Theresa May to make last desperate plea to EU to change Brexit deal in Grimsby speech today: Brexit News for Friday March 8

Theresa May to make last desperate plea to EU to change Brexit deal in Grimsby speech today: Brexit News for Friday March 8
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Theresa May to make last desperate plea to EU to change Brexit deal in Grimsby speech today…

Theresa May will make a last desperate plea to the EU to give ground over the Brexit deal with just four days to go until a decisive Commons vote. Brussels has insisted it is up to Britain to come up with new ideas by the end of Friday to break the deadlock, but Mrs May will say that “the EU has to make a choice too”. Negotiations in Brussels remain moribund as EU sources accused Britain of presenting “crazy” ideas for solving the row over the Northern Irish backstop. Plans for Mrs May to fly to Brussels on Sunday have been shelved as there is currently no reason to believe she will have anything to sign off. With increasing pessimism spreading through the Government, the Prime Minister will on Friday travel to Grimsby, in Britain’s Eurosceptic heartland of Lincolnshire, to make a speech begging the EU for help. She will say: “Just as MPs will face a big choice next week, the EU has to make a choice too. We are both participants in this process. It is in the European interest for the UK to leave with a deal. We are working with them but the decisions that the European Union makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.” – Telegraph (£)

  • You’ll lose control of Brexit, May is warned – The Times (£)
  • Theresa May tells EU it ‘has to make a choice’ in few days before MPs’ Brexit vote – Sky News

…after Government confirms the meaningful vote on her Brexit deal will go ahead on Tuesday

MPs will vote on Theresa May’s Brexit deal next Tuesday, the leader of the House of Commons Andrea Leadsom confirmed today. She told the Commons on Thursday that next Tuesday’s vote would definitely be going ahead. It comes after the Prime Minister’s spokesman said that votes on a no deal and a delay to Brexit would take place as promised if her deal is voted down in the Commons.  There had been speculation that Mrs May could pull a vote on no deal on Wednesday and to extend Brexit on Thursday if her deal fails. Mrs Leadsom, listing the schedule, said the next meaningful vote will take place on March 12 and added March 13 will include Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement and a general debate on housing. She added that if Mrs May’s deal is voted down she would then make a further statement on the subsequent votes. She said: “I have just confirmed the meaningful vote will take place on Tuesday March 12, and I hope the House will support the Prime Minister’s deal. However, in the deeply regrettable case that the House does not support the deal I will make a further business statement on March 12 in order to fulfil the Prime Minister’s commitments to allow the House to vote next week on whether we should leave the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement on March 29 or extend Article 50.” – Evening Standard

EU concessions put agreement within reach, claim officials…

The EU has made “meaningful” concessions on the Irish backstop, senior Whitehall officials said yesterday, claiming that a deal could be reached before the vote on Theresa May’s Brexit plan on Tuesday. Sources close to the British negotiating team said that Brussels had agreed to give the government legal guarantees that the backstop would be temporary within the text of the withdrawal agreement. They said that they had also agreed to a more prominent role for the independent arbitration committee that will handle disputes over the divorce deal. The sticking point remains Britain’s demand that the commission have the unilateral power to end the backstop. Senior European Commission officials have told the British that this goes beyond the remit given to them by European leaders. One Whitehall source said that it was possible that the UK might have to wait until a European Council meeting of member states’ leaders on March 21 for the final deal to be agreed. “A lot of the gloom and doom coming out of Brussels doesn’t reflect what has gone on in the room,” they said. “We are not where we need to be but it is not true either that we’ve not made progress.” – The Times (£)

…although Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says UK should make concessions to ‘mitigate the damage they are creating’…

Britain should come to the table with further concessions to “mitigate” the damage it is causing, Leo Varadkar has said in comments that risk enraging Brexiteers. Negotiators are preparing to work through the weekend in a frantic effort to break the deadlock in the Brexit talks before next week’s crunch vote in the House of Commons. Theresa May, the British prime minister, will seek to shift the blame for another defeat in parliament to the European Union today, saying its decisions this weekend will determine whether MPs back an amended agreement on Tuesday. “We are both participants in this process,” she will tell Brussels. “The decisions that the EU makes over the next few days will have a big impact on the outcome of the vote.” The Taoiseach’s language hardened in relation to concessions for Britain in a sign of growing exasperation with the slow progress of talks. EU officials have given Britain until today to come back with fresh proposals after talks this week failed to resolve the impasse on the backstop, an insurance policy to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland if no deal is agreed by matching rules in the north and south. – The Times (£)

…but Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has told the EU the backstop would breach the human rights of people in Northern Ireland

