Government’s Brexit negotiations with Labour ‘appear to be failing’: Brexit News for Wednesday 8 May

Government’s Brexit negotiations with Labour ‘appear to be failing’: Brexit News for Wednesday 8 May
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Government’s Brexit negotiations with Labour ‘appear to be failing’…

Labour’s Brexit negotiations with the government appear to be failing, it has been hinted, after the government conceded that the UK will take part in EU elections, despite comments to the contrary. Rebecca Long-Bailey, shadow secretary for business and one of Labour’s Brexit negotiators, gave an update on cross-party talks. She said: “Without a government that’s willing to compromise it’s difficult to see how any agreement can be reached.” When quizzed on whether there’s any point in continuing with negotiations, Ms Long-Bailey defiantly said “of course there’s a point” before admitting there has been no movement or agreement. It came after Theresa May’s effective deputy David Lidington confirmed the EU elections will go ahead on May 23 as MPs have still not agreed a Brexit deal. Speaking ahead of cross-party talks he said “regrettably” the UK had run out of time and it is “not going to be possible to finish that process” before the date Britain has to legally take part in the elections. Ms Long-Bailey appeared to blame the prime minister for UK having to take part, saying it was “sad that the prime minister procrastinated, shall we say, in order for us to reach this point”. – ITV News

  • Customs compromise a ‘million miles away’ from Labour demand – The Times
  • Hopes of imminent Brexit deal fade after ‘tense’ cross-party talks – Guardian

…as David Lidington finally admits the UK has to fight the European elections…

The UK will have to fight European elections, despite hopes from the government a Brexit deal would be done by then, says the PM’s de facto deputy. The vote is due on 23 May, but Theresa May said the UK would not have to take part if MPs agreed a Brexit plan first. Now, David Lidington says “regrettably” it is “not going to be possible to finish that process” before the date the UK legally has to take part. He said the government would try to make the delay “as short as possible”. The UK was due to leave the EU on 29 March, but as no deal was agreed by Parliament, the EU extended the deadline to 31 October. It can leave the bloc earlier, but if the UK has not left by the 23 May, it is legally obliged to take part in the EU-wide poll and to send MEPs to Brussels. – BBC News

  • EU elections will go ahead as Brexit deadlock continues, minister confirms – Sky News
  • European Parliament Elections 2019 will go ahead In UK, Government Confirms – Huffington Post
  • UK will elect new MEPs as Brexit deal is put off until as late as July – The Scotsman

> WATCH: David Lidington confirms that the European Parliament Elections will go ahead

…and is condemned for announcing the elections on the deadline for registering to vote

Theresa May has been criticised for waiting until the deadline to register to vote in the EU elections to confirm Britain must legally particulate. Jill Evans, Plaid Cymru MEP, for Wales, blasted the move that she said would affect thousands of potential voters in Britain from having their say in the ballot on May 23. She told HuffPost UK: “The British government has chosen to wait until the deadline to register to vote to confirm that the European election will be going ahead. “This is a deeply cynical move, which may well leave thousands of people disenfranchised.” If no compromise is reached, indicative votes on possible next steps will be offered to Parliament. So far, there has been no agreement between Britain’s main parties and few held out any hope of a breakthrough today. But with the clock ticking down before European elections, when both parties could face more bruising results after local polls last week, time is running out. – Express

Tories will try to limit Euro election damage with ‘cut-price campaign’

Conservative Party chiefs have signed off a cut-price campaign for European parliament elections after finally admitting that the polls will go ahead two weeks tomorrow. Candidates received a confidential briefing at Conservative Campaign Headquarters (CCHQ) on what many admit will be a damage limitation exercise. Party chiefs are said to be sending only taxpayer-funded mailshots with the first wave of literature targeting postal voters due within days.The Conservatives’ message will be that only the governing party can deliver Brexit as it pleads with voters not to back Nigel Farage’s insurgent Brexit Party, according to a senior figure. The first leaflet includes a photograph of Theresa May. “It’s aimed at Conservative supporters who think the prime minister is doing her best to get this over the line and that the delay is not her fault,” said another source, who had seen a draft. Candidates were told to tell voters tempted by Mr Farage that they risked letting Jeremy Corbyn top the poll “and put him one step closer to Downing Street”. The former Ukip leader’s “extreme” views will also feature in the CCHQ script briefed out at yesterday’s meeting. A CCHQ spokeswoman declined to comment on the preparations for the campaign. – The Times (£)

