Brexit talks to restart after Theresa May visits Brussels in last-ditch bid to break deadlock: Brexit News for Friday 8 February

Brexit talks to restart after Theresa May visits Brussels in last-ditch bid to break deadlock: Brexit News for Friday 8 February
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Brexit talks to restart after Theresa May visits Brussels in last-ditch bid to break deadlock…

The EU and UK have agreed to restart Brexit talks to find “a way through” the deadlock in Westminster, following a visit by Theresa May to Brussels. In a joint statement the British government and European Commission said Ms May had had a “robust but constructive” meeting with president Jean-Claude Juncker, and that the pair would meet again before the end of the month. But the EU again refused to reopen the withdrawal agreement and its controversial backstop – with any negotiations expected to focus on the future relationship between the UK and EU instead. The two negotiating teams have been formally stood down since the withdrawal agreement was agreed between the two sides last year, with the EU saying it did not anticipate any further meetings. But with MPs in Westminster blocking the ratification of the agreement, officials will begin meeting again. – Independent

…with May facing possible ministerial resignations as Brussels sends her away empty-handed…

Theresa May is returning to Westminster facing ministerial resignations after she left talks with EU leaders over her Brexit deal empty-handed. With another vote in the Commons due next week, a minister said colleagues on Ms May’s own front bench are ready to quit if there is no breakthrough in talks with Brussels. She was told on Thursday by a string of EU chiefs that the controversial backstop in the withdrawal agreement was not up for negotiation – and that she should instead change her red lines to win Labour support and take the deal over the line. In a climbdown that is likely to enrage hardline Brexiteers, she also abandoned instructions from Tory MPs to drop the backstop entirely, clarifying in meetings with EU leaders that she was instead seeking “changes” to it. – Independent

…while risking Brexiteer fury by assuring EU leaders that a backstop will remain in the deal

Theresa May has risked Brexiteer fury by assuring European leaders that the divisive Irish backstop will remain in any final deal. Guy Verhofstadt, the European Parliament’s Brexit chief, said Ms May told senior MEPs “there is no question to remove the backstop”, which acts as an insurance policy against a hard border on the island of Ireland. The prime minister held “robust” talks with European Commission chief Jean Claude Juncker in Brussels, where the pair agreed to open negotiations on the future relationship between the UK and the EU. But Mr Juncker stuck by his refusal to reopen the Brexit deal, dampening hopes that the EU could allow Ms May to strip the backstop from the agreement to appease MPs. – Independent

Brexit deal may not be put to MPs until late March, officials say

The Brexit negotiations are being pushed to the brink by Theresa May and the EU, with any last-minute offer by Brussels on the Irish backstop expected to be put to MPs just days before the UK is due to leave. In strained talks on Thursday, during which Donald Tusk suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan could help resolve the Brexit crisis, Theresa May and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to hold the next face-to-face talks by the end of February. That move cuts deep into the remaining time, piling pressure on the British parliament to then accept what emerges or face a no-deal scenario. It is understood that EU officials are looking at offering May a detailed plan of what a potential technological solution to the Irish border might look like, which could be included in the legally non-binding political declaration on the future trade deal. The blueprint would pinpoint the problem areas and commit to breaching the technical gaps where possible to offer an alternative to the customs union envisaged in the withdrawal agreements Irish backstop. – Guardian

  • Theresa May accused of taking Brexit talks ‘down to the wire’ by setting ‘insane’ timetable to reach a deal – Telegraph (£)

May and Varadkar in Dublin Brexit talks later

Theresa May will meet the taoiseach in Dublin today in an attempt to break the Brexit deadlock amid warnings over the damaging impact on the British economy of leaving the European Union. Fresh from “robust” talks with senior EU officials in Brussels yesterday, where she conceded that the Irish backstop could not be removed from the withdrawal agreement, it is understood the British prime minister will address whether binding changes can be made to the document. Leo Varadkar has insisted that the government will not countenance any changes to the deal or the insurance mechanism that ensures no hard border will re-emerge on the island of Ireland. The talks take place against a backdrop of grave warnings about the British economy, with the Bank of England warning of a one-in-four chance of a recession by the summer because of Brexit uncertainty. – The Times (£)