Geoffrey Cox claimed the Irish border backstop would breach the human rights of people in Northern Ireland in a scramble for new concessions, the EU said tonight. Sources said the Attorney General made the move in Tuesday night’s fractious negotiating session with Michel Barnier, the Guardian reported. He is said to have warned a permanent backstop would breach the rights of people in Northern Ireland to choose their politicians because it means imposing EU rules. The EU source said it was one of several ‘surprising’ things said by Mr Cox amid claims from Brussels Britain has not offered reasonable proposals. Mr Cox slapped down the EU claims in Parliament today – insisting the British demands were ‘clear as day’. Downing Street insisted today MPs still needed ‘legally binding’ guarantees the Irish border backstop would not be permanent to pass the deal on Tuesday night. There are just five days until a showdown vote in Parliament on the deal – which Mrs May faces losing by up to 100 even if Mr Cox secures some kind of concession. Acrimonious talks between Mr Cox and Mr Barnier ended in deadlock on Tuesday night with both sides admitting the ‘robust’ and ‘difficult’. – Daily Mail

  • Backstop may threaten Northern Irish human rights, says Cox – Guardian

> WATCH: Geoffrey Cox takes questions on the backstop in the House of Commons

Back May’s deal or risk soft Brexit, Philip Hammond tells Tories

The chancellor, Philip Hammond, has urged hard Brexiters to vote for Theresa May’s withdrawal deal or risk a soft Brexit compromise, even if concessions on the backstop can’t be secured from the EU. Hammond admitted that convincing Brussels to accept legal binding changes to the backstop on the Irish border was proving a “challenge”. Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, he said that even if those assurances could not be secured, he urged the “Brexit wing of the party” to get behind the deal in the crucial meaningful vote next Tuesday or risk uncertainty over Brexit. His warning came after France urged the UK negotiating team, headed by the attorney general, Geoffrey Cox, and the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, to come up with fresh proposals to end the Brexit impasse. Hammond said: “I hope they [Cox and Barclay] will come back with an offer that my colleagues on the Brexit wing of the party will consider very, very carefully in the context of the real situation that we are in, because if the prime minister’s deal does not get approved on Tuesday then it is likely that the House of Commons will vote to extend the article 50 procedure to not leave the EU without a deal, and where we go thereafter is highly uncertain.” – Guardian

Liam Fox expresses fear that Remainers could overturn Brexit next week

A cabinet Brexiteer has voiced fears that Remain supporters in parliament will seek to overturn the referendum result over the next week. Liam Fox told BBC Newsnight that a large number of MPs want to keep the UK “locked in the EU”, adding there needs to be an end to the “self-induced pessimism” which is denying the opportunities offered by Brexit. Fox also called on the EU to show greater flexibility as he called on Brussels to move away from defending “the purity of the European project”. – BBC News

May allies suggest she will allow MPs a free vote on No Deal next week if her proposal is defeated again

Theresa May will allow MPs a free vote on whether to pursue No Deal next week if her own proposals are defeated, two of her allies said last night. They said she accepted it would be impossible to whip a vote on No Deal without causing a destabilising wave of resignations that could bring down her fragile government. ‘Whichever way you whipped it, it would split the party,’ one said. ‘A free vote is inevitable.’ Chancellor Philip Hammond also hinted at the move yesterday. Asked if he would resign if he was ordered to vote for No Deal, he said: ‘That is something I don’t think will happen.’ With Brussels still stalling on negotiations and Eurosceptic opinion hardening again, ministers are braced for potential defeat when MPs vote on Mrs May’s deal a second time on Tuesday. But sources insist the PM believes there is still hope of a last-minute turnaround – provided the EU gives ground on the controversial Irish backstop. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox and Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay are on standby to return to Brussels as early as today if officials indicate there is the prospect of a breakthrough. – Daily Mail

Technological solutions to the Irish border have been ignored in UK-EU Brexit talks

British and EU Brexit negotiators have spent less than 1 percent of their time discussing technological alternatives to the Irish border backstop in hard-fought talks in Brussels since February. Theresa May whipped her MPs to support the Brady amendment calling for the controversial backstop to be replaced with “alternative arrangements” and set up an Alternative Arrangements Working Group of influential Brexiteer MPs. Despite that, the Telegraph can reveal that negotiations over those technological solutions have been almost entirely ignored. “99 percent” of the negotiations since early February have been dealing with trying to secure legally binding assurances that the backstop will not become permanent if triggered, The Telegraph understands. The remaining 1 percent devoted to the alternative arrangements and the political declaration setting out the terms of the future trade talks, the Telegraph was told. The European Commission has said that such alternative arrangements could help avoid an Irish border in the future but that the technology is not yet advanced enough. A senior EU official famously dismissed technological alternatives to the backstop as “magical thinking” earlier in the negotiations. – Telegraph (£)