Tory MPs give Theresa May until teatime today to set out ‘roadmap’ for her exit…

Theresa May has been given until teatime on Wednesday to come up with a “roadmap” to her resignation as leader of the Tory party – or she will have one forced upon her. Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the 1922 committee of backbench Conservative MPs, is understood to have made clear backbenchers’ frustration at a meeting on Tuesday night. Tory backbench frustration with Mrs May boiled over after David Lidington, her de facto deputy, confirmed that Britain will have to take part in the European Parliament elections in 15 days’ time despite months of assurances that this would not happen. Mr Lidington said that it was “regrettably not going to be possible to finish” the Brexit process “before the date that is legally due for European parliamentary elections”. Mrs May’s official spokesman added it was “a matter of deep regret to the Prime Minister that we have not been able to deliver Brexit on time”. Sir Graham is understood to have given Mrs May until 4pm on Wednesday – the start of the meeting of the party’s 1922 executive – to set out a “roadmap” for her departure from Number 10. – Telegraph (£)

  • Backbench Tory MPs hopeful of rule change to oust Theresa May – Guardian
  • Theresa May given one day to ‘roadmap’ resignation or MPs to force her out by end of month – Express

…while a defiant May indicates a desire to stay in office until the autumn

Theresa May is poised to remain in office until the Conservative conference this September after setting a new summer deadline to complete Brexit talks. The prime minister was urged yesterday by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, to spell out a faster timetable for a departure before the Commons summer recess, which is expected in the third or fourth week of July. However, Downing Street indicated that it was working to a new deadline for solving the Brexit impasse that would mean her remaining in office for up to four more months. David Lidington, her de facto deputy, conceded for the first time that Britain had no option but to participate in the European elections. MEPs would have to take up their seats along with those from the rest of Europe on July 2. The Cabinet Office minister then added that the government wanted “to get this done and dusted by the summer recess”. If Mrs May does not announce her intention to stand down until mid-July, Conservative MPs will be unable to finish voting on leadership candidates until they return to the Commons in September. Tory MPs must eliminate candidates — expected to number half a dozen or more — until two remain. The Tory membership would then vote to choose between the pair, which is likely to be done using an electronic ballot with the result announced at the party conference. – The Times (£)

  • Theresa May pushes her Brexit deadline back to August 1 meaning the UK will take part in Euro elections – The Sun
  • May clings to latest Brexit target as hope of cross-party deal fades – FT(£)

> Simon Boyd today on BrexitCentral: Theresa May is misreading voters if she thinks the local elections were a signal to pass her Brexit deal

Jeremy Hunt says voters are ‘very, very angry’ Brexit hasn’t been delivered – so Tories must reach a compromise with Labour

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt suggested he would reluctantly accept a Customs Union with the European Union in a compromise agreement with the Labour Party, saying “angry” voters want Brexit to be delivered. The Conservative frontbencher told the BBC’s Radio 4 Today programme that while he did not want a Customs Union with the EU, the drubbing his party had received in last week’s local elections meant a compromise needed to be reached. He said: “I have always said that I’m not a believer in the customs union as a sustainable long-term solution. “I want to look at whatever deal is come to between the parties, and I know this is a crucial week, and I would not want to affect the progress of those talks by pronouncing in advance. “But I think this is a time when we have to be willing to make compromises on all sides, because the message of last week was that voters for both main parties are very, very angry about the fact that Brexit hasn’t been delivered. – iNews

Nigel Farage demands role for Brexit Party MEPs in EU negotiations – and starts signing up candidates for the House of Commons

