “in bad faith” and “interfering in the electoral process”. But the watchdog said there had been “significant public concern” about the way the party raises funds. A spokesperson said there was no evidence of electoral offences, but added: “We want to satisfy ourselves that the party’s systems are robust.” On Monday, former Labour Prime Minister Gordon Brown attacked The Brexit Party for receiving a large amount of money via what he called “undeclared, untraceable payments”. However, Mr Farage dismissed that attack as a “smear” and suggested there might be collusion between the Electoral Commission and Mr Brown. “I’m certain of it – I’m certain the establishment are working together,” he told the BBC. He said the commission had declared itself “absolutely happy with our system” last week, but had changed position “in an act of bad faith, beautifully timed to coincide with Gordon Brown’s speech”. – BBC News

Panic over chlorinated chicken in UK ‘based on myths’, says US official

Fears over chlorinated chicken entering the UK after Brexit have been dismissed as ‘unfounded’ by a senior US official. Critics worry a post-Brexit trade deal with the US will open the floodgates for lower-standard food products. Using chlorine to strip bacteria from poultry is banned by the EU who say it’s ‘unhygienic’ but US Department of Agriculture official Ken Isley calls European food standards ‘old fashioned’. Mr Isley was speaking to a group of UK journalists to dispel some ‘myths’ about US food production ahead of a food convention in Chicago. He said: ‘I think the concerns and fear are unfounded. I would stack US food safety and our food safety record against anywhere in the world. ‘Chlorinated chicken is an example. That practice and processing is very, very limited in the US now and is being phased out, not for food safety reasons but because newer technologies become available.’ American firms have complained for some time about the EU limiting US exports of chlorine washed chicken, GM crops and hormone-treated beef. Mr Isley said other chemicals like acetic acid are beginning to replace the practice and says less than 20 per cent of US poultry is currently treated with chlorine. The Foreign Agricultural Service administrator hit back at EU standards and said procedures in the US are ‘more advanced and more modern than what you find in Europe’. He added: ‘In a lot of ways it (the EU approach) is old-fashioned, it’s based on traditions, not based on modern science and technology.’ Outspoken critics of chlorinated chicken include UK Environment Secretary Michael Gove and Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn. – Metro

  • Don’t fear chlorinated chicken says US official – Independent

Cameron peer Lord Cooper is latest Tory to back Lib Dems

David Cameron’s former director of strategy faces suspension from the Conservative Party whip for declaring today that he will vote for the Liberal Democrats in the European elections. With the last opinion poll before the vote putting the Tories on 7 per cent, Lord Cooper of Windrush said he would do “what is best for the country” and back the rival party tomorrow because of its support for a second EU referendum. The YouGov poll for The Times puts the Brexit Party in a clear lead with 37 per cent of the vote. The Lib Dems are second on 19 per cent, with Labour on 13 per cent and the Greens on 12 per cent. The Conservatives are fifth on 7 per cent. Lord Cooper’s decision follows that of his fellow Tory peer Lord Heseltine, who was suspended from the party whip on Monday after he announced that he was voting for the Lib Dems. Today Sir John Major attacks the decision to suspend Lord Heseltine, 86, as “blinkered” in a letter to The Times. In a criticism of the party that he led between 1990 and 1997, the former prime minister says: “If the views of the Michael Heseltines of our party are no longer tolerated within it, then our party has truly lost its way.” – The Times (£)

Iain Duncan Smith: Our remorseless Remainer Government has hijacked Brexit

Pointless speeches on Brexit from the leading lights of this Government have become drearily predictable – but even so it came as quite a shock to get two on the same day, and from the two most senior figures in this administration, Philip Hammond and Theresa May. The Chancellor trotted off to the CBI to make another of his doom and gloom pronouncements. Apart from the usual mantra that in every possible circumstance the UK would be worse off after Brexit, he decided to lecture the future leadership candidates that they shouldn’t resurrect “no deal”. Worse, in an act of gross hypocrisy he attacked those of us who campaigned for Brexit all along, saying that we risk being guilty of “hijacking” the referendum result. This is a remarkably arrogant statement, even by the Chancellor’s standards. A man who campaigned for the UK to remain before the referendum – and who has never since relented in his drive to convince us all that it will be a disaster – now claims that he has special insight into the way the British people think. The conclusion he has drawn, apparently, is that the public didn’t understand what they were voting for, even though during the campaign the pro-Leave message was as clear as could be: to “take back control” of our borders, laws and money, and to leave the Customs Union and Single Market. – Iain Duncan Smith MP for the Telegraph (£)

