No deal plans 'more advanced than many realise': Brexit News for Friday 9 March

No deal plans 'more advanced than many realise': Brexit News for Friday 9 March
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‘No deal’ plans reportedly ‘more advanced than many realise’ as UK ministers tire of EU stubbornness…

Ministers are gearing up for a walkout from Brexit talks if Brussels continues to play hardball. A senior cabinet source has revealed that plans for scenarios including no deal and the EU refusing to let Britain rejoin its agencies are more advanced than many people realise. The minister has said that the strategy is “to be better and compete” with the EU on all fronts. The minister told the Daily Express: “We have taken a polite approach and tried to be as reasonable as possible so far but in the end we have the means to compete and outdo the EU. “After all we are the world’s fifth largest economy, speak the language of business, have great universities and the rest of it. – Express

  • Davis’s message to the EU should be: we’re not Greece – and won’t be treated like Greece – Iain Dale for ConservativeHome
  • Mob-like EU is undemocratic and acts like a bunch of gangsters – The Sun editorial

…as Boris Johnson says leaving without a deal holds ‘no terrors’

Boris Johnson has said a “no deal” Brexit should not hold any “terrors” for Britain because the country would “do very well” under World Trade Organisation rules. The Foreign Secretary insisted that the Government remains “prepared” to walk away from Brexit negotiations if Brussels refuses to agree to a good deal but no-one should be “apprehensive” about such an outcome. Theresa May came close to suggesting that walking away without a deal was no longer an option in her Mansion House speech last week, saying she would not be “buffeted by the demands to…threaten a walk out”. But Mr Johnson insisted that preparations for no deal continued, and that it remained an option. – Telegraph (£)

‘Ireland first,’ says Tusk after Varadkar meeting

The President of the European Council, Donald Tusk, has told the Taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, that Ireland’s interests come first in the Brexit negotiations. Speaking in Dublin, Mr Tusk said nothing must be done to risk the peace process or the Good Friday Agreement. He said every EU leader he has met has expressed support for Ireland’s position. He called on the British government to produce a “realistic solution” to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland. Mr Tusk said: “If in London someone assumes that the negotiations will deal with other issues first before moving to the Irish issue, my response would be ‘Ireland First’.” – BBC News

Gibraltar will veto parts of Brexit deal if its sovereignty is threatened, Chief Minister warns

Gibraltar has warned it has the power to veto elements of a Brexit deal if it threatens the Rock’s right to remain part of the UK. Fabian Picardo, chief minister of Gibraltar, said that any agreement which threatened the sovereignty of Gibraltar and emboldened the Spanish government would not be tolerated by the territory’s parliament. Ahead of talks with ministers on Thursday, Mr Picardo laid out his red lines as he urged Mrs May and her negotiating team not to use the Rock as a bargaining chip. It comes amid a growing row between Gibraltar and the European Union over its future, amid claims that the bloc is attempting to drive a wedge between the Rock and the UK after Brexit. – Telegraph (£)

  • Post-Brexit UK financial markets ‘offer’ for Gibraltar – BBC News

Draft press release shows Labour working with Brussels

Guido can reveal the existence of a draft Keir Starmer press release that  shows Labour has been working with Brussels on Brexit policy. The draft press release, which was written after Corbyn’s speech last week, would  have boasted how Labour had “secured EU backing” for their customs union proposal. The statement would have said “it is understood” that the European Parliament’s Brexit Steering Group was set to “adapt its resolution to reflect the wording of Jeremy Corbyn’s customs  union policy”. – Guido Fawkes

UK ministers ‘will change’ Brexit bill despite no agreement with devolved administrations

Scottish and UK ministers will meet for further Brexit talks later with still no agreement on who should exercise powers which return from Brussels. The Welsh and Scottish governments have accused the UK government of proposing a “power grab”. A UK government source has told the BBC it may amend the EU Withdrawal Bill even without a deal with Edinburgh. A letter obtained by the BBC suggests UK ministers want to publish details of which powers should apply UK-wide. – BBC News

