EU leaders scrap plans to help Theresa May pass her Brexit deal at disastrous meeting in Brussels: Brexit News for Friday 14 December

EU leaders scrap plans to help Theresa May pass her Brexit deal at disastrous meeting in Brussels: Brexit News for Friday 14 December
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EU leaders scrap plans to help Theresa May pass her Brexit deal at disastrous meeting in Brussels…

Theresa May‘s Brexit plan was dealt another major blow at a meeting with EU leaders on Thursday night in a disastrous turn of events that resulted in them scrapping written commitments to help her pass her deal through parliament. After arriving in Brussels with promises to help the prime minister, European leaders were left amazed when she turned up without any developed requests or ideas. The 27 heads of state and government subsequently decided to delete lines from their council conclusions saying the EU “stands ready to examine whether any further assurance can be provided” and that “the backstop does not represent a desirable outcome for the union”. The key paragraphs appeared in leaked earlier drafts on the conclusions and their absence leaves a barebones statement that does the bare minimum to help the prime minister. The limited assurances provided in the statement are extremely unlikely to placate Ms May’s MPs, who have said they want major changes to the agreement. Accounts of the meeting suggest the prime minister’s speech, in which she called for help to get the agreement “over the line”, was repeatedly interrupted by Angela Merkel asking her what she actually wanted from them. – Independent

…as she was told the agreement was ‘not open for renegotiation’ despite her pleas for movement on the Irish backstop…

Theresa May’s hopes of renegotiating her Brexit deal were dealt a fatal blow on Thursday evening as European Council President Donald Tusk declared the agreement was ‘not open for renegotiation’. EU leaders gave Theresa May assurances this evening that they would try to agree on Brexit by 2021 – so that the contentious backstop is never triggered. However, on the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement, the 27 national leaders were firm, saying: ‘It is not open for renegotiation.’ Tusk also called for heightened preparedness at all levels for all possible outcomes – including a ‘no deal’ scenario. That deal was struck last month but she has since gone back to Brussels for more assurances so that she can get it past her own MPs. Speaking in Brussels on Thursday, Donald Tusk, President of the European Council, said the EU underlines that the backstop is an insurance policy to prevent a hard border in Ireland.  Tusk said: ‘Prime Minister May informed the leaders about the difficulties with ratifying the deal in London and asked for further assurances that would at least in her view unlock the ratification process in the House of Commons. – Daily Mail

  • EU issues rebuke to Theresa May as her promises unravel – Telegraph (£)
  • EU humiliates May with refusal to budge on deal – The Times (£)
  • Brussels to step up its preparations for a No Deal Brexit as it plays hardball with May – Bloomberg

> WATCH on BrexitCentral’s YouTube Channel: Donald Tusk says deal will not be renegotiated

Fast-tracking the trade deal could avoid the backstop, says Leo Varadkar

Leo Varadkar and Theresa May have discussed the prospect of concluding negotiations on a future EU-UK deal so quickly that a final trade settlement would be reached long before the backstop needed to be invoked. The British prime minister last night issued a stark warning to Europe that the Brexit withdrawal treaty was “at risk” of failure unless it made further concessions on the Irish backstop. The taoiseach once again insisted that the backstop — the insurance policy to ensure there is no hard Irish border even if future trade talks fail — and the Brexit withdrawal agreement were “not on the table”. Mrs May told her fellow leaders that until they provided “reassurance” that the UK would not be “trapped” in an all-UK customs union with the bloc they risked an “accidental” no deal “with the disruption that would bring”. She appealed to them to “hold nothing in reserve” in making concessions now to get the deal over the line. – The Times (£)

Civil war breaks out among Tories as Chancellor is branded a ‘moron’ for calling Brexiteers ‘extremists’

The Tories erupted in civil war on Thursday as Chancellor Philip Hammond was branded “a complete moron” for referring to Eurosceptic colleagues as “extremists” and Brexiteer MPs vowed to block the passage of the Government’s withdrawal agreement into law. Within hours of Theresa May winning a vote of no confidence, Conservative in-fighting spilled out into the open, with Mr Hammond referred to as a “t—” and an unnamed minister reported to have bragged: “I’d like to punch the ERG in the face”, a reference to the European Research Group of Eurosceptic MPs which led Wednesday’s attempted coup. Hardcore Tory leavers are now threatening to “disrupt” Mrs May’s Brexit legislation if she does not return from Brussels with her promised “legal and binding changes” to the withdrawal agreement. They may also go “on strike” over non-binding legislation. An ERG source said: “Even if she wins a meaningful vote, a bill still needs to get through parliament and there will be many opportunities for rebels to disrupt it to ensure we get to March 29 without a deal.” Another senior Brexiteer added: “We need to polish up the language around no deal and turn it into something that sounds attractive rather than frightening. No deal isn’t a cliff edge – it’s a get out of jail free card.” – Telegraph (£)