Theresa Villiers: Talks with Labour were a waste of time. We need to commit to fixing the backstop – or leave without a deal

The political class should be in no doubt of the frustration regarding the deadlock over Brexit. It is time to get a grip and ensure we leave the EU, with or without an exit treaty. I have voted three times against the draft Withdrawal Agreement because it would mean we would not really be leaving the EU. It would be Brexit in name not in reality because the so-called “Northern Ireland backstop” could leave us permanently in the EU’s customs area and subject to many of its rules, a situation perilously close to “colony” status. The opportunity to shift the dial on Brexit, allowing the country to move on, is now just around the corner. Whoever succeeds Theresa May must be ready to seize that opportunity. Eighty per cent of MPs voted to invoke Article 50 to leave the EU and in February a majority of MPs asked for the backstop to be removed from the draft agreement. The amendment to replace the backstop tabled by Sir Graham Brady is still the only approach that has achieved a majority in the House of Commons. The numbers in Parliament are there to deliver Brexit if the fear at the heart of government is replaced by decisiveness and vision. It is time to make a positive case for our future outside the EU as an independent self-governing democracy, making decisions on our trading relationships and our laws on the basis of our national interest, and subjecting those decisions to real democratic accountability. It is time to set out a vision of hope and optimism and prepare the country for change. – Theresa Villiers MP for the Telegraph (£)

Telegraph: This latest deal is a disaster. If any Tory had doubts about voting for the Brexit Party, Mrs May has laid them to rest

Tomorrow is the European election, and if anyone leaning towards the Brexit Party still had doubts, the Prime Minister will have laid them to rest. Her last-ditch offer to save her Withdrawal Agreement is a complete sell-out. It is everything Labour says it wants (but will probably vote against). Customs-union-in-all-but-name, a new environmental agency and a commitment to match Europe on workers’ rights – all locked in with legal obligations. To sweeten the deal, there’s even a guarantee that if the Commons nods the agreement through, it can also vote on whether or not to hold a second referendum. This could be the Prime Minister’s last and most catastrophic U-turn. After years of insisting that a second referendum is wrong, she told a press conference yesterday that if Remainers want one, they just have to vote for her agreement. One can almost hear the sound of the Conservative vote collapsing across the country, not that it has very far left to fall. How can any Brexiteer remain in the Cabinet after this deal? If the answer is “because I expect it to be defeated”, that’s a reasonable gamble but a disingenuous one. How can a minister support legislation that they know is going to be beaten or, worse, that if it passed would be a flagrant betrayal of Brexit? This is one more reason why the Brexit Party is soaring in the polls: the popular frustration isn’t just with the Prime Minister, it’s with the Conservative Party leadership that has tolerated and enabled her. – Telegraph (£) editorial

Stewart Jackson: Philip Hammond is determined to assassinate Brexit, as he reaches the climax of his career

For someone not renowned for their witty repartee, sparkling Commons chamber oratory or indeed having any discernible political personality, Philip Hammond can always surprise us with his shameless chutzpah and brass neck. His speech to the CBI tonight is but one more conspicuous example. However, like the Prime Minister, he’s nearing the very end of the road, and will probably be fired by whoever succeeds Theresa May. He doesn’t care what most Tories think of him now, and is not holding back his opinions. Ironically in the heart of the Chancellor’s constituency is Runnymede field, famous for its links with the sealing of Magna Carta, a symbol of populous triumph over the high-handed and arbitrary exercise of power by ruling elite. I always thought it unwise to underestimate him: Yes, he’s always been an Eeyorish atmosphere-hoover who could clear the tearoom of all but the most sycophantic careerists but he’s nevertheless survived and prospered during the May debacle probably because he has no passion or beliefs. Reportedly loathed by his subordinates in No 10 and by many of the Conservative Party and with a wit not so much dry as Gobi-desert-like in its aridity, Spreadsheet Phil is a man who has evolved from trench coat wearing Essex Visigoth in his youth to Surrey stockbroker belt undertaker, seamlessly and evidently comfortable in his own skin. – Stewart Jackson for the Telegraph (£)