Most EU treaties won’t be replicated in UK by 29th March, says minister

The UK will have replicated less than half the international agreements the EU has in place with other countries by Brexit day, the government has confirmed. Just 43 of the 161 international treaties and agreements currently in place, including 11 aviation deals to allow planes to keep flying to countries such as Canada and the US, have been rolled over. Also agreed were five nuclear treaties that would enable continuity of energy supplies, the Brexit secretary, Stephen Barclay, said in a written statement. But he admitted: “If the UK leaves the EU without a deal, it will not be possible to complete the transition of all agreements by 29 March 2019.” The UK benefited from more than 1,000 treaties, said the government, but officials have determined that just 161 of these are essential for a no-deal scenario, including more than 30 trade deals. In addition to the 43 deals already done, another 21 are “expected to be ready” for transition by 29 March, leaving a further 97 as work in progress. These include trade deals with Iceland, Japan, Liechtenstein, Norway and Turkey. As an EU member the UK is automatically party to about 40 trade deals with more than 70 countries and Barclay said it was “not the government’s intention to transition all agreements in their entirety”. – Guardian

Holidaymakers given Government guarantee that flights to and from the EU will not be grounded in a no-deal Brexit

Flights between the UK and European Union will not be grounded in the event of a no-deal Brexit after both sides finalised plans to keep planes in the air. The Department for Transport announced that all flights will be protected even if Britain leaves the bloc on March 29 with no agreement in place. Holidaymakers will now be able to book flights beyond March 29 with “absolute confidence”, the department said. Both sides said last year they wanted to make sure Brexit did not disrupt air traffic and both have now agreed no-deal aviation regulations. The UK’s regulations mean EU airlines will be able to continue to operate in the UK and the EU’s regulations mean UK airlines will be able to operate in the EU even if there is a disorderly divorce. The announcement should spell the end of uncertainty for the aviation industry, business travellers and holidaymakers. Chris Grayling, the Transport Secretary, has long maintained that flights would not be grounded but critics had suggested travel chaos would likely follow a no-deal departure from the EU. Baroness Sugg, the Aviation Minister, said flights would now be protected “deal or no deal”. – Telegraph (£)

Brexit Department chief to retire early at the end of this month

The civil servant in charge of Britain’s no-deal Brexit preparations is to leave the civil service two days after he may have to put those plans into effect. Philip Rycroft is to take early retirement from his job as permanent secretary at the Department for Exiting the European Union on March 31. He is 57. A senior Whitehall source admitted that the timing of Mr Rycroft’s departure was “not ideal” but that it was a decision that had been taken months ago when it was assumed a Brexit deal would have been finalised. They said that Mr Rycroft, who lives in Scotland but commutes to London each week, had made clear last year that he did not want to continue in the job after Brexit. Others expressed unease at the perception that such a senior official would be seen, in the words of one source, to be “jumping ship”. Another said that the department would miss a “calm, wise head” at what could be a critical moment. Mr Rycroft will be replaced by Clare Moriarty, the permanent secretary at the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra), which has one of the largest portfolios of no-deal contingency projects. Defra is also to lose its director of EU exit preparedness. Sally Warren said yesterday that she was to become director of policy at the King’s Fund health think tank. – The Times (£)

Gordon Brown calls for year-long Brexit delay to avoid ‘impending national disaster’

Former prime minister Gordon Brown says Brexit should be delayed for a year to “consult” voters and prevent an “impending national disaster”. The ex-Labour leader said the Article 50 negotiating period should be extended to allow MPs to listen to the public’s views on the current Brexit proposals through a “citizen’s consultation”. Speaking just 22 days before Britain is scheduled to leave the European Union, he said: “The logic of extending Article 50 is now inescapable to avoid chaos on 29 March and prevent an impending national political disaster.” Mr Brown claimed the “ill-thought-out” approach to Brexit had left the economy “drastically ill-prepared”. He added: “Decades from now a new generation will look back with stunned disbelief at the way the Brexit debate has been conducted so far.” Mr Brown’s call for a delay is part of a concerted effort involving business leaders, union chiefs, community representatives and senior politicians. Prime Minister Theresa May has promised MPs a vote on calling for an extension to Article 50 if they reject her withdrawal agreement and a no-deal Brexit in crunch votes next week. – Independent

George Eustice: We have bungled this negotiation. The best means of putting matters right is to embrace No Deal if we have to.