  • Philip Hammond makes grovelling apology for calling Tory Brexiteers ‘extremists’ – The Sun

Theresa May’s attempts to save her Brexit deal are ‘phoney’ and she should test other options, some Cabinet ministers are saying privately

Theresa May’s attempts to salvage her Brexit deal are “phoney” and unlikely to succeed, Cabinet ministers have said privately amid a renewed push by Remainers for a second referendum. Despite publicly supporting the Prime Minister, ministers believe that Prime Minister has been left significantly “weakened” by the vote of confidence in which 117 MPs called for her to go. Seven Remain ministers are now urging the Prime Minister to hold a series of non-binding “indicative” votes on the different Brexit options including Norway, Canada and no-deal. Those pushing for the approach are Amber Rudd, David Lidington, David Gauke, Karen Bradley, Greg Clark, David Mundell and Damian Hinds. They believe it will “test the will of the House” for different options. One Cabinet source said that it will show there is no consensus around any of the options, bolstering the case for a second referendum. “She is not going to get the numbers,” one Cabinet source said. “More and more options are being taken off the table. We are getting closer to a second referendum.” – Telegraph (£)

Eurosceptics still defiant over May’s Brexit deal

Theresa May was put on notice by Eurosceptic Conservatives on Thursday that they would vote down her Brexit deal if she failed to secure meaningful concessions from the EU over the most contentious part of the withdrawal agreement. Eurosceptic Tories failed in a bid to oust Mrs May as party leader on Wednesday night when 200 Conservative MPs backed her in a confidence vote, with 117 opposing her. There is now a broad consensus among Mrs May’s critics that she should be given a chance to address their concerns about her Brexit deal, but no wavering in their readiness to vote against her compromise agreement with the EU if she is unable to get concessions. Mrs May pledged to seek improvements to her deal — notably on a contentious backstop plan to avoid a hard Irish border — after she on Monday pulled a Commons vote on it. “It’s now a waiting game”, said one pro-Brexit MP. “Unless something catastrophic happens, we are going to give her until mid-January to come back [from the EU] with a revised agreement. If it’s a fudge then we will vote it down.” – FT (£)

Theresa May’s crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal is pencilled in for 14th January

Theresa May’s crunch Commons vote on her Brexit deal has been pencilled in for January 14, The Sun can reveal. The PM dramatically abandoned the ‘Meaningful Vote’ scheduled for Tuesday – after MPs had already debated it for three days. She took the unprecedented step after admitting she was on course to lose heavily. Yesterday No10 confirmed the vote would not be held before Christmas but “as soon as possible” in January. Cabinet sources told The Sun that they are planning to hold the Commons vote on the first day possible after MPs return from their Christmas break. But they have conceded that they will be forced to start the process again by holding a full five days of debate running up to the vote – instead of resuming where they left off last week. That process would start on Monday January 7 – and culminate with a vote a week later on January 14, Cabinet sources said. The Government has committed to holding it before January 21. – The Sun

  • Theresa May confirms MPs won’t get a vote on Brexit deal until after Christmas – The Mirror
  • No vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal before Christmas, Government says – PoliticsHome

Labour plans to ‘throw kitchen sink’ to force May’s hand on Brexit

Jeremy Corbyn will seek to increase pressure on Theresa May in parliament next week in a bid to prevent the Tories running down the clock on Brexit. As the prime minister urged EU leaders to offer fresh concessions in Brussels on Thursday, senior Labour sources stressed the party was determined to “turn up the heat” at home. May’s spokeswoman confirmed on Thursday that “there will be no meaningful vote before Christmas”, while the prime minister negotiates with her EU counterparts. But Labour fears May will only be able to win cosmetic changes to the backstop – and that she will use the ongoing talks as an excuse to avoid testing the will of parliament. There must be no more dither and delay, or attempts to run down the clock in an attempt to deny parliament alternative options,” Corbyn said on Thursday. “People and businesses need certainty. The prime minister should put her deal before parliament next week in our country’s interest,” he said, adding that there was “no time to waste”. The Labour leader has held meetings with the shadow Brexit secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, who has been pressing for the party to table a motion of no confidence in the government before parliament rises for a Christmas break next Thursday. – Guardian