Nigel Farage today vowed to take over negotiations with the EU if his Brexit Party wins elections in two weeks. The Brexiteer is also signing up hundreds of new candidates to run for the Commons if there’s a snap General Election. Mr Farage called on Tory donors to abandon their party and start handing over cash to him instead. Brexit Party chairman Richard Tice said today that the party would demand a say in negotiations with Brussels after the Euro elections where it is expected to come top. Speaking at a London press conference, he said: “A vote for the Brexit Party is a vote for a WTO Brexit – no ifs, no buts. “It is also a vote for our elected MEPs to play a significant role in the negotiation process.” Mr Farage added: “For us, these European elections on May 23 are just a first step.” Today he announced the Brexit Party is recruiting more than 600 candidates for the next General Election. Those interested must hand over £100 and declare they’ve never been in far-right groups such as the BNP and EDL. He said the party also wants to attract wealthy Conservative donors who are fed up with Theresa May’s leadership. Mr Farage claimed Tory supporters are “asking themselves the question ‘what is the Conservative Party for, what purpose does it actually serve?’ He has so far refused to reveal the identity of the big-money donors backing the Brexit Party. – The Sun

Jean-Claude Juncker says it was a ‘mistake’ for the EU to stay silent over Brexit referendum ‘lies’

The president of the EU commission has said he regrets not intervening in the UK’s Brexit referendum to correct “lies” about the bloc during the campaign. Speaking at a press conference on Tuesday Jean-Claude Juncker said it was a “big mistake” to listen to David Cameron, who he said had asked Brussels to “stay silent”. “The then prime minister asked me not to interfere, not to intervene in the referendum campaign,” he said. “It was a mistake not to intervene and not to interfere because we would have been the only ones to destroy the lies which were circulated around. I was wrong to be silent at an important moment.” But the Commission president, who is nearing the end of his mandate and will be replaced in October, struck a more ambivalent tone on Brexit as it stood today. “I don’t have fears, I don’t have hopes,” he told reporters. “I was saying the other day that by comparison to the British parliament the Egyptian sphinx are open books. Either they stay or they will leave. If they stay, they stay. If they leave, they leave.” – Independent

  • EU should have spoken out against ‘lies’ in Brexit vote, says Juncker – Reuters
  • Juncker: I should have intervened in Brexit referendum – FT(£)
  • Jean-Claude Juncker says the EU should have countered Leave ‘lies’ – Sky News
  • EU boss Jean-Claude Juncker calls Brexiteers ‘liars’ – The Sun

Brexit discussion to be banned from EU leaders’ summit this week

Europe has breathed a collective sight of relief after EU officials announced that serious discussion of Brexit would be banned at an upcoming leaders’ summit. Ahead of Thursday’s meeting in the Romanian city of Sibiu, one senior EU official said the summit would be “in principle Brexit-free”. For two years now the UK has repeatedly crashed EU meetings about other issues and steered discussions towards Brexit – often to the great annoyance of other countries. But since April, when the leaders agreed to delay the UK’s departure until October, the continent has gone on a “Brexit holiday” and is using the time to discuss other issues. Theresa May is staying away from the Sibiu meeting, though the UK is expected to be represented in the margins. The summit is intended to be a re-launch of the EU after a series of crises like Brexit, migration, and economic problems in the eurozone. Its date was originally picked so that it would take place after Britain’s departure, a plan which has since been overtaken by events. Speaking at a lunchtime press conference in Brussels, Jean-Claude Juncker, the European Commission president, summed up the view in the EU capital with a quip. “Everyone understands English,” he said, as he switched languages from French. “No one understands England – but everyone understands English.” – Independent

EU slashes its forecast for German growth as it predicts Eurozone slowdown

The euro area will now grow by 1.2 per cent in 2019, the European Commission (EC) said, its slowest rate since the Eurozone crisis. The EC had predicted 2019 growth of 1.9 per cent in Autumn 2018, which was downgraded to 1.3 per cent in February. The EC became the latest forecaster to slash growth predictions for Germany. Europe’s biggest economy is now forecast to grow by just 0.5 per cent in 2019, compared to the 1.1 per cent growth the EC foresaw in February. Last month the German government said new car emissions tests and low water in the Rhine had caused industrial hold-ups and hurt German output, while trade conflicts and the Brexit process had provided a difficult economic backdrop. Growth predictions for the EU were also cut. The bloc’s economy is expected to expand 1.5 per cent this year, a lower figure than the 1.9 per cent forecast at the end of 2018. The Commission expects the slowdown will “bottom out” in 2019 and growth will pick up again next year. It foresees the euro area economy expanding 1.5 per cent in 2020 as higher rates of employment and wages boost domestic demand and trade tensions cool. “Growth is set to continue in all EU member states and pick up next year, supported by robust domestic demand, steady employment gains and low financing costs,” said Valdis Dombrovskis, vice-president for the euro at the European Commission. Today’s figures also further downgraded growth predictions for Italy’s weak economy, which is now projected to grow just 0.1 per cent this year for the year. The EC had forecast 0.2 per cent growth for 2019 in February. – City A.M.

