Junior minister George Eustice resigns over Theresa May’s ‘undignified Brexit retreats’ amidst threat of ‘final humiliation’ by Brussels: Brexit News for Friday 01 March

Junior minister George Eustice resigns over Theresa May’s ‘undignified Brexit retreats’ amidst threat of ‘final humiliation’ by Brussels: Brexit News for Friday 01 March
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Junior minister George Eustice resigns over Theresa May’s ‘undignified Brexit retreats’ amidst threat of ‘final humiliation’ by Brussels…

Agriculture minister George Eustice has resigned from the government over Theresa May’s decision to allow a vote on delaying article 50, saying it would be “the final humiliation of our country”. Eustice, a long-standing Brexiter and former Ukip candidate, said he wanted to be free to participate in debates in parliament in the coming weeks, saying he resigned with “tremendous sadness”. The ex-minister said he would vote for May’s withdrawal agreement but said he felt he had “stuck with the government through a series of rather undignified retreats”. Eustice said he felt the prime minister had been “terribly undermined” by ministers and MPs who did not want the referendum result to be carried out. “I fear that developments this week will lead to a sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country,” he said in his resignation letter. Though he said the prime minister had shown “tenacity and resilience”, he suggested both the prime minister and parliament had lost its nerve. “What our country needs from all its political leaders at this critical juncture is courage, and we are about to find out whether parliament has it,” he said. – Guardian

  • Minister George Eustice resigns from Government over Article 50 extension – Telegraph (£)
  • Minister George Eustice quits over Brexit delay vote – BBC News

> Yesterday on BrexitCentral:

DEFRA Minister George Eustice resigns over May’s “undignified retreats” over Brexit

WATCH: George Eustice interviewed on BBC News

…and is praised as ‘brave and right’ by Boris Johnson

Theresa May’s credibility suffered a fresh blow as another minister quit over her Brexit plans and was immediately praised by Boris Johnson for being “brave and right”. George Eustice, a long-serving agriculture minister, resigned in protest at Mrs May’s decision this week to give MPs the chance to delay Brexit. He has quit amid fevered speculation in Westminster that the Prime Minister is planning to force MPs to vote on her Brexit deal on Wednesday next week. Whips have told MPs that they can be away from Parliament on Monday and Tuesday and be ready for the vote on Wednesday, The Daily Telegraph has been told. This would leave time for another vote on Tuesday March 12 – the deadline she has set herself for getting her deal through Parliament. The whips’ plans are contingent on Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, approving a legal codicil which – The Telegraph understands – will say the controversial Northern Ireland backstop can be brought to an end by the UK or European Union by an independent arbiter. Mr Eustice is the 12th minister and 27th member of Theresa May’s administration to quit over her handling of the Brexit talks. – Telegraph (£)

Speculation mounts that May is planning a surprise vote on her deal next Wednesday…

Speculation is rife in Westminster that the Prime Minister is planning to force MPs to vote on her Brexit deal on Wednesday next week. Whips have told MPs that they can be away from Parliament on Monday and Tuesday and be ready for the vote on Wednesday, The Daily Telegraph has been told. This would leave time for another possible vote on Tuesday March 12 – the deadline she has set herself for getting her deal through Parliament. The whips’ plans are contingent on Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, approving a legal codicil which – The Telegraph understands – will say the controversial Northern Ireland backstop can be brought to an end by the UK or European Union by an independent arbiter. If on March 12 the House of Commons once again rejects her EU Withdrawal Bill, Mrs May will be forced to hold votes on a no-deal Brexit or delaying Brexit, as she agreed to allow this week. – Telegraph (£)