First they tell you we should try to block it. Next they say that since its happening anyway, we should try to change it. Eventually, they say that while we didn’t get many changes, the Commission did give us something, so it would probably be bad etiquette to vote against it now, and we should therefore support it. For anyone who has been a Minister in a Department like Defra, this is the familiar pattern of advice that comes from policy officials as a succession of EU dossiers meander their way through technical working groups. The existence of Qualified Majority Voting creates a particular dynamic and fosters a particular culture that leads to comfortable defeat. No one need take a hard decision to get up and walk out of the room. No one need worry that an agreement might never be reached. QMV means that everyone can have their say, and probably have a few crumbs to brandish back home, while the EU ploughs on relentlessly with its own agenda. – George Eustice MP for ConservativeHome

Caroline Elmsom: How to survive – and thrive – after a No Deal Brexit

With just three weeks left until March 29, the countdown to Brexit Day has never looked more uncertain. As the clock ticks on, confusion continues over what options remain on the table, what’s firmly off the table, and even how much longer the table will exist. Crucially, an extension to Article 50 does not mean the threat of no deal disappears. In short, no deal is not dead yet. The latest update from the Bank of England suggests that the impact of no deal may not be as bad as previously predicted. However, a softer blow is contingent on progress on preparedness continuing and accelerating as the clock runs down. The key to surviving – and thriving – in a no deal exit depends on the Government’s measures to mitigate the material economic shock. While predictions on the fallout from no deal have focused on immediate disruption or long-term forecasts, too little has been said about what the Government could – and should – do to manage the economy from day one. In a paper published today, ‘A Budget for No Deal’, the Centre for Policy Studies outlines practical policies to restore confidence among companies and consumers in such a scenario. – Caroline Elmsom for CapX

Asa Bennett: Will Tory MPs be satisfied by what’s inside Geoffrey Cox’s codpiece?

Geoffrey Cox titillated the House of Commons this morning by acknowledging “Cox’s codpiece”, the moniker Brexiteers have been using to refer to the changes to the backstop they fear will amount to a glamourised fig leaf. The Attorney General told MPs that his mission was to ensure “that what is inside the codpiece is in full working order”. Senior Tory ERGer Mark Francois carried on this theme by chiding him for being in charge of assessing the legal significance of whatever he ends up negotiating, quipping he would end up “examining his own codpiece” in front of MPs. “It is said codpieces were developed either to facilitate greater freedom of movement from highly restrictive hosiery or to hide venereal disease,” one senior Tory Eurosceptic observed to me. “I sincerely hope Cox’s is more of the former than the latter!” What if Brexiteers conclude that all his codpiece is covering is a load of cobblers? If that’s the case, then the 118 Tory MPs who voted against Theresa May’s deal in January is not going to reduce by much this month. This is why ministers are trying to hammer home the risks of not backing the deal next week, with Philip Hammond warning that rejection will make the UK’s immediate future “highly uncertain” and that Tuesday’s vote is the “last chance to be confident” of a prompt departure. The Chancellor aimed his plea at his colleagues on the “Brexit wing of the party”, which is an odd way to talk about the ERG when the “Brexit wing” should apply to the entire Tory party, given it is in government overseeing the delivery of Brexit. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

John Redwood: Will the government set out all the good news of what we can do once we have left the EU?

The Remain MPs and commentators are brilliant at pushing out an endless set of recycled Project Fear stories, each one more lurid than the last. They want to pose Brexit as a disease to be treated or a “cataclysm” to be managed. They seem to have demanded or influenced a lot of government Ministers and departments to ignore the potential and suppress the good news of what we can do and achieve with a clean WTO Brexit on 29 March. The Treasury refuses to discuss how we could spend the £12bn a year net saving if we leave without signing the Withdrawal Agreement with its promise to pay for nothing for years to come. The Treasury refuses to spell out what an April budget would look  like when we could spend the Brexit bonus on a mixture of public service improvements, investments and tax cuts. This would provide a welcome boost to an economy slowed deliberately by a strong fiscal and monetary squeeze over the last year. – John Redwood’s Diary

Steve Edginton: We marched against the Iraq war and tuition fees – now we need to march FOR Brexit