  • Brussels blames Brexit chaos after slashing growth forecasts for Germany – The Sun

Wealthy UK investors optimistic on Brexit impact, survey shows

Wealthy investors in the UK have expressed optimism about the impact of Brexit on the country’s economy, setting aside concerns about uncertainty to predict an economic upside to the UK’s departure. Forty-one per cent of high net worth investors in the UK believe Brexit will have a positive impact, according to a survey by UBS Global Wealth Management, compared with 35 per cent who think it will be negative. This positive outlook was mirrored among business owners, 44 per cent of whom said Brexit would have a positive effect on their business. A further 28 per cent predicted no impact at all. “Between multiple meaningful votes in Parliament and pivotal European Council summits, it has been a challenging quarter for our clients, who are looking to minimise the impact of domestic political and market factors on their investments and businesses,” said Mark Goddard at UBS Global Wealth Management. “Despite this, this survey shows that UK investors and business owners have a much more positive mindset than towards the end of 2018. Investors have managed to set aside concerns over prolonged uncertainty when assessing their financial objectives and economic outlook.” The question on Brexit optimism had not been posed by UBS previously, so an exact change in sentiment cannot be measured. However, the number of investors who identified the domestic political environment as their biggest worry fell from 55 per cent in the last quarter of 2018 to 43 per cent in the first quarter of 2019, indicating increasing positivity. The survey canvassed the views of 3,653 investors and business owners with at least $1m in investable assets or at least $250,000 in annual revenues, respectively. – FT(£)

  • Global funds back Britain despite Brexit uncertainty – Telegraph (£)

Tom Harris: Labour Remainers demanding a second referendum are wasting their breath

Expectations of a resolution to the ongoing cross-party talks on a Brexit deal are so low that many will have forgotten they’re even taking place. The primary reason for the scepticism is that both sides entered the discussions with entirely the wrong motive. For Theresa May, the talks were a last resort, a lifejacket she only donned reluctantly when she finally got the message that her own withdrawal deal wasn’t going to pass the Commons. For Labour, the invitation to talk was a sign of the establishment finally taking it seriously. It was also an opportunity for the party to honour its number one strategic aim: extracting political advantage. However much damage our continuing prevarication and indecision is doing Britain’s reputation internationally, the more important point is that Labour benefits electorally the longer such prevarication continues. Perhaps the cynics will be proved wrong this week. There are signs that the government may be about to make an offer that the Labour negotiating team might take seriously enough for it to agree some form of Brexit deal. It’s difficult to escape the notion, however, that the primary reason Labour objects to May’s deal is not the backstop or unsatisfactory customs union commitments, but because it was concluded by a Conservative government. If the deal negotiated by the prime minister contained an unequivocal commitment to a permanent customs union, I suspect Labour would have found another reason to oppose it. And the main reason most Labour MPs are not happy about the prospect of – in the words of the shadow international trade secretary, Barry Gardiner, last week – their party “bailing out” the government lies not in the customs union or single market alignment or any of the technical stuff: it’s because any deal that takes Britain out of the European Union would take Britain out of the European Union. And that is one aspect of any putative deal that those MPs simply cannot countenance. – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)

Peter Foster: The snakes and ladders of Brexit – where whatever you roll leads to a customs union