SNP ministers urged to ‘bin’ their Brexit Bill after Supreme Court rules it exceeds their powers

SNP ministers have been urged to “bin” their Brexit Bill after the UK’s highest court ruled that key parts exceeded their legal powers. The Supreme Court said a section of the Scottish Government’s Continuity Bill was outside Holyrood’s competence when it passed by MSPs in March. The judges said changes that were later made to UK Government’s EU Withdrawal Bill, adding it to a special schedule of protected legislation which MSPs cannot modify, meant a further 21 provisions could not stand. David Mundell, the Scottish Secretary, said the judgement had provided “much needed legal clarity” that the Bill “goes beyond the powers of the Scottish Parliament”. Adam Tomkins, the Scottish Tories’ constitution spokesman, said the Supreme Court “has eviscerated the Bill, leaving it in tatters”. He claimed the legislation’s remaining provisions merely replicated the Withdrawal Bill, saying that “there is no need for parliament to reconsider any of this – what parliament should do is bin it”. But Mike Russell, the SNP’s Westminster Brexit Minister, complained the UK Government had “changed the rules of the game midway through the match” in an “act of constitutional vandalism”. – Telegraph (£)

Civil service told to ramp up no-deal Brexit plans with 24/7 crisis centre

Civil servants across Whitehall have been instructed to ramp up their emergency no-deal planning, with preparations including hiring staff for a 24-hour “emergency centre”. The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA), one of those likely to be worst hit by a no-deal Brexit, has advertised 90 new posts for civil servants to staff a crisis centre. The centre is being set up to plan for and manage “the reasonable scenario of no deal”, the job advert says. The EU Exit Emergencies Centre is intended to be a temporary measure for three to six months. Staff will be expected to work shifts, to be on call 24/7 and will be trained in multiple roles, according to the job description. “If you are on call and a situation arises that requires the mobilisation of the EUXE centre, you will have to drop everything and make yourself available,” the job description says. The roles include response managers and situation managers to deal with the fallout of a no-deal exit, and staff will be required to “see through the fog”. The advertisement on the website describes the emergency centre as “managing any situations that arise if the UK leaves the European Union without a deal”. There are also vacancies for staff to liaise with the government’s crisis headquarters , the Civil Contingencies Secretariat (CCS). – Guardian

Britain and EU should prepare for second Brexit referendum, says Blair

Former Prime Minister Tony Blair will say that Britain and the European Union should prepare for a second Brexit referendum because parliament will probably fail to agree on a divorce deal and the public will need to break the deadlock. Less than four months before Britain is due to leave the EU, Prime Minister Theresa May called off a parliamentary vote on her deal with Brussels this week after admitting it would be heavily defeated. Addressing EU leaders meeting in Brussels, Blair said they should offer to reform the bloc to make it more attractive for Britain to remain. “Now should be the time of preparation – parliament to make sure it can canvass the options in (a) sensible manner, one by one, to reach agreement on an option or a referendum; Europe to ensure that if Britain is ready to think again, Europe is ready also to think again,” Blair, who was Labour prime minister from 1997 to 2007, will say in a speech in London. – Reuters

Mark Wallace: When Remainer MPs savage the views of Brexiteer colleagues, they risk insulting millions of Leave voters

One does not tend to look to Anna Soubry for calm and reasoned prescriptions for the future of the Conservative Party. Sure enough, the MP for Broxtowe lived down to her reputation in the aftermath of Wednesday’s ballot, demanding that the leadership “boot…out of our party” the 117 of her Parliamentary colleagues who had the temerity to express a lack of confidence in the Prime Minister. This sudden zeal for loyalty and discipline might seem a little peculiar, given the vocal criticism of the Government’s agenda which has emanated from one A. Soubry in recent years. However, it is consistent with her call, back in February, that “35 hard ideological Brexiters, who are not Tories” should be “slung out” of the Party. The only change is that the scope of her desired purge continues to widen as she discovers the true extent of heresy among the Parliamentary Conservative Party. – Mark Wallace for the Telegraph (£)