  • Theresa May and Leo Varadkar to meet in Dublin – BBC News

Taxes and tariffs could be slashed under secret plan for no-deal Brexit

Britain will cut taxes and slash tariffs under secret plans drawn up by officials to kick-start the economy in the event of a no-deal Brexit. Sir Mark Sedwill, the Cabinet Secretary, has led a cross-departmental team examining the “economic levers” that can be used to make Britain more competitive. The plans, which have been drawn up under the codename “Project After”, include a series of aggressive policies to help the UK “steal a march” on the European Union.  The most significant measures include cuts to corporation tax and VAT along with further tax relief to encourage more business investment. According to the Financial Times, work on the plans to make the UK began shortly after the referendum at the Department for International Trade but were subsequently widened. – Telegraph (£)

EU chiefs welcome Jeremy Corbyn’s new Brexit plans…

The European parliament’s Brexit chief has welcomed Jeremy Corbyn’s new EU exit plan and endorsed calls for a cross-party consensus in Westminster to prevent a no deal. Theresa May travelled to Brussels on Thursday for meetings with representatives from the European Commission, European Council and European parliament after her MPs told her they could not support the deal she had struck unless a controversial “backstop” cause was removed. Though the European Commission and UK government agreed to “find a way through” and restart meetings, all the EU chiefs Ms May spoke to were emphatic that the withdrawal agreement – and thus the backstop – was not up for negotiation. But Brussels is putting increasing pressure on the prime minister to think again about her red lines for the future relationship between the UK and EU – such as on a customs union, or alignment to the single market. – Independent

  • Donald Tusk ignores May’s demands and backs Corbyn’s customs union plan – Express
  • Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit plan ‘promising’, Donald Tusk tells Theresa May – Sky News

…but he is forced to calm a growing Labour backlash over his offer to help May deliver Brexit…

Jeremy Corbyn is battling to calm a growing Labour civil war over his refusal to support a fresh Brexit referendum, as some of his MPs threatened to quit the party in protest. The Labour leader was forced to justify his intentions after his new offer to help Theresa May deliver Brexit triggered accusations that he had torpedoed his party’s policy of keeping a public vote on the table. Amid growing tensions, Mr Corbyn wrote to party members to insist that party backing for a Final Say referendum remained an option – hours after furious Labour MPs accused their leader of helping enable Brexit. The backlash was triggered when Mr Corbyn wrote to Ms May on Wednesday evening offering continued discussions in “constructive manner” with the aim of “securing a sensible agreement that can win the support of parliament and bring the country together”. Labour would support an exit deal if five conditions were met, he said, including a customs union with the EU and guarantees on workers’ rights. – Independent

…and hints at backing a second referendum to quell Remainer rebellion…

Jeremy Corbyn was fighting last night to reassure his MPs that he could still back a second referendum after some said that they would leave the party rather than help to deliver an EU divorce deal. Mr Corbyn’s shift on Wednesday night towards a softer Brexit deal led to a backlash from MPs, including Owen Smith, a former member of the shadow cabinet. He said that he and “lots of other people” were now considering their position. “At the moment I may be asked by the Labour Party to row in behind a policy decision that they know, and the government knows, is going to make the people I represent poorer and — more fundamentally, actually — is at odds with the internationalist, social democratic values I believe in,” said Mr Smith, who stood against Mr Corbyn for the party leadership in 2016. Chuka Umunna, the pro-EU MP, said that the position was “totally demoralising”, adding: “This is not Opposition, it is the facilitation of a deal which will make this country poorer. I hate to think what all those young voters who flocked to the party for the first time in 2017 will make of this. Vote Labour, get a Tory Brexit. They will feel they have been sold down the river.” – The Times (£)

  • Keir Starmer battles to keep Labour support for people’s vote alive – Guardian

…although Labour denies it is the next step if May rejects Corbyn’s letter

Labour has denied it would automatically move to back a second referendum if Theresa May rejected Jeremy Corbyn’s offer of support for a revised Brexit deal, despite a shadow minister suggesting that would be the next step. The shadow Brexit minister, Matthew Pennycook, said that if the government rejected the offer from Corbyn, made in a letter to the prime minister on Wednesday night, the party would have “no other credible options” but to back another public vote. Labour sources denied it was the party’s official position but said the option of a public vote was still on the table, as per the policy agreed at the party’s conference. Corbyn is expected to move to reassure party members after the letter he sent to the prime minister sparked an angry backlash from some backbenchers and party members. In his letter to the prime minister, Corbyn called for the government to rework the political declaration with the EU to offer five commitments, including staying in a customs union, in part to avoid the need for a backstop over the Irish border. – Guardian