…as DUP hint that they could back her deal with a time limit on the backstop…

Theresa May could win the backing of the Democratic Unionist Party to get her Brexit deal over the line. The DUP’s Westminster spokesman Sammy Wilson admitted they could back the Prime Minister’s deal if the EU agreed a time limit to the Northern Ireland backstop. Mr Wilson said: “We have 21 months before the implementation period would be finished anyway. We believe there are possibilities to have the monitoring of trade across the border solved in that time. “That’s the kind of time limit we would be looking for.” It comes after Jacob Rees-Mogg, who chairs the powerful European Research Group (ERG) of pro-Brexit Tory MPs, softened his stance for legal guarantees limiting the Northern Ireland backstop. Mr Rees-Mogg suggested he could support Mrs May’s deal if binding legal assurances were added to an appendix to the Withdrawal Agreement, rather than put in the treaty itself. The leading Brexiteer told Sky News: “It has to have equal weight to the Withdrawal Agreement. – Express

…while Brexiteer Tories tell May they will back her deal if she lays out a timetable to quit Downing Street this year

Brexiteer Tory MPs have told Theresa May they can deliver a majority for her EU deal if she lays out a timetable to leave No10 this year. The Sun has been told that “dozens” of sceptical backbenchers are now ready to hold their noses and vote for the PM’s revised divorce agreement, even if she can only win small tweaks to it. In exchange, they want the PM to publicly lay out how she will step down and allow a successor to negotiate a future trade deal. Mrs May faces a knife edge final Commons vote to approve her deal on March 12, or be forced by the Commons to delay Brexit. One senior Tory Brexiteer said last night: “We need her to lay out a timetable for her departure this year. “A decent amount of us have now told the whips we would change our vote and back the deal if she did – enough of us to get it through.” The MP added: “We just can’t have her thinking she’s got a mandate to negotiate the trade deal. “That’s the real prize, not the backstop, which she only needs to give us a fig leaf for quite frankly.” A second Tory MP rebel added: “I’ve told my whip I’ll back the deal if she goes. – The Sun

  • Brexiteer Tory MPs will back Theresa May’s revised Brexit deal if she sets timetable for when she will quit as PM – Daily Mail

‘Star chamber’ of Brexiteer lawyers holds the PM’s fate in their hands

The fate of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement could be decided by a star chamber of Eurosceptic lawyers. The panel of eight lawyers – seven of whom are serving MPs – has been assembled to forensically examine any legal changes to the Brexit deal secured by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. When the amended agreement is put to another meaningful vote on March 12, it is likely to hinge on whether the lawyers agree that what Cox has brought back from Brussels constitutes a legal change that will ensure the Northern Ireland backstop cannot endure indefinitely. The group includes veteran Eurosceptic MP Bill Cash, former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab, and DUP leader Nigel Dodds – who are all legally trained. The only non-MP in the group is the respected QC Martin Howe, leader of the Lawyers for Britain group. The moves comes after the Brady amendment, a measure put forward by Sir Graham Brady, the chairman of the backbench 1922 committee of Conservative MPs, was passed last month, calling on the Irish backstop to be replaced by “alternative arrangements”. – Telegraph (£)

> BrexitCentral exclusively broke this story yesterday: Meet the eight lawyers who will judge whether ‘Cox’s codpiece’ cuts the mustard

Labour moving towards plan to let May’s deal pass if it faces a public vote…

Labour is moving towards a compromise plan that would allow Theresa May’s Brexit deal to pass but make clear that parliament “withholds support” until it has been put to a public vote, according to multiple party sources. Those involved in talks said the Labour leadership was in favour of a redrafted amendment proposed by backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which would see the party abstain on the Brexit deal if a second referendum were promised on those terms. Kyle said he was now confident the Labour leadership would back his rewritten amendment, along with a number of Conservative MPs, meaning there was an increasing prospect it would succeed. “I have every reason to believe that this will get the necessary support when the time comes,” he said. Senior Labour figures were unhappy that the original Kyle-Wilson amendment implied backing for May’s deal and a Tory Brexit. But Kyle said his amendment had now been recast in a way that commands the support of the Labour frontbench. Under the new plan, the text of the amendment would make clear MPs were “withholding support” from the legislation until the people were given a decision in a second referendum. If it were to pass, Labour would then abstain on May’s deal. – Guardian