I’ve always believed Brexit is the greatest opportunity young people will encounter in the 21st century – it’s the first time in recent history that the people beat the elite and I’m planning on walking 270 miles to make sure it happens. To be 19 and believe in Brexit is deemed wholly unfashionable – I have been called an ‘age traitor’,  a ‘fat nosed c***’ and been trolled online, just for my political stance. Yet what baffles me is why it seems so many other people my age are content with the un-elected, unaccountable stale, pale male EU bureaucrats making decisions for us, without our best interests at heart. Being anti-establishment and embracing the revolutionary spirit which refuses to accept the rules laid down by our predecessors and wanting to promote a positive, new vision for the future is a core part of growing up. We young people have a history of rebelling against the elite in power, whether that was marching against Tony Blair’s disastrous Iraq war or coming out in droves against David Cameron’s rise in tuition fees. – Steve Edginton for The Sun

Fraser Nelson: Is Philip Hammond’s plan to thwart a true Brexit about to reach fruition?

Had Brexit gone to plan, Philip Hammond’s Spring Statement next week would have been a dazzling manifesto for a no-deal Brexit. As Chancellor, it’s his job to give the Prime Minister options. She could sign a deal, if the EU made an offer that Parliament was able to accept – but if not, the government’s official policy is to leave without a deal. Mr Hammond could then spell out what that would mean: becoming a low-tax competitor to the EU, for example, specialising in low tariffs and global free trade. And if the EU didn’t like the sound of all that – well, it was free to offer Britain a more attractive alternative. But Hammond has always regarded Brexit as a disaster – and a no-deal Brexit as the worst outcome of all. He still sees the Cabinet as being a fight between Remainers and Brexiteers and lets this slip now and again: only yesterday, he referred to his opponents in “the Brexit wing of the party.” Rather than make no-deal sound viable, he wishes to make it sound a terrifying act of national self-harm. A few horrifying Treasury “scenarios” would do the job nicely – and the Prime Minister would have no choice but to sign whatever deal the EU offered. – Fraser Nelson for the Telegraph (£)

Robert Peston: Why Geoffrey Cox has been booted in the codpiece by Brussels and Brexiters

Attorney General Geoffrey Cox appears to have taken a leaf out of the Theresa May political playbook by equating compromise with a plan that simultaneously alienates more-or-less everyone. The proposal he loudly and proudly calls a codpiece – to reform the Northern Ireland backstop – has been rejected by EU negotiators under Michel Barnier. But from the details about it which I’ve gleaned, I cannot remotely see how it would have been accepted by the Tory ERG Brexiters that it was supposed to placate. Cox’s cunning plan was to rework the powers of the arbitration panel that would be created if the UK ever ratifies the Withdrawal Agreement. After Brexit, it would become a vehicle to decide whether the UK had made reasonable and credible proposals to replace the backstop, and it could rule that the UK could therefore get out of the backstop. This would in effect mean that neither the UK or EU would any longer possess a veto on whether the utility of the backstop had come to an end. Which is why it was almost immediately rejected by Barnier. – Robert Peston for ITV News

The Sun: Leaving the shackles of the EU is a chance to really kickstart Britain’s economy

Leaving the European Union is a chance to kickstart Britain’s economic engine. We’re fully behind the Government’s not-so-secret plan to get rid of tariffs on thousands of items coming into the UK in the event of No Deal. Even if we strike a deal, our economic policy MUST be focused on playing the biggest possible part we can in global trade. That’s what made Britain great. At home, the Government — preferably without Philip Hammond anywhere near it — must reboot our regions. The “Towns Fund” is only a start. Let’s turn some of our old industrial areas into free ports, revitalising the manufacturing economy. We should experiment with enterprise zones in poorer parts of our biggest cities, similar to that used in London’s Docklands in the 80s, to encourage investment in exciting new technology. Slash business rates for the high street to allow it to compete with online rivals, reinvigorating our town centres. The PM and others have too often seen Brexit as a damage-limitation exercise. It’s that sorry attitude, in large part, that has led us to where we are today. Actually, it is a chance for us to up our game as a nation, to embrace the free market red in tooth and claw. To reap the benefits it can bring for businesses, consumers and our public services. Ambition is not a dirty word. – The Sun

Brexit in Brief

  • Five reasons why Ireland should back a time-limited backstop – Pieter Cleppe for CapX
  • ‘If we extend Article 50, I fear we will never leave’ – Telegraph (£) young readers
  • Brexit looms, MPs fret… and Geoffrey Cox shouts about his codpiece – Michael Deacon for the Telegraph (£)
  • If Brexiteers reject Theresa May’s deal, it’ll be the biggest gamble of their lives – The Sun
  • Brexit row hits Scottish Labour on eve of conference – FT (£)
  • Guy Verhofstadt: Add-on to Brexit deal cannot ‘question’ original text – Politico