Rob Wilson: The PM’s shock People’s Vote gamble will blow apart the Tory party

In 1997 Tony Blair ran a campaign with the slogan “24 hours to save the NHS” and romped home to a spectacular general election victory. Listening to Theresa May’s speech and her self-proclaimed “bold offer to the nation”, I was minded to conclude that we now need a new slogan for the likely 2019 General Election: “24 hours to save our country”. I’m sure Nigel Farage is already on that one. The potential for a second referendum is in effect the starting pistol for the unravelling of our democracy and democratic institutions. Theresa May is well aware of this but her legacy of passing a Withdrawal Agreement is now more important to her than playing fast and loose with the fabric of our constitution. There will be no restoration of unity or normality in this country for decades to come if this plays out as it might. The Prime Minister could get lucky and see Parliament vote against a second referendum, as it has previously, but she might not, as there may be enough in these proposals for the Labour Party to agree to their broad thrust and still stick to forcing a general election while agreeing to its second referendum backstop. If I were Jeremy Corbyn, I would take the deal on this basis – he would be a fool not to (ie a potential customs union, workers’ rights and environmental standards maintained). But May’s more long-lasting parting gift to the Leader of the Opposition is not only a deal close to what he wanted but critically to electorally destroy her own Party. – Rob Wilson for the Telegraph (£)

Andrew Lilico: Theresa May’s bombshell second referendum offer could destroy democracy

This afternoon, in a desperate final attempt to persuade MPs to back her appalling Withdrawal Agreement, Theresa May announced that she will include in her Withdrawal Bill provision for another referendum if her deal is accepted. This is not quite a commitment to conduct a second referendum, but it is a commitment to accept there being one, an attempt to purchase support for her Withdrawal Agreement by dangling the prospect of a second referendum if her deal is passed. Having such a referendum would be a terrible, terrible decision. Mainstream Leavers will refuse to participate in the campaign. Polling suggests that nearly two in five Leave voters would be so discouraged by their 2016 vote being ignored that they will never vote again. Many Leave voters were very sceptical in 2016 about whether they should trust the political system to do it, but decided to give it a try. It will not be possible to persuade them to vote again. The notion such a vote could be conducted on any fair basis is absurd. Furthermore, Parliament will not accept any true Brexit option (which we now refer to as “No deal”) on the ballot. The options would be Remain or something worse than Remain (any variant of May’s deal). It would be simply a Kangaroo Vote, the kind of fake exercise that anti-democratic governments around the world have engaged in when they  want to pretend “the people” were behind them. Having a second referendum when Parliament has refused to implement the result of the first referendum is as bluntly anti-democratic an act as one could imagine. Democracy is not about voting. Democracy is about the results of votes being implemented. – Andrew Lilico for the Telegraph (£)

Ross Clark: Brexit and the tragedy of Philip Hammond

It is still a few hours before Philip Hammond makes his speech to the CBI this evening but so much of it has been trailed in advance that delegates might as well just read the newspapers – and then book some entertainment from a juggler or fire-eater instead. We know he is going to attack what he calls the “populist right”. We know, in a thinly-veiled attack on Boris, he will say:  “There is a real risk of a new prime minister abandoning the search for a deal, and shifting towards seeking a damaging no-deal exit as a matter of policy.” Then he is going to go on and accuse Conservatives who want to leave the EU without a deal of acting “knowingly to inflict damage on our economy and living standards” and of doing so for “ideological reasons”. The only thing we don’t yet know is precisely what words he will use to thanks his hosts for giving him dinner. How hard it is, from what we know he is going to say, to remember that Hammond himself once toyed with the idea of a no-deal Brexit – not as a first choice, admittedly, but as a logical course of action in the event of the EU declining to agree to a post-Brexit free trade deal with Britain. In January 2017, he was interviewed by the German newspaper Welt am Sonntag and asked whether – as some Germans suspected – Britain planned to turn itself into the “tax haven of Europe”. Hammond replied that he: “Would like the UK to remain a recognisably European-style economy with European-style taxation systems, European-style regulation systems etc. I personally hope we will be able to remain in the mainstream of European economic and social thinking. But if we are forced to be something different, then we will have to become something different”. The circumstance which Hammond envisaged has now quite clearly come to pass. The EU, by stonewalling British efforts to secure a free trade deal and using the Irish backstop as a device for trying to force us into a customs union, is forcing us to choose between being a vassal state of the EU or – in Hammond’s words – to become something different. Hammond, like Theresa May, who spent the early months of 2017 insistent that “no deal is better than a bad deal”, has failed because he got the collywobbles and failed to persist with a good opening negotiating stance. It is time both of them were swept away and replaced by a team with greater resolve. – Ross Clark for The Spectator