…as Labour insiders cast doubt on its second referendum shift…

Jeremy Corbyn’s decision to call for a second Brexit referendum has energised supporters of a so-called People’s Vote — but senior Labour officials acknowledge that at present there is little chance of winning House of Commons backing for the initiative. Some pro-Remain Labour MPs suggest that Mr Corbyn, a veteran Eurosceptic, is a halfhearted convert to the referendum cause ahead of a climactic Commons vote to be held by March 12. Others depict the Labour leader’s switch as a cynical move to assuage the concerns of the pro-EU wing of the party made in the full knowledge that most MPs do not back another referendum. “There aren’t enough votes for a second referendum in the Commons, it’s as simple as that,” said one member of the shadow cabinet. “It was just important for the Labour party for the membership to see the leadership stand up and support it.” Mr Corbyn’s announcement on Monday night came only a week after eight Labour MPs left to form a new pro-EU grouping in the Commons and amid warnings that many more could break away, partly because of discontent with his line on Brexit. – FT (£)

…and Barry Gardiner declares on TV that a second EU referendum would ‘undermine trust in democracy’

A senior Labour frontbencher has said another EU referendum would “undermine trust in democracy”, despite his own party now supporting one. The Shadow International Trade Secretary told the BBC’s Question Time that a so-called “People’s Vote” on whether or not to overturn the result of the 2016 referendum would be “divisive”. His comments came just days after Labour announced that it would formally back another referendum between a “credible” Leave option and remaining in the EU. Meanwhile, The Guardian reports that the party is considering giving its support to Theresa May’s Brexit deal on the condition that it is put to the people in a public vote. Jeremy Corbyn told Labour MPs and peers at a meeting on Monday that that the party would support another referendum as a way of blocking the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. “One way or another, we will do everything in our power to prevent no deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit based on Theresa May’s overwhelmingly-rejected deal,” he said. That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country. – PoliticsHome

  • Labour’s Barry Gardiner admits 2nd Brexit referendum bid is embarrassing on BBC QT – Express

European Commission rejects ‘mini-deal’ on citizens’ rights ahead of no-deal Brexit

The European Commission has rejected a call for the UK and EU to make a joint commitment to safeguard citizens’ rights ahead of a possible no-deal Brexit. Brussels dismissed a proposal for a “mini-deal” on the issue to be carved out of Prime Minister Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement, despite a unanimous House of Commons request for such an accord. On Wednesday night, MPs backed a demand for Mrs May to “seek at the earliest opportunity” a UK-EU commitment to adopt and implement those agreements on citizens’ rights that are within her Brexit deal, before the UK’s exit. The Commons called for this to happen “whatever the outcome of negotiations” on other aspects of the prime minister’s Brexit deal, including in the event of no-deal departure. The cross-party proposal, approved unopposed by MPs, was spearheaded by Conservative MP Alberto Costa, who saw his demand accepted by the government despite being forced to resign as a parliamentary aide for tabling the initiative in the first place. – Sky News

Spain protects healthcare and pensions for British expats in no-deal Brexit…

Spain will announce a royal decree tomorrow to limit the impact of a no-deal Brexit on British tourists and expatriates. Under the plan healthcare provision for British residents and tourists would be guaranteed until at least December 31, 2020. British residents would also continue to have access to the social security system, which gives rights to unemployment benefits and pensions. The Socialist government will also guarantee freedom of movement for workers between Gibraltar and Spain. The law will come as a huge relief to about 300,000 Britons in Spain, many of whom are pensioners living on the costas who rely on access to local hospitals and doctors. Madrid hopes that the measures will limit the damage Brexit might do to its tourism industry, the second largest sector of the economy. Last year 18 million British tourists visited Spain. However, today the European Commission ruled out an EU-wide agreement with the UK to ensure that the rights of expatriates are protected across Europe in a no-deal Brexit. The proposal, for a UK-EU commitment to preserve citizens’ rights, was passed without opposition in the House of Commons yesterday. But a commission spokeswoman said in response that the EU was not willing to conclude “mini-deals” with the UK outside the main withdrawal agreement. – The Times (£)