Iain Martin: Brexiteers’ rebel alliance is not beaten yet

Tory backbench Brexiteers have come in for a lot of mockery of late. Even some of us who want to leave the EU have joined in laughing at the pantomime bungling from the group trying to remove Theresa May in pursuit of a cleaner Brexit. Jacob Rees-Mogg and his gang of reckless ruffians became a reliable source of material for satirists. Who were these clowns who for months could not organise something as simple as the delivery of 48 letters to trigger a vote of confidence in their leader? Why do these silly pro-Brexit Tory MPs seem to talk so much and do so little? In that spirit, as recently as last weekend — remember that far back? — the settled, sophisticated consensus among smart people at Westminster was that the Tory rebel alliance did not have the 48 letters required to trigger a vote. The prime minister was preparing to put her Brexit deal to the Commons in a so-called meaningful vote. Even if she suffered a defeat on her first attempt to pass the deal, the 48 letters crowd would struggle to get their collective act together. – Iain Martin for The Times (£)

Matthew d’Ancona: May’s real plea to the EU: save me from a second referendum

It’s Thursday, and so the crisis of the day for Theresa May is a make-or-break meeting with her European Union counterparts in Brussels. Having achieved what can only be described as a humiliating victory last night – 117 of her own MPs voted to get rid of her – the prime minister now seeks concessions from the EU that she hopes will make her 585-page withdrawal agreement more palatable to hardline Brexiteers and the 10 Democratic Unionist MPs who prop up her government. Last night, her cabinet supporters – “allies” is too strong a word – expressed a frankly mysterious level of confidence that she will squeeze from Brussels “legally binding reassurances” on the proposed backstop mechanism: the device that would keep the UK in the customs union while the apparently intractable Irish border issue is resolved. I am sure that the EU will indeed make clear (yet again) that it sees the backstop as an insurance policy rather than an institutional objective; that it has no desire to use the mechanism any longer than is necessary; and that it will do everything that could be reasonably expected to ensure that the arrangement (if it is used at all) is short-lived. What Brussels cannot deliver is precisely what the Brexiters insist upon: a means by which the UK can terminate the backstop unilaterally or impose a clear time limit upon its operation. – Matthew d’Ancona for the Guardian

Dan O’Brien: ‘The backstop demand could end up bringing about that which it was designed to prevent’

How hard you push those you bargain with is central to the art of persuasion and negotiation. Twenty-five years ago this week one of the most important bargains in the history of this island was reached. The Downing Street Declaration cleared a pathway towards politics for those who had sought to get their way by violence and intimidation. That declaration insisted that those who used violence would have to stop killing if they were to be included in the political process. But it did not demand that they surrender all their weapons in advance as a condition. Such a condition would have been just and fair – allowing killers to hold onto their guns gave them the power to threaten to walk away from the table if they didn’t get what they want and go back to violence. But neither the Irish nor British government put this demand on the table. They did not seek it because they knew the IRA and Sinn Féin would never accept those terms. At the very least, the provisional movement would have split. At worst, the violence could still be going on today. – Dan O’Brien for the Independent

Ross Clark: With Parliament irretrievably divided, a delay to Article 50 is the most likely outcome

Pleading for her job at the lectern in Downing Street yesterday morning, Theresa May made what she may have believed would be the killer argument. If there were to be a new Prime Minister, she said, their first act would inevitably have to be to extend or withdraw article 50, thus delaying Brexit at a time when “people want us to get on with it”. But was that really a good reason for MPs to support her in yesterday’s confidence motion? Given the tightness of the March 29 deadline, the lack of preparation for leaving without a deal, and the mathematical improbability of finding a Commons majority for her Withdrawal Agreement (or any other deal for that matter), it is difficult to avoid the conclusion that, whatever the result of the vote had been, the only thing capable of winning the approval of Parliament is a delay to Brexit. The EU, despite some rhetorical softening among the other 27 members, is unlikely to make the legally-binding changes to the backstop that would be required for Mrs May’s deal to make it through the Commons. – Ross Clark for the Telegraph (£)

Daniel Dalton: Why staying in the customs union is a bad idea

The customs union has become a very hot topic over the last 18 months. Many people have suggested that the UK, or parts of it, can remain in the customs union even after the UK leaves. This is because it sounds seductively attractive in theory, as it would avoid customs checks at our external borders (although it could create them internally if parts of the UK stayed in and other parts did not). It is also portrayed, wrongly, as being the status quo and that nothing would change if we stayed in it. Even some of the most ardent Brexit supporters claim that the worst thing that would happen if we stayed in would be that we could not do trade deals with the rest of the world. While this is correct, I can assure you that there is a far worse repercussion that makes customs union membership the worst option of all. For staying in the customs union does not mean that our trade relations would be controlled by the EU. It is far more accurate to say that access to the UK market for third countries would be controlled by the EU. But the UK would have no external trade policy at all. To see the reality of this we need to look no further than Turkey, for she is the only sizeable non-EU country that has the misfortune to be in the customs union. – Daniel Dalton MEP