Chris Moncrieff: Theresa May deserves praise for trying to solve Brexit… not vilification

The scale and ferocity of some of the criticism aimed at the Prime Minister by members of her own party is little short of a disgrace. Theresa May, despite being a Remainer, has honourably stuck to the parliamentary pledge to fulfil the outcome of the referendum, while many of her colleagues whose support she is entitled to have flip-flopped around shamefully looking for ways to dishonour that solemn pledge. As I say, it is a disgrace. Meanwhile, the humourless Brussels negotiators – many of them unelected – are making things even more difficult for her. This may well be to scare off some other member states who might want to leave and yet will be daunted from trying to do so when they see what the UK has had to endure. In short, the hard men of Brussels, with their bleak smiles, are fearful that any more “defectors” could see the whole rickety edifice crumble to the ground in ruins. Theresa May has been doing her utmost to resolve a crisis which others created. She should be commended for this – not stigmatised. Glory be! Who on Earth would want to lead the Conservative Party at this critical moment in its history? Yet amazingly the runners and riders who want to succeed Theresa May are approaching Grand National levels – 17 so far and probably still counting. – Chris Moncrieff for the Belfast Telegraph

Steven Holmes: I’m a Conservative Association Chairman, but see no other course than to vote for the Brexit Party

As an Association Chairman, I believe it is only open and honest to be upfront to my Executive and members as to why I have returned my postal vote for the Brexit Party. There has been a lot of thought on my part for some time as to which way to vote.  As an Association Chairman, should I stick to the Party line; should I abstain on principle; should I use my vote as a proxy for my wish to leave the EU, and/or use it for a party that has been determined and forthright with its intentions to get the job done that 17.4 million people voted for – including myself. Over the last month or so, I have spoken with local and senior members of the Party, listened to my Executive and been in communication by various means with the Party nationally.  I have written personally to the Prime Minister on behalf of our Association, clearly describing why this political situation is unsustainable and wholly unacceptable, and why only a change at the top can rescue any semblance of success in delivering Brexit. I have not given up on the Conservative Party (or the Association for that matter), but believe at the present time that the Conservative Party has given up on me. We have a strong Prospective Parliamentary Candidate here, and I look forward to supporting his campaign in the future with the help of our members, and hope we can one day turn our constituency blue. I look forward to positive changes and developments over the forthcoming weeks and months and trust that our democracy can be saved. – Steven Holmes for Conservative Home

Hans Von Der Burchard: Turkey shows Britain that a customs union can hurt

British fans of a customs union after Brexit would do well to take a long, hard look at Turkey. Twenty-three years after it came into force, the EU’s customs union with Turkey is buckling under the strain. Ankara claims that it is getting a raw deal and last year started imposing protective tariffs on a number of imports from the EU. European officials warn that these new duties undermine the whole point of an agreement designed to promote tariff-free trade. At the heart of Turkish complaints lies a fundamental problem that would also affect Britain: As Brussels inks new trade accords around the globe, goods from those partner countries can enter the EU at reduced or zero tariff rates and then flow on for free into Turkey via the customs union. Turkish companies, however, do not benefit from reciprocal tariff cuts when exporting to those countries because Ankara is not part of the EU trade deals. “The entire customs union is eroding,” said Bahadır Kaleağası, secretary-general of the Turkish business association TÜSIAD, complaining that Turkey has to shoulder the impact of increased competition without being able to reap the benefits of new trade agreements. Sinan Ülgen, a Turkish researcher at the Carnegie Europe think tank, spoke of an “economic threat” that has become increasingly pressing after the EU signed a flurry of new trade deals with Canada, Japan and Singapore in recent years. “These imports hurt the Turkish economy,” he said. As an EU member, the U.K. currently benefits from access to the EU’s trade policy committee, where it is involved in sensitive discussions on trade talks and can make its own demands. Diplomats in Brussels say they expect London to push strongly to keep its access if it stays in a customs union with the EU. “If this is being offered to the United Kingdom, I think Turkey — and rightfully so — would ask for the same possibilities,” Pinar Artiran, a chair of the World Trade Organization, told the British parliament’s Brexit committee earlier this month. – Hans Von Der Burchard for Politico