Labour MPs who back Tory Brexit face moment of reckoning, say activists

Labour activists are to target 30 Labour MPs with warnings of “a moment of reckoning” including deselections unless they vote down any Brexit deal brought by Theresa May, organising phone banks and campaign days to pile pressure on MPs. The drive, which is co-ordinated by the leftwing, pro-referendum group Another Europe is Possible, will involve dozens of activists targeting the constituencies of MPs who broke the whip on the amendment by Yvette Cooper, which would have sought to extend the article 50 negotiating period. The group is led by Michael Chessum, a former member of the Momentum steering group, although it is not directed by that group’s leadership. MPs set to be targeted by the group include key supporters of Jeremy Corbyn, including Bolsover’s Dennis Skinner and Crewe’s Laura Smith. Others include key MPs who have spoken out against a second referendum, including Gareth Snell and Caroline Flint, as well as those who have backed May’s Brexit deal already, including Ian Austin and John Mann. – Guardian

Anti-Brexit People’s Vote campaign in disarray as Labour MP goes rogue and puts down motion for second referendum

A Labour veteran who voted Leave plans to make a formal bid for a second referendum in the Commons next week. Roger Godsiff says it was only right that the public should have the “final say” on the Prime Minister’s deal when it is finalised. He will table an amendment to Theresa May’s “withdrawal motion” which is set to be debated on Valentine’s Day. The move is understood to have infuriated campaign chiefs at the People’s Vote – who fear there is no chance of a second referendum bid winning a majority in the House of Commons. Tory Remainers Sarah Wollaston and Philip Lee pulled a proposed second referendum amendment at the last minute last month under intense pressure from People’s Vote. Mr Godsiff – whose Birmingham Hall Green voted to Remain in 2016 – told The Sun: “The original decision was taken by the people. So I think it’s only appropriate that there is a chance for Parliament to give it back to the people for them to make a decision on it.” Under his proposed amendment, the public will get to vote on three outcomes – the PM’s Brexit deal, No Deal or to Remain in the EU. Meanwhile Tory grandee Sir Edward Leigh today announced plans for a separate amendment designed to fix the problem of the backstop which has been the main stumbling block for Mrs May’s deal. – The Sun

John Redwood: The EU talks are not going anywhere – let’s table a free trade agreement

It’s been good having three days off from Brexit on this blog. Parliament and the UK media need to remember there are many important tasks and debates we need to have about problems in our country that should not be driven out by endless and repetitious arguments about the terms and timing of our departure from the EU. I seek to  make sure my work as an MP is not unbalanced by Brexit which takes up too much Parliamentary time. Over the last few days there has been little progress with the UK Parliament’s wish to see the Withdrawal Agreement renegotiated. The EU appears to rule out removing the backstop from the Agreement, which in turns seems to rule out Parliament approving it. For some  of us it is far more than the backstop that is wrong with the Agreement anyway. Why would we want to sign a one sided agreement giving the EU all it wants, without anything firm on the future partnership which might contain things we want? Far from leaving the EU signing the Agreement means delay in taking back control of our money, our laws, and our borders, with genuine issues about whether we would ever be in full control given the backstop and the financial commitments. – John Redwood’s Diary

Fraser Nelson: Brussels is terrified of Brexit being a success – no wonder they’re threatening hellfire

If Theresa May were given to Donald Tusk-style outbursts, she might have had a thing or two to say on Thursday when she came back from Brussels. They had wasted her time. She had come with a message: that her party would (reluctantly) back her if the EU would add a standard break clause to the Brexit deal, allowing either party to terminate if they choose. Hardly an outrageous request. Her party, she said, were ready to swallow their objections. Here was a delicate, opportunity for compromise. But instead, Tusk chose this week to talk about Brexiteers going to hell. We then had Guy Verhofstadt saying that the devil would not let them in. As for Mrs May’s all-important request, Martin Selmayr, chief of the EU civil service, had already announced (on Twitter) that it was not even being considered. So the Prime Minister was sent away from Brussels, asked to come back at the end of the month – and the great Brexit psychodrama drags for longer. In Britain, we’re left asking: why? – Fraser Nelson for the Telegraph (£)