Christian May: Wherever Brexit takes us, let’s hope it’s not Norway

By surviving Wednesday night’s vote, she has secured a grace period of 12 months during which time she cannot be challenged again. However, Labour MPs are determined to call a parliamentary vote of no confidence in the government, which could destroy the Tory-DUP alliance once and for all – leaving the government with no majority. Faced with this scenario, May’s withdrawal agreement looks to be on even weaker ground than it was at the start of the week. This political purgatory is further complicated by the fact that no majority exists for any other form of Brexit. A second referendum is a possibility, but it would require the Prime Minister to make it her policy and at present, it absolutely is not. This leaves either May’s deal, a no-deal Brexit or the increasingly popular Norway option: membership of the European Economic Area (EEA). MPs cannot simply grab the wheel and steer the country to this destination. It would need to become government policy. Remain-leaning Tories and plenty of Labour MPs present the Norway option as an acceptable compromise, taking us out of the EU’s political institutions while leaving us with a smooth trading relationship. – Christian May for City A.M.

Bill Carmichael: Brexit infighters risk our exit from the EU

If an alien from the planet Zog landed his spaceship in the UK right now he would be baffled at the fractious nature of our political landscape – particularly the toxic infighting engulfing the Conservative party. Conventional political wisdom, even I suspect on the planet Zog, is that all voters really care about is the economy – jobs, wages, interest rates and inflation. Get these right and the votes will follow at election time. And given that the economic fundamentals in the UK remain so steadfastly robust – in defiance of all the hysterical doom mongering from Project Fear – you would imagine members of the ruling party would be hugging each other in glee, rather than trying to rip each other’s throats out. With all the excitement over Brexit, some pieces of news slide by without getting very much attention at all. For example, this week the Office for National Statistics revealed that wages are rising at their fastest level than for nearly a decade and that average weekly earnings increased by 3.3 per cent in the year to October – the highest figure since 2008. The figures can speed past in a blur, but the simple fact is that working people have more money to spend in their pockets. – Bill Carmichael for the Yorkshire Post

The Sun says: EU chiefs are choosing not to give the PM what she needs to sell her deal to the DUP

The EU could give Theresa May what she needs to sell her deal to the DUP and her backbenchers. It chooses not to. Why? Because forcing us into a second vote, or non-voting EU membership under “Norway Plus”, suits them better. This is not just The Sun’s view. Former EU leaders are imploring their successors to see sense. Ex-Commission President José Manuel Barroso says: “If there’s political will the excellent lawyers of the EU can find a creative solution for the backstop. It is crucial to avoid resentment. I hope the EU council understands it. There will be no third country more important than the UK.” His predecessor Romano Prodi has also said the EU could give ground. But it will take more than vague promises. Our power to exit the Irish backstop has to be legally binding — and approved by Attorney General Geoffrey Cox. – The Sun

Brexit in Brief

  • Is the DUP poised to rescue Theresa May? – Robert Peston for ITV News
  • Be prepared for WTO – Laura Perrins for Conservative Woman
  • Brexiteers are the only honest people left in Tory politics – Janet Daley for the Telegraph (£)
  • The Tories are not the only party in crisis because of Brexit – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)
  • The EU’s federal empire is on verge of a total collapse – Leo McKinstry for the Express
  • Leave isn’t right-wing, Remain isn’t left-wing – Rebecca Lowe for ConservativeHome
  • How the no-confidence vote gives Theresa May effective Brexit parliamentary minority – Telegraph (£)
  • May seeks reassurance, EU demands answers – Politico
  • Foreign boats to be banned from using electric pulse to catch fish post-Brexit – The Times (£)

And finally… Aggers tells Gary Lineker to ‘keep your Brexit views to yourself’

Gary Lineker has come under fire from his BBC colleague, star cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew, for his frequent outbursts against Brexit. The former professional cricketer publicly chided the Match of The Day host on Twitter, writing: “Gary. You are the face of BBC Sport. Please observe BBC editorial guidelines and keep your political views, whatever they are and whatever the subject, to yourself. “I’d be sacked if I followed your example.  Thanks.” He then followed this up by tweeting a link to the BBC Editorial Guidelines. – Telegraph (£)