Extreme Remainers are driven by a misguided pessimism about Britain’s future

The mental processes of extreme Remainers, I find hard to fathom. It is possible to think that the economic benefits of EU membership outweigh those of leaving, but the arguments are balanced, and depend ultimately on what post-Brexit governments do.  It is similarly possible to think that Britain’s international influence would be enhanced by leaving the EU, or safeguarded by staying in, but again, that depends on how future governments conduct themselves. One can equally debate the advantages of EU immigration. But rational analysis like this cannot explain the verbal violence and political recklessness of those determined to thwart a legal democratic vote. Why is behaving in this the Remainer lobby way? The main reason why people said they voted Remain in 2016 was fear of the economic consequences. I admit, I was worried myself until reassured by a Nobel laureate that no disaster loomed. But now we all can see that the alarmist predictions were false. We know too that preparations have been made to keep trade flowing, and that the Irish border is manageable. Many Remain voters have accepted this. Yet diehards are still repeating slogans about “falling over a cliff”. The explanation seems plain. Intransigent Remainers are irrational. Not those who are motivated by calculated self-interest, like a scientific colleague at Cambridge who bluntly announced that as his research grant came from the EU he was of course in favour of Remain. Rather, those caught up in a self-induced existential crisis based not on reasoned examination of the evidence, but on the constant nursing of their gut feelings. – Robert Tombs for the Telegraph (£)

Camilla Tominey: Theresa May is in last chance saloon where support has run dry after latest Brexit plan

For someone who “doesn’t go drinking in Parliament’s bars”, it is beyond ironic that Theresa May should now find herself in the last chance saloon, desperately offering to buy a round for everyone in Westminster. As SW1’s resident “Billy no mates”, she has failed to reach a compromise with Labour, cannot persuade the DUP to support her – despite a billion-pound bung – and remains at odds with the Eurosceptic wing of her own party. Note how all of these groups were quickest out of the blocks to condemn her new Brexit deal – which like her original Chequers plan is a victim of its own pragmatism – an attempt at pleasing everyone that succeeds in pleasing no one. And let’s not even get started on Conservative Leave voters, who are indicating in ever increasing numbers that they would rather have a pint with Nigel Farage. And not just on Thursday – some Tories don’t seem to want the Brexit Party to end. Instead of saying “I’m having what she’s having”, Tuesday’s address only succeeded in promoting even more calls for last orders on Mrs May’s administration, with the subsequent question and answer session dominated by talk of when she 
would walk out of the black door 
of No 10 for good. Of course, it didn’t have to be this way. Mrs May could have come out and set her own timetable for her departure last week, but instead she left it to Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tory MPs, to confirm that we’d have to wait until June to find out when the PM plans to finally pack her bags. Having insisted that she is putting country before party, many now suspect that the resilient leader, rightly praised as a dutiful public servant, is now putting her own political obituary ahead of both. – Camilla Tominey for the Telegraph (£)