Sherelle Jacobs: Our PM has become engulfed in lies, pantomime and post-truth, but it won’t stop us leaving the EU

Has Brexit chaos sucked Britain into a post-truth fifth dimension? Keeping up with our Government’s EU “negotiations” increasingly feels like dunking one’s head into a hallucinogenic vortex where nothing is as it appears, and everybody is lying, or trying to distract us from reality. First, there is Theresa May’s extraordinary talent for performative deception as she struggles to run the clock down before trying to ram her deal through the Commons one last time. This week she has acted out what will surely go down as the most farcical piece of diplomatic pageantry in British history, starting with an excruciatingly pointless trip to Northern Ireland and ending in equally pointless talks with an intransigent EU. The PM’s near-lies are  becoming increasingly obvious too. Last week, she put her weight behind an amendment saying that the backstop should be “replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border”. Now she is now insisting that what Parliament really means by this is that there should merely be “changes made” to it. And, right on cue, the EU has today been quick to insist that these “changes” cannot be in the actual Withdrawal Agreement, but in the Political Declaration. Which means they aren’t “changes” at all. – Sherelle Jacobs for the Telegraph (£)

Quentin Letts: Toothless Donald Tusk’s ‘hell’ outburst proves his contempt for Brits voting to Leave his federal superstate

Some people are in a tizzy after Donald Tusk, president of the ­European Council, said a special ­corner of hell should be reserved for buccaneering Brexiteers. Tusk’s remark had diplomats ­practically needing the Heimlich manoeuvre to ­dislodge Ferrero Rocher chocolates stuck in their gullets. Quick, the ambassador has had a seizure! Had Herr President Tusk, at this most delicate of moments, really told the likes of Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage to go to hell? Yes, pretty much. I know we are supposed to take ­mortal offence. I know we are meant to fan our faces and ask Nurse to bring us something to soothe our nerves after that nasty man uttered such a frightful insult. But I couldn’t help laughing at toothless Tusk’s tirade. At last, a European Union bigshot has blurted out his contempt for British voters. That’s surely preferable to all those smarmy smiles and fake phrases about “respect for each other’s values” and how we hope to work with “our European friends and partners”. Real friends don’t nick £39billion off you. There are two things worth knowing about Donald Tusk. The first is that in his youth he was a bit of a brawler. – Quentin Letts for The Sun

Andrew Lilico: May faces three simple choices – betray Northern Ireland, your people, or exit without a deal

Theresa May visits Brussels today but no-one (on either side) expects she will come away from her trip with a single substantive concession to advance the Brexit debate. With just 50 days until Brexit, you might expect that both sides would be going at negotiations hammer and tongs to get a deal, but the reality is that Brexit has now reached a political impasse. This is no longer about technical negotiations (we had two solid years of those) but about the belief on both sides that the other is failing to confront the hard political choices that the reality of Brexit presents. From a British perspective, that means the EU needs to recognise that the current deal will not go through Parliament, at least not without a tweak. And that without that deal, Ireland will end up with the very same hard border that the EU’s benighted backstop was designed to avoid. – Andrew Lilico for the Telegraph (£)

Philip Collins: Labour cannot paper over its cracks for long

Britain’s departure from the European Union is a big issue which is about something even bigger. It is about Britain’s place in the world but it describes, at the same time, changes in British politics that could yet be a bigger story than Brexit itself. For the moment, the struggle is having the paradoxical effect of holding the parties together. Nobody wants to give up the power that a party machine can bring. Yet the moment a Brexit deal passes, as Lord Adonis has said this week, both the main parties could split. I think this will happen, and soon. Party splits in British life are common and, at times, vital. An 1829 split in the Tory party, when the Protestant ultras left over Catholic emancipation, was instrumental in the passage of the Great Reform Act of 1832. Peel’s conversion to free trade split the party properly in 1846 and the free traders gradually turned the Whigs into the Liberal Party. Gladstone’s evangelical fervour on Home Rule provoked the Liberal Unionists to join the Conservatives in opposition. – Philip Collins for The Times (£)

Asa Bennett: The EU has a special place in hell for Mrs May – doing a Brexit deal with the Labour devil