  • UK ministers to go ahead with Brexit powers devolution plan despite no deal with Scottish or Welsh – Telegraph (£)

Brussels fines Britain £2.4bn for customs fraud

The European Commission fined Britain £2.4 billion yesterday, accusing the government of turning a blind eye to widespread customs fraud at ports. In a provocative move before the start of Brexit trade negotiations Brussels has written to the government demanding payment after an investigation by Olaf, the EU’s anti-fraud unit. It accused the UK of allowing Chinese criminal gangs to systematically undervalue goods imported into the EU through Dover and Felixstowe, avoiding billions of pounds in customs duty and VAT that should have been paid to Brussels. The EU claims that Britain was made aware of the fraud more than ten years ago but failed to take action, costing Brussels €2.7 billion in lost revenue. – The Times (£)

Trump suggests UK could avoiding US tariffs after leaving the EU

Mr Trump announced a 25 per cent tariff on steel, and 10 per cent on aluminium, to begin in two weeks’ time. He exempted, at least temporarily, Mexico and Canada, and suggested the “great country” of Australia would also be spared, along with “possibly other countries as well” who were “real friends”. Mr Trump indicated those nations spending more on defence would be better positioned, and White House officials indicated “carve outs” would be decided on a “country by country” basis. The UK is one of only half a dozen Nato countries that meets the requirement of spending two per cent of GDP on defence. … British ministers are understood to have contacted their American counterparts and Whitehall sources are confident that UK firms could ultimately avoid the tariffs. – Telegraph (£)

  • US President imposes levy on steel and aluminium – BBC News

Don’t put bankers first in talks, says Labour

Labour has accused the government of prioritising financial services over manufacturing in Brexit trade talks. Discussions over the UK’s post-Brexit trading framework with the EU are expected to begin later this year. Shadow chancellor John McDonnell said it was clear the government aimed to “win a deal for financial services first and then worry about the rest of the economy later”. The chancellor has argued for a post-Brexit deal to include banking. On Wednesday, Philip Hammond said: “A trade deal will only happen if it is fair and balances the interests of both sides. “Given the shape of the British economy, and our trade balance with the EU27, it is hard to see how any deal that did not include services could look like a fair and balanced settlement.” – BBC News


James Forsyth: The EU shouldn’t punish Brexit. They’d soon regret it

Mrs May’s speech succeeded because no single Tory faction got everything it wanted but most got what they needed. For the Brexiteers, there’s the fact that the UK is legally leaving the single market and the customs union and that free movement will end. The vast majority of former Remainers, meanwhile, are reassured by the government’s effort to stay in various EU agencies and to replicate parts of the single market. On goods, the deal the UK is seeking bears significant similarities to Switzerland’s relationship with the EU. Observing the current Tory mood, one of the Prime Minister’s cabinet allies confidently declared: ‘She’ll be fine as long as she doesn’t do what David Cameron did, and give in.’ Unfortunately, the European Union is about to take a wrecking ball to this carefully constructed compromise. The EU doesn’t much like its deal with Switzerland and is currently trying to pressure the Swiss into accepting changes. The idea of handing that kind of arrangement to the UK — and without free movement — won’t appeal. – James Forsyth for The Spectator

  • How will May respond to the EU’s Brexit approach? – James Forsyth for The Spectator

Mark Wallace: Whether you care about fisheries or not, they’re an essential guide to the new politics of Brexit

British fishing may be a shadow of its former self, but there are a lot of people out there who regret its demolition, to the extent that it has become quite an iconic issue for some. The fact that the CFP meant factory ships from other countries having unrestricted access to British waters, with severe ecological effects, all under policies decided in a way that gave equal weight to member states that don’t even have a coastline, made it a very emotive issue for a sub-set of voters in the referendum, who are now watching closely to ensure we take back control of our fisheries. It’s into those waters that the Chancellor chose to wade yesterday.  – Mark Wallace for ConservativeHome

Paul Mason: Why won’t Remainers get behind Corbyn’s Brexit plan?