Daniel Finkelstein: Change UK haven’t a clue what to do next

On March 26, 1981, at 9am more than 500 journalists crowded into London’s Connaught Rooms to witness the launch of a new political party. The excitement had been building for months. In January there had been the launch of a Council for Social Democracy and the publication of the Limehouse Declaration of principles; in February a full-page advertisement had appeared in the press signed by 100 prominent supporters; behind the scenes there had been intense organisational work and now came the formal beginning. Sitting in front of their bold new logo, the collective leadership of the SDP spoke of breaking the mould of British politics. And then the Gang of Four left, each to fly to different parts of the country to give regional interviews. The man who planned the launch, the MP Mike Thomas, was a pro at this sort of thing and it showed. Back at SDP headquarters, volunteers worked phone banks and thousands of new members signed up immediately, many using credit cards, an innovation that was widely mocked by rivals but swiftly copied. it should be obvious that the launch of Change UK has not been the same as the launch of the SDP. Not the same in élan, or enthusiasm, or organisational discipline or quality of leadership. Not the same in depth of thinking or basic competence. An element of surprise is vital in politics but you aren’t supposed to take yourself by surprise. Change UK look completely startled by their own existence. Even the most basic organisational task seems too hard. Even basic questions receive no answer. At their launch they were sure they were all independents but unclear whether this meant that they were independent of the main parties or independent of each other. When asked anything in an interview, they reply that answering the question would be indulging in the old politics they are trying to get away from. They aren’t even certain what their response is to: “Do you wish to bring down the government?” They have looked hapless, selecting a lead candidate for the European elections in Scotland who had to be withdrawn; they failed to register their (uninspiring) logo successfully with the Electoral Commission and an effort to organise a joint Remain candidate for the Peterborough by-election collapsed in farce, leaving Change UK without representation. – Daniel Finkelstein for The Times (£)

Leo McKinstry: Nigel Farage drenched in milkshake might have been a joke to the left – but it’ll be him who has the last laugh

Nigel Farage’s astonishing success terrifies his opponents – which is why the pro-EU brigade is so determined to undermine him. But this hostility has plumbed new depths as a protester drenched the Brexit Party leader in a milkshake yesterday in Newcastle. No mainstream, elected British politician in recent decades – and Farage has been an MEP for 20 years – has had to endure such a relentless barrage of abuse and condemnation. The incident was not a prank, as some pretend, but a nasty assault that left Farage visibly shaken. If he been a woman or belonged to any minority, it would have probably been classified as a hate crime. The left’s double standards are breath-taking.  Just imagine their outrage if a leading Remainer politician, like the high-profile Tottenham MP David Lammy or the Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry was attacked like this. The indignation would be deafening. In lurid tones, we would be told that such an incident reflects the viciousness of the Brexiteers, who want to silence their opponents. Indeed, exactly that kind of language was used by the political establishment when Anna Soubry, the pro-EU Tory MP who defected to the Change UK splinter group, was accused of being a “Nazi” by an idiotic Brexiteer loudmouth. The abuse of Soubry was wrong then, just as the assault on Farage is wrong now. – Leo McKinstry for The Sun

George Parker: How Nigel Farage took European elections by storm

Nigel Farage appears to have drawn strength from a recent encounter with a milkshake; to the leader of the Brexit party, the salted caramel and banana drink hurled over him in Newcastle is a symbol of an increasingly desperate establishment plot to stop him. Mr Farage strides on to the stage in front of more than 1,000 supporters in the Lancashire town of Bolton with chants of “Nigel, Nigel, Nigel” ringing around the hall. “The establishment aren’t scared of us,” he says. “They’re terrified of us.” The milkshake incident, he tells his followers, is a symptom of the “radicalisation” of those who want to remain in the EU. He identifies his enemy as an elite that casts itself as “morally superior” to the 17.4m who backed Brexit in 2016. But it is the 55-year-old, one of the most divisive figures in British political life, who depicts himself as holding the moral high ground, as he channels voter frustration over the delay of Brexit into a formidable lead for his party ahead of Thursday’s European Parliament elections. – George Parker for the FT(£)

Lord O’Donnell: As a civil servant I kept out of politics. Now it’s my civil duty to vote Lib Dem

As a lifetime civil servant I have always felt a strong obligation to vote whenever presented with the opportunity. This seems to me a civic duty, and working closely with politicians gave me every incentive to have my say. The civil service code is very clear about the need for impartiality and I would never give anything less than my best to whichever party won the general election. I have made clear that since the executive and parliament have so far failed to find an acceptable form of Brexit, I reluctantly believe the only way to bring the country together is to give the people the chance to approve any final deal in a referendum. My view remains that leaving the EU is on balance bad for the country for economic reasons and because of its impact on our global influence. So I would be supporting Remain in such a vote, which brings us to the European elections. I am extremely disappointed that while the Brexit party is an obvious choice for dedicated Leavers the Remain vote is potentially spread across many parties. This is deeply disappointing and very annoying, particularly given that the Liberal Democrats seemed to be prepared to cooperate with other parties. Under the voting system used for European elections it means that the Brexit Party will do extremely well compared with the Remain parties unless supporters of the latter view vote tactically. – Lord O’Donnell for The Times (£)