…but EU angers UK with support for Spain’s Gibraltar airport claims

The British government has expressed anger after the EU offered tentative support for Spain’s territorial claim over the land on which Gibraltar airport is built. Direct flights between the UK and EU destinations will continue to operate for nine months in the event of a no-deal Brexit under contingency plans agreed by Brussels. Gibraltar airport, however, is not included in the scope of the plans, and EU legislation on the issue includes reference to Spain’s claim to land on which it is built. Gibraltar’s territory includes an 800m isthmus with mainland Spain, on which two housing estates and the airport are located, but Madrid does not acknowledge Britain’s sovereignty over the strip. The Treaty of Utrecht, under which Spain ceded Gibraltar to the UK, does not refer to British sovereignty beyond the fortified perimeter of the town as it was in 1713. The UK says it has rights through continuous use of the land. The EU’s no-deal legislation notes that the regulation is “without prejudice” to the “position of the Kingdom of Spain with regard to the sovereignty over the territory in which the airport of Gibraltar is situated”, and fails to mention the UK’s rival claim. – Guardian

  • Britain blasts Brussels and Spain over airport land grab – Express

US takes tough line with UK on post-Brexit trade talks

The Trump administration has taken an aggressive posture towards the UK on post-Brexit trade talks, demanding greater access to the UK market for its agricultural products and guarantees that London would not manipulate its currency. The office of the US trade representative, led by Robert Lighthizer, on Thursday released its “negotiating objectives” for a possible trade agreement with the UK, suggesting Britain is unlikely to get softer treatment than other US allies. In the 18-page document, Mr Lighthizer’s office said it was seeking “comprehensive market access for US agricultural goods in the UK” through the reduction or elimination of tariffs, a request that has already soured Washington’s trade relations with the EU. – FT (£)

Government orders new TV ad campaign to raise awareness of no-deal Brexit after radio messages flop

Ministers have ordered a new television advertising campaign to warn people to be ready for a no-deal Brexit after officials admitted radio messages had flopped. The communication campaign will be stepped up after radio adverts which have aired since January failed to make an impact. The Government also began placing adverts in newspapers and websites a fortnight ago. Earlier this week a Government paper – titled ‘Implications for Business and Trade of a No Deal Exit on 29 March 2019’ published revealed that people have ignored them. The report said: “Evidence suggests that individual citizens are not preparing for the effects that they would feel in a no deal scenario. “As of February 2019, despite a public information campaign encouraging the public to seek out the Government’s advice on preparing for a ‘no deal’, noticeable behaviour change has not been witnessed at any significant scale.” – Telegraph (£)

UK’s biggest investors bet on the British economy in Brexit show of faith

Britain’s biggest investors have all increased their shareholdings in the UK since the Brexit referendum in a show of faith in the economy’s fundamental strengths. Political turmoil and market volatility have not stopped the financial powerhouses from pouring more money into Britain, betting on Britain’s sustained success over the long-term. UK shares have performed relatively poorly since the referendum compared with investments in other countries. Yet investors said these lower prices mean UK assets are now more attractive, encouraging those who are confident in Britain’s long-term future to put more money into the market. The country’s top 10 investors, including Vanguard, Invesco, Schroders, Aberdeen Standard and Legal & General, have increased their holdings of UK-listed shares by an average of more than one-third over the past three years, according to Bloomberg data. – Telegraph (£)

Liam Halligan: Britain’s economy is set to boom and become the largest in Europe – because of Brexit

The public finances are on the mend, recording a healthy surplus in January on booming tax receipts. Employment is at record levels, with real wage growth at a two-year high. Despite a global slowdown, Britain expanded 1.4 per cent last year, recording just 4 per cent unemployment. Yet Germany and France are on the brink of recession, the Italian economy is contracting and eurozone joblessness is twice as high. The UK has economic problems – and let no-one say we don’t hear about them, given the relentless drumbeat of anti-Brexit media negativity. Just as the economy held up after the 2016 referendum, though – belying Treasury warnings of “an immediate and profound economic shock” – there are signs of defiant economic strength once more and confidence in our long-term future. Norway’s $1 trillion (£753 billion) sovereign wealth fund, among the world’s most respected investors, has just confirmed it will boost its UK holdings. “Over time, our UK allocation will increase,” said Yngve Slyngstad, the Norwegian Fund’s CEO. “With our 30-year plus time horizon, current political discussions don’t change our view,” he added, reaffirming his commitment to Britain even in the case of a “no-deal” Brexit. – Liam Halligan for the Telegraph (£)