The current set of negotiations between Conservative and Labour leaderships, designed to put the Withdrawal Agreement over the line, appears to fit squarely into this tradition. Looking on from afar, the kindest thing one senior EU official can say about the reported plan is that they are “puzzled” about why on earth anyone thinks it would work. The idea reported this weekend in the Sunday Times – and not denied by Downing Street – is that the Tories will promise to maintain a ‘customs arrangement’ with the EU until 2022, which will be a customs union in all but name. But after this point, the future shape and direction of Brexit (hard/soft/middling) can be decided at a General Election. But this offer is nonsensical. As Simon Coveney, the Irish deputy prime minister, told The Telegraph last week, the UK must “show they have a proposal which works” – and right now, such a technical solution does not exist: not in London, Dublin or Brussels. It is true there are new border technologies, but nowhere in the world do they create an ‘invisible’ border – since borders are not just about customs, but about animal health, biosecurity, smuggling enforcement and a host of other areas which require physical checks. This will not change. Of course, there is one way to avoid the dreaded backstop – it’s to enter a customs union with the EU and agree to high levels of regulatory alignment on areas that impact the running of the Irish border. This is the snakes and ladders of Brexit – whatever you roll, you land on a snake that leads to a customs union, until further notice. This is embedded in Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement. British politicians can negotiate with each other all they like, but those basic ground realities will not change. Brexiteers moan about a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where you check in and never leave. But more accurately, this particular hotel has a simple set-menu which amounts to a ‘customs union, four ways’. You can take it, or leave it. But if you leave it, guess what, you still get it. – Peter Foster for the Telegraph (£)

Rob Wilson: Graham Brady must do his duty and force the PM’s long-overdue departure

Patience is running wafer thin with Tory MPs after last week’s local election results and there is a growing mood that 1922’s elected officials have dodged the unpleasant inevitability of what must be done. After all it has been known that there is a backbench majority openly wanting the Prime Minister to go since December. There have also been frequent humiliating defeats for Theresa May that previously would have ended other premierships. The fact that it has fallen to the voluntary party to seek a vote of no confidence in their Prime Minister is both distressing for them and quite unprecedented that they feel so compelled to act. With the website Conservative Home suggesting 80 per cent of the Conservative Party now want a new leader and leadership candidates are now openly campaigning, what is stopping the 1922 Committee from acting? Following the local elections, the difference is that all levels of the party are united in their aim to be rid of Theresa May – apart, unfortunately, from a hopelessly split Cabinet. The 1922 Committee would generally expect to act with the broad support of Cabinet, but it seems paralysed. Graham Brady’s big political moment has arrived as he has an unenviable and lonely, albeit necessary, task, over which he cannot procrastinate. He must force the Prime Minister’s hand and wrench the end date of Theresa May’s premiership from her; the alternative is the now substantial likelihood of losing not only his own seat but those of large swathes of his backbench colleagues. The Conservative Party will therefore be praying that the Chairman of the 1922 Committee is able to fulfil his historic duty.  – Rob Wilson for the Telegraph (£)

Mark Wallace: Tory voters are at the end of their tether – they will vote in droves for the Brexit Party at the European elections

The local elections held little positive news for the Conservative Party. With over 1,300 councillors unseated, amid a nationwide rout, optimism was in short supply. Government ministers were reduced to noting that Labour had also suffered losses, as though a general rejection of the main parties was somehow reassuring. One of the rare bright spots for the Tories was in Walsall, where they regained majority control of the borough for the first time since 2011. It was one of only three authorities the Conservatives gained, set against a thumping 47 where they lost control. So what was their secret? How come in Walsall, where 68 per cent of people voted Leave, the local branch of a party which jaw-droppingly is still led by Theresa May managed to avoid the fate suffered by so many Tories elsewhere? It isn’t something in the water. Nor did they have extra Weetabix on polling day (as far as I know). They found a formula superior to the official message that these were elections on local, not national issues. Even the widespread decision by Tory canvassers to seek to neutralise dislike of May by simply agreeing with voters about her doesn’t explain it. Both arguments worked somewhat – without them, the losses would have been even worse – but Walsall did something extra. Councillor Mike Bird, the local Conservative leader, is clear: “I think it was our attitude towards Brexit. In Walsall we have made ourselves clear that we are not going to have anything to do with the European elections at all.” To survive the backlash against the Prime Minister’s broken promises and Brexit delay, Walsall Tories effectively joined the popular revolt. – Mark Wallace for iNews