Donald Tusk has ensured Theresa May will have an infernal time in Brussels today after declaring yesterday that he had “been wondering what the special place in Hell looks like for those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out”. The Prime Minister is hardly going to cool the temperature with what she is asking from European leaders. She wants them to accept that the backstop needs to change so that the UK is not “trapped”, but will reportedly not specify how she would prefer that to be achieved. If the EU27 could be sure that a certain concession would be enough to get the deal through Parliament, it would be easier for them to consider it. But the Brady amendment, which stipulates that the MPs which passed it would support the withdrawal agreement provided the backstop was “replaced with alternative arrangements”, is not clear enough. ”  “This majority that did exist in the House of Commons for ‘alternative arrangements’ probably only exists because alternative arrangements can mean whatever you want them to mean,” Leo Varadkar complained. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Joshua Mackenzie-Lawrie: The Treasury is the real threat to Brexit

In the last few months there seems to have been a story every day about the threat to Brexit from the backbenches of both the Conservative and Labour Parties. However, while it’s a serious threat which cannot be ignored, it is not the biggest one. A bigger threat comes from the Chancellor of the Exchequer, Philip Hammond, and the Treasury as a whole. This threat to Brexit is nothing new, nor is it exclusive to the Hammond era. In the lead up to the EU Referendum, time and time again, we saw former Chancellor, George Osborne produce the firepower for ‘Project Fear’. As you may recall, we had threats of a proposed ‘Punishment Budget’ and endless Treasury “predictions” of job losses and economic downturn which would immediately follow a vote to Leave. All of which, of course, proved to be false. Now, even after the departure of Osborne from the Treasury, the game continues. It has simply become more invidious and secretive. – Joshua Mackenzie-Lawrie of Get Britain Out for The Commentator

John Cochrane: John Major’s dire warning that Brexit could lead to the break-up of the UK may yet come true

For Remainers like this one, I’d always taken with a pinch of salt the threat – first posed by John Major – that Brexit could lead to the break up of the United Kingdom. After a brief flurry of excitement in 2016 that prompted First Minister Nicola Sturgeon to order teams of officials to work on the details of Scottish independence, things settled down and the polls soon reverted to their normal position, namely that the majority of Scots were still determined to stick to the Union. Now I’m not so sure. Although, according to Britain’s top psephologist, Sir John Curtice, the odds are still against a vote for Scottish independence, the margin is now closing: 11 per cent in 2016, compared to only six per cent now. There is no doubt in my mind that the confusion, mixed messages and general chaos over Brexit is feeding the separatists’ cause – and not just in Scotland. Now we have Sinn Fein calling for a vote on the Irish border after a poll appeared to show that even in Northern Ireland a majority appear ready to back a united Ireland if a No Deal Brexit goes through. – John Cochrane for the Telegraph (£)

The Sun: Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg must think hard about voting down PM’s Brexit deal concessions as chaos may follow

If Tory backbench eurosceptics want to ensure Brexit happens they must get real. The Irish backstop won’t be “binned”. The “Malthouse compromise” is too late. The best they can hope for is a legally-binding tweak allowing us to leave the hated backstop and ensuring Britain and Northern Ireland are not divided. Jeremy Corbyn’s cynical offer to Theresa May should focus Tory minds. Rejecting her deal won’t bring about the No Deal many want. We believe a majority of MPs and half the Cabinet will blow up the Government and Brexit before they let that happen. The result could be Mrs May agreeing to Corbyn’s idiotic demand for permanent Customs Union membership. But we can’t believe she’ll do that either. It would rip the Tories in two, as Labour aides calculate, as well as being an insane surrender of our sovereignty and future economic independence and a betrayal of Leave ­voters. Small wonder Brussels was so keen on it yesterday. All of which leaves what? A postponement on March 29, terrible damage to the Tories and a possible second referendum tearing the country apart. – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • Theresa May’s Brexit summit got us nowhere. But maybe that was the plan all along – Michael Deacon for the Telegraph (£)
  • Brexiteer hero Corbyn unblocks deadlock and makes it decision time for the Tory ERG – Iain Martin for Reaction
  • If Remainers like free trade with the EU, why not with rest of the world? – Ryan Bourne for the Telegraph (£)
  • Brexit fears fail to trouble Airbus space business in the UK – FlightGlobal
  • We’ll build on record year despite Brexit, says Bellway – The Times (£)