Asa Bennett: George Eustice’s resignation will remind Brexiteers the humiliation they risk by rejecting the deal again

Readers would be forgiven for being a bit surprised by George Eustice’s resignation, in protest over Theresa May’s concession this week that if MPs reject her deal they will then get to vote on pursuing a no deal or a delay to Brexit, given that he voted for Yvette Cooper’s amendment last night endorsing it. Clearly, the farming minister slept on it and decided overnight that he could not live with the ramifications, as he warned in his resignation letter this afternoon that the Government had set up a “sequence of events culminating in the EU dictating the terms of any extension requested and the final humiliation of our country”. Mr Eustice jumped because of his concern that Mrs May has opened the door to this eventual outcome, although it could be argued that if she had not, rebellious MPs and ministers would have forced her to open it up. His resignation indicates that he fears the deal (which he stresses he’ll vote for from the backbenches and “very much” hopes Geoffrey Cox manages to improve the backstop terms) is destined for defeat again, and he accepts Parliament is not going to respond by swiftly voting for no-deal (even if he’ll still vote for it). – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Stephen Bush: It takes a special kind of blindness to believe Labour’s change of heart means there will now be a second referendum

Night blindness is a specific condition where someone struggles to see well at night or in poor light, which affects about 3 per cent of British people. Fovargue blindness is a generalised condition that affects almost everyone at Westminster, and is particularly strong among people who want to stay in the European Union. It is where you cannot see Yvonne Fovargue, and other Labour MPs like her, whether that be at night, in poor light or broad daylight, for that matter. Yvonne Fovargue is the Labour MP for Makerfield. She is, in many ways, the archetypal Labour MP. Before being elected, she had a successful career working in public service (in her case for Citizens Advice). Two things set her apart from the average Labour MP, however: she is a woman and she is opposed to a second referendum. Both of those things are not as rare as you might think. If Labour wins a majority at the next election, then half of its MPs will be women. While the number of Labour MPs who are opposed to a second referendum is nowhere near that crossover point, it is large enough to mean that without a major rebellion by pro-European Tory MPs (one double the size of any outbreak of dissent from that quarter so far), there is no serious hope or prospect of the House of Commons opting to put the Brexit question back to the people again. This group includes many MPs who will vote against another referendum no matter what their party leadership says. – Stephen Bush for iNews

Mark Wallace: Norway’s £750bn UK investment is proof we’re a great place to do business due to our skills, competitive taxes and innovation

The Norwegians are a responsible bunch. While the UK has spent every penny of its revenues from North Sea oil and gas, like a sailor splashing the cash on their first night back in port, our cousins across the sea have been saving their pennies. or more than 20 years, Oslo has been putting aside a chunk of that cash and investing it for a rainy day. The result is staggering: A £750billion pot — that’s more than £140,000 for every single Norwegian. That’ll buy you a lot of helmets with horns on — and it has helped the ­country avoid a budget deficit, even when times were tough during the ­financial crisis. In other words, Norway is not stupid with money. Having taken the wise decision to save up some of the North Sea windfall, they have worked hard to make it pay. – Mark Wallace for The Sun

Radomir Tylecote: The EU is quietly seizing control of its members’ finances

Over the winter, as Westminster argued about how and when to leave the EU, a vital development in Brussels went virtually unnoticed. Having failed for years to persuade sufficient Member States that the EU should become a fiscal union, in the days before Christmas the European Commission announced its intention that the EU, nevertheless, is in effect about to become just that. Drawing on legal developments since the 1990s, the evidence tells us this became a two-pronged strategy following the UK referendum in 2016. The first part involves expanding the definition of State aid to increasingly include domestic taxation generally; the second, announced over Christmas, aims to remove the national veto over tax policy itself. Given the broadly settled definition of State aid (the selective use of state resources to give companies competition-distorting advantages), this had been relatively little debated over the last decade. That began to change in the autumn, as the Withdrawal Agreement de facto committed the UK to harmonised State aid rules but without representation in the bodies that make them. – Radomir Tylecote for the Telegraph (£)