At the BBC early doors for the Today programme, to preview Corbyn’s speech advocating membership of a customs union. I suggest that ‘this is something Remainers can get behind’, but come off air to a torrent of denialism and abuse on Twitter. In a parallel universe, the people who feel existentially destroyed by being halfway out of the EU would have made this case passionately before the vote, instead of trying to rely on fear and platitudes now.- Paul Mason for The Spectator

Bruce Bawer: Britain should steer clear of EFTA

Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland are, in many ways, de facto members of the EU, even if officially they are not. It is a bizarre position. The entire reason for the pro-Brexit vote was that a majority of Britons recognized that the U.K., even as a full member of the EU, was steadily losing its sovereignty to that organization—in which the power to propose and formulate laws is vested in the unelected European Commission—and that they, the voters of Britain, therefore had less and less say over the laws that governed them. In short, Britons understood that continued EU membership meant increasing subjugation. Yet the deals that Norway, Liechtenstein, and Iceland have struck with the EU have put those countries’ voters into an even more powerless position than that of their British counterparts. – Bruce Bawer for City Journal

Austin Mitchell: Don’t let unpatriotic politicians betray our fishermen again

For 40 years as an MP, I fought to protect the British fishing industry — only to see it ruined in England and damaged in Scotland and Northern Ireland. Although Brexit now offers a great opportunity to rebuild the industry, it is tragic to see that chance being thrown away. For it is appalling that Chancellor Philip Hammond is touting our fishing rights as disposable, and hinting that the Government may give them away in return for a better Brexit deal. He has suggested that British fishermen might have to accept foreign trawlers having significant access even after the UK has regained control of its traditional fishing grounds. – Austin Mitchell for the Daily Mail

Gary Younge: Brexit will expose the EU’s democratic deficit

I considered voting for Brexit. After the referendum was agreed, but before the campaigning had begun, I could have gone either way. My issue was democracy. I didn’t like the fact that the European parliament could not initiate legislation; that turnout for European parliamentary elections had fallen 30% since the first elections in 1979; the way countries that voted “the wrong way” on EU referendums were effectively instructed to vote again (Denmark 1992; Ireland 2001, 2008) and get it right; the fact that Greece’s resounding democratic rejection of the terms of its bailout (2015) was treated with such contempt. – Gary Younge for The Guardian

Comment in brief

  • The City, Post Brexit – The Times editorial (£)
  • Why we will be better off out of the EU – John Redwood MP for CommentCentral
  • Great British Bake Off judge backs Brexit – Steerpike for The Spectator
  • Why the TPP has allure for US and post-Brexit Britain – Andrew Hammond for the Telegraph (£)
  • Scheming EU Corbyn sells out Labour voters – Peter Lyon for CommentCentral
  • Should the government prioritise domestic growth over Brexit? – Alex Deane for City A.M.
  • The Brexit Vision – John Redwood’s Diary
  • As Brexit negotiators kick Northern Ireland about, the rest of our problems have been forgotten – Sarah Arnold for the Telegraph (£)
  • Whoever governs Italy will destroy the euro from within – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for the Telegraph (£)
  • Brexit must not bring a bonfire of workers’ rights – Frances O’Grady for The Times (£)
  • Corbyn’s speech: cynical, disingenuous, reckless – Communist Party of Britain

News in brief

And Finally… Tony Blair is given award for ‘Democracy’, despite wanting to reverse the Brexit referendum result

Tony Blair has, in a bizarre move, has been given an award for an “unwavering commitment to democracy” despite being committed to reversing the Brexit referendum to keep the UK shackled to the undemocratic European Union, it has been revealed. The former PM and New Labour leader became the first Briton to win the Abraham Lincoln “Leadership Prize” for his record since leaving office. Figures who show “great strength of character, individual conscience and unwavering commitment to the defining principles of democracy” in a lifetime of service are given the US prize. MP Nadine Dorries said: “It is beyond belief that Tony Blair – the man straining every sinew to overturn the votes of millions of people to leave the EU – is now being lauded for his commitment to democracy. – Express