Robert Peston: The cross-party Brexit talks are doomed to fail

In case you were in any doubt, there is zero chance of Labour and Jeremy Corbyn agreeing a Brexit deal with the Prime Minister, given that its central element is a pledge to keep the UK in the customs union till the next general election. The point is that Labour’s main criticism of Theresa May’s Brexit plan is that it is ‘blind’, that it makes gives no promises or commitments about the UK’s future relationship with the EU. And a pledge to keep the UK in the EU’s customs union only till 2022 would not turn blindness into perfect foresight. So May needs to commit to keeping the UK in the CU to stand any chance of an entente with Labour. Why won’t she offer that? Because to do so would split her party down the middle, and cause maximum chaos for her. And why will Corbyn refuse to compromise and continue to press for permanent membership of a customs union? Because to do so would split May’s party down the middle, and cause maximum chaos for her. So talks between government and Labour will fail. But they will last just till it becomes chronically embarrassing for each party that the fiction of a possible cross-party Brexit pact renders meaningless and fatuous all their campaigning in the EU elections – which probably means the talks collapse at the end of the week. – Robert Peston for The Spectator

Lewis Goodall: The conditions are ripe for the biggest backlash imaginable

On an unseasonably chilly May afternoon, Nigel Farage looks out at the rows of empty seats at Fylde AFC, a Lancashire football club, the site of the latest of his Brexit Party rallies (eight and counting). He knows the stands will soon be filled with over 1,600 paying punters who will come to cheer, to jeer and to hear not only from the man himself – now nothing short of a political folk hero – but a full slate of Brexit Party candidates, including Ann Widdecombe, a Tory of five decades’ standing. Mr Farage is pleased with his latest signing. Chuckling, he reflects to me on some of the lessons he’s learnt during his shortish sabbatical from the political fray: “I’ve spent a lot of time in America recently. They’re always a few years ahead of us over there. It’s certainly taught me that politics should be far less drab.” The still nascent Brexit Party may be many things, but drab it is not. I have written before about the quality of its branding and social media output, the shrewdness of its operation, the foresight of its strategy. But what became clearer to me, standing in that football stadium, is the pedigree of its politics. – Lewis Goodall for Sky News

James Blitz: Would MPs back a Corbyn-May pact?

Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn will this afternoon resume efforts on a cross-party deal that can get Brexit across the line. But as their teams prepare to meet, MPs are asking whether any pact could possibly win majority support in the House of Commons? If Mrs May does a deal with Mr Corbyn, there would inevitably be a hefty Conservative rebellion. Any pact would require the prime minister to make a bolder commitment to membership of Europe’s customs union. This would make it very hard for the UK to do trade deals with non-EU states and there would be significant Tory discontent. Nigel Evans, executive secretary of the 1922 Committee of backbench Tories, told the BBC at the weekend (reported in The Times): “If there is a compromise that turns out to be a kind of ‘Brexit in name only’ involving anything close to a customs union, there would be more than 100 Tory MPs who would never support it.” One assumes that the figure of 100 is largely made up of the members of the hard-Brexit European Research Group, many of whom were prepared to back the May deal last time round — but who couldn’t continue to do so if she were to strengthen her customs union commitment. Then there is Labour. If Mr Corbyn were to sign up to a deal, there would be a sizeable rebellion by Labour MPs. Many would be incensed because they want a second referendum and believe any Brexit pact must be accompanied by a confirmatory vote. – James Blitz for the FT(£)

Brexit in Brief

  • Hard-working Conservative councillors have been sacrificed at the altar of May – Lord Tebbit for the Telegraph (£)
  • Does May’s selfish machine care at all about the Party’s future – or the thousand plus councillors who lost their seats? – Robert Halfon for ConservativeHome
  • Nigel Farage has stopped playing the clown. No wonder the Tories are scared – Michael Deacon for the Telegraph (£)
  • Our entire political system is based on confrontation. Brexit talks were never going to work – Philip Johnston for the Telegraph (£)
  • The astonishing crowds I have seen at Brexit Party rallies show how the grassroots are crying out for change – Claire Fox for the Telegraph (£)
  • MPs are ignoring the sell-out of our military to the EU –  Joshua Mackenzie-Lawrie of Get Britain Out for The Commentator
  • Brexit Party in talks with May’s Tory donors as Farage plans general election Tory wipeout – Express
  • Change UK add fourth name to their confusing brand – Guido Fawkes
  • Theresa May branded ‘insane’ and ‘pathetic’ by EU’s chief Brexit negotiators in shocking BBC documentary – The Sun