Tom Peck: Theresa May sought common ground as it slipped away beneath her

Theresa May’s last stand took place in the glass atrium of an accountancy company. Her small audience towered above her, spread over several floors. It meant that she spoke with her neck inclined at an impossibly high angle, glancing up at the distant daylight, like a young Bane, stuck in The Pit prison, dreaming a hopeless dream of a life beyond. There can be no true despair without hope. Whether Theresa May has given up on hope cannot be known. No actual, real, human emotion has ever escaped her. Not even a pheromone of one. But it must, alas, be reported that on a technical level, she has not given up on her withdrawal bill. That will have one last push. And this speech was its midwife. “Seeking common ground in parliament,” was its tagline, stencilled on a white backdrop above her head. This isn’t how it was meant to be. The saboteurs were all meant to have been crushed by now, and yet they are uncrushed. It might even be intimated it is they who are crushing her. It’s best to think of the withdrawal bill as it now exists, as a kind of Trigger’s broom that’s been rammed up a particularly mutant scarecrow. The same bill, but it’s had 14 new amendments, 18 new clauses, 20 new promises, and a commitment to exploring solutions for the frictionless movement of partridges in pear trees. This was the Theresa May version of Oprah Winfrey’s great car giveaway. You want a commitment to matching EU environmental protections and more? You got it! You want a commitment to exploring technical customs solutions at the Irish border? You got it! Stormont lock? You got it! You want a second referendum? You got it! (Well, you’ve got a vote on whether to have a second referendum, and you’ve already had one, and you voted no, but anyway, you got it!) – Tom Peck for the Independent

Nigel Morris: The vote that wasn’t meant to take place is expected to punish Tories and Labour

Millions of voters across the United Kingdom will deliver their verdict in the EU elections that were never meant to happen – and could have a profound impact on Britain’s future direction. New political records are also expected to be set in the contests to elect 73 British MEPs to the European Parliament. If the opinion polls are correct, then Nigel Farage could become the first leader to win the popular vote with two different parties. Current projections suggest that his new Brexit Party could soon send between 25 and 30 MEPs to Strasbourg. The Conservatives, who have barely mounted a campaign, could register their worst election performance since the party’s establishment in the 1830s. Their bloc of 19 MEPs could be reduced to around five as previous supporters prepare to back Mr Farage’s party in revenge for Theresa May’s failure to deliver Brexit on 29 March. The omens are little better for Labour as it faces the risk of being eclipsed by the resurgent Liberal Democrats who are campaigning on a demand for a second referendum. The Greens also appear to be picking up support from disillusioned pro-Remain Labour voters. Jeremy Corbyn’s critics argue that its candidates have been hampered by his determination to maintain an equivocal stance on Brexit in an effort to appeal to Remain and Leave voters alike. The Prime Minister then hoped she could secure agreement for her Brexit plans in time to stop the new MEPs taking their seats on 2 July. This target will now be missed and Britain’s new MEPs look certain to be heading to Strasbourg in less than six weeks’ time as Westminster’s agonies over Brexit continue. – Nigel Morris for iNews

Brexit in Brief

  • One Nation Tory MPs will have to suck up a clean Brexit or be squashed – Iain Martin for Reaction
  • Europe will ‘die from inside’ if far-right populists triumph, says Verhofstadt – Luke McGee for CNN
  • The clumsy calls to probe Brexit Party funding could backfire spectacularly – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)
  • Can Brexiteers trust Boris Johnson to deliver a ‘real’ Brexit? – James Kirkup for The Spectator
  • Piers Morgan savages Lord Heseltine for insult to 17.4million Leave voters – Express
  • Shoppers face paying an extra penny for using self-scan tills as part of MPs’ plan to raise £30m-a-year to ‘heal Brexit divisions’ – MailOnline