Philip Collins: May could claim unlikely triumph on 12th March

Political history is full of surprises and we may be on the brink of another. It may be that all the effort required to understand Labour’s stance on a second referendum, the blizzard of parliamentary amendments and the varied proposals for Brexit delay are all beside the point. The point is now on the horizon and, if you squint a little, you can glimpse the distant sign of a deal passing. Not many in the political class are ready for the surprise that may be with them before long. Brexit is the subject that it is impossible to keep in proportion. David Cameron exaggerated the threat from Ukip and so conceded an unnecessary referendum. The Leave campaign conjured up a phantom of federalism and imaginary immigrants to scare us all sceptical. The Remain campaign placed economic fortunes on a precipice and waited in vain for them to fall fast enough. With time now short there is a feverish conversation about the prospect of leaving without a deal, the mechanics of extending the Article 50 process and the Labour Party’s almost-adoption of a sort-of referendum (one day over the rainbow). And every word of it may just be not worth saying. – Philip Collins for The Times (£)

John Redwood: Another pro-Leave Minister resigns

We heard a lot about the need to keep three dissident pro Remain Cabinet members in the government to justify the change on possible delay. Meanwhile yet another good Minister from the Leave side understandably felt he had to resign given the continued drift of policy away from our Manifesto. This repeats the pattern so far. Not a single pro Remain Cabinet Minister has resigned. The PM has instead lost from the pro Leave side a Foreign Secretary, two Brexit Secretaries,  and a Work and Pensions Secretary from the Cabinet because they did not see the Chequers proposals and the Withdrawal Agreement as compatible with the Manifesto pledge to leave. The government has also lost two Brexit department Ministers, a Northern Ireland Minister and now a Fishing and Farming Minister from the Leave side. There have been 15 resignations from PPS and Vice Chairmen of the party roles as well from the Leave side. 23 resignations over the same policy is trying to tell the government something, and shows how important this matter is that so many will give up interesting jobs they wanted to keep  to make their point. I doubt there has ever been a policy in British history that has caused so many people to resign, without generating the necessary change of policy being sought. – John Redwood’s Diary

The Sun says: MPs prepared to avoid No Deal makes it harder for us to secure better Brexit

The pressure on Attorney General ­Geoffrey Cox to secure a better Brexit was unbearable even before mutinous Cabinet Remainers pulled the rug from under him. What leverage does he have left in negotiating binding changes to the Irish backstop, now MPs seem prepared to avoid No Deal and postpone Brexit? This was all too obvious to Government minister George Eustice who quit yesterday glumly predicting our “final humiliation” and attacking MPs who refuse to respect the referendum result. Remainers Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke still insist they do. They will claim their rebellion against Theresa May — a cynical, calculated risk that she is too weak to sack them — was designed to make Brexiteers realise ­voting down her deal could kill Brexit. It may have done that. But it wasn’t lost on Brussels either. And it has severely weakened our hopes of getting the one thing Brexiteers and the DUP need. Cabinet Remainers are guilty both of rank disloyalty and short-sighted stupidity. – The Sun

Brexit in Brief

  • Letters: The Conservatives will be destroyed if they vote for Mrs May’s bad deal – Telegraph (£)
  • Breaking point: can either Labour or the Tories survive Brexit? – James Forsyth for The Spectator
  • The endless pessimism of Remain MPs – John Redwood’s Diary
  • Net migration from outside the EU hits 15-year high – Telegraph (£)
  • Britain needs to leave the customs union and single market, say Communists – Telegraph (£)
  • Nigel Farage to lead 280-mile ‘March to Leave’ from Sunderland to Westminster ahead of March 29 – Telegraph (£)
  • Mirror magazines could be printed in UK again as part of Brexit contingency plan – Print Week