Theresa May delays ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit deal until 12th March at the latest: Brexit News for Monday 25 February

Theresa May delays ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit deal until 12th March at the latest: Brexit News for Monday 25 February
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Theresa May delays ‘meaningful vote’ on Brexit deal until 12th March at the latest…

Speaking as she travelled to an EU-Arab League summit in Egypt, Mrs May ruled out holding a so-called “meaningful vote” on her deal this week. But she said “positive” talks with the EU were “still ongoing” and leaving on 29 March was “within our grasp”. Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn accused the prime minister of “recklessly running down the clock”. In a tweet, he said the move was intended to “force MPs to choose between her bad deal and a disastrous no deal”. Labour, he said, would “work with MPs across the Commons to prevent no deal, break the deadlock and build support for our alternative plan”. On the plane to Sharm el-Sheikh for a summit between EU and Arab league leaders, Mrs May said her team would be returning to the Belgian capital on Tuesday for further talks. “As a result of that, we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week, but we will ensure that that happens by 12 March,” she added. – BBC News

  • Theresa May rules out meaningful vote this week – Sky News
  • Theresa May delays Brexit vote for a fortnight and refuses to censure ministers demanding A50 extension – Telegraph (£)
  • Theresa May delays crucial vote until 17 days before Brexit – The Times (£)

…in the absence of any breakthrough in the Brexit negotiations

Theresa May has admitted she will not get a Brexit deal in time for MPs to hold a “meaningful vote” this week, amid warnings time is running out for an agreement before Britain leaves the EU. Speaking on her way to an EU-League of Arab States summit in Sharm el Sheikh, Egypt, Mrs May said: “I was in Brussels last week. Ministers were in Brussels last week. My team will be back in Brussels again this coming week. They will be returning to Brussels on Tuesday. “As a result of that we won’t bring a meaningful vote to Parliament this week. But we will ensure that that happens by March 12. But it is still within our grasp to leave the European Union with a deal on March 29.” Mrs May is to hold talks with EU leaders at a summit in Egypt as she battles to break the deadlock in the Brexit negotiations. She has vowed to Tory grassroots activists that she will not allow the referendum vote for Britain to leave the EU to be frustrated. – RTE

Downing Street reportedly considering plan to delay Brexit by two months…

Brexit will be delayed for up to two months under plans being considered by Theresa May to extend Article 50, The Telegraph has learned. Downing Street officials have drawn up a series of options in a bid to avoid resignations by ministers determined to support a backbench bid to take no deal off the table this week. The Prime Minister said she will delay a meaningful vote on her deal by up to two weeks until March 12, just 17 days before the UK is due to leave the European Union. The Telegraph understands that the plans drawn up by Downing Street officials, which were circulated at the weekend, include making a formal request to Brussels to delay Brexit if she cannot secure a deal by then. It came as the Prime Minister failed to secure a breakthrough “deal in the desert” during talks with European leaders at an EU-Arab summit in Brussels. She said that leaving by March 29 is “still within our grasp”, a far more downbeat assessment than her previous insistence that Britain will leave the EU on Brexit day. While the Downing Street plans do not specify the length of the extension, ministers believe it will be no longer than two months – avoiding the need for the UK to participate in European parliament elections. – Telegraph (£)

…as one faction of Tory MPs propose postponement until the European elections in May

Theresa May is facing growing calls to say she would delay Brexit rather than leave the EU if no deal is in place by the end of March. A new plan from moderate Tory MPs says ministers could postpone Brexit until 23 May “to conclude negotiations”. It is being suggested as an alternative to cross-party proposals which would see MPs take control of the process. The PM will meet EU leaders at a summit in Egypt later, as she presses for more concessions to her deal. The prime minister has long resisted any suggestion that the UK’s departure could be postponed beyond 29 March. But political editor Laura Kuenssberg says two cabinet ministers have told the BBC they believe she will this week grant some kind of concession to allow for a possible delay. Such a move, though, would inevitably anger Brexiteers who want the UK to leave as planned, whatever the cost. – BBC News

Europhile MPs rally support for their anti-No Deal amendment on Wednesday…

Four weeks ago, MPs tried to wrestle control of the Brexit process from Theresa May — and failed. On Wednesday, things could well be different. The prime minister’s Europhile opponents feel the parliamentary arithmetic has shifted in their favour, with only 33 days to go before Britain’s scheduled exit from the EU.  Yvette Cooper, a senior Labour MP, and Sir Oliver Letwin, a senior Conservative MP, have been rallying support for a proposal that would force the government to hand power to parliament if no UK-EU withdrawal deal has been approved by March 13. Under the proposal, which is set to be tabled as an amendment on Wednesday, the government would be legally obliged to offer MPs the option of requesting an extension in the Article 50 exit process beyond March 29. EU leaders have said they are likely to agree to some form of extension, but Mrs May has said she will not ask for one. A counterproposal, led by Conservative MPs Simon Hart and Andrew Percy, would delay Brexit day to May 23, the start of the European Parliament elections, if parliament in Westminster has not approved a deal by March 12. In an email to 50 members of the Brexit Delivery Group of moderate Tory MPs, Mr Hart said the amendment “could offer some colleagues who have indicated they might support Letwin-Cooper a way out, whilst also removing the danger of a crashing out at the end of March without a deal”. – FT(£)

…as Remainer Cabinet trio want a timetable for delaying Brexit if there’s no deal by mid-March…

Remain Cabinet ministers will demand Theresa May this week spells out a timetable to delay Brexit if there is no EU deal by mid-March as their price not to rebel. A public declaration by Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark to a back a Commons bid this week to extend Article 50 talks ignited a fresh civil war at the top of Government. Brexiteer Cabinet ministers angrily accused the trio – who are joined by 20 other junior minister and dozens of backbench Tory MPs – of “astonishing disloyalty” and undermining the PM. But Mrs May herself turned a blind eye yesterday and refused to slap them down. Instead, she begged as many as 60 Tory Remainer rebels to give her two more weeks to strike a new EU deal. Forced to admit that not enough progress has been made in talks with the EU to toughen up the Irish backstop for a second meaningful vote on a new deal this week, the PM revealed she will put the new deal to Parliament on March 12 – just 17 days before Brexit Day itself. But she must first clear a major Commons hurdle this Wednesday, when a cross party group led by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory grandee Sir Oliver Letwin mount a bid for Parliament to seize control of the Brexit timetable to enforce a delay under No Deal. One source close to the Cabinet rebels said: “A promise to extend Article 50 on Wednesday isn’t enough. They need to know from the PM how she will actually do it”. A minister planning to rebel and vote for the Cooper-Letwin amendment told The Sun: “The PM likes baking and so she understands its analogies. “It’s not enough to have ingredients on the sideboard, they need to be raising in the oven”. It has also emerged Chancellor Philip Hammond and Mrs May’s de facto deputy, Cabinet Office minister David Lidington, are also lobbying hard for Ms Rudd’s group behind the scenes. – The Sun

…but eurosceptic ministers hit back at their colleagues…

The cabinet row over a no-deal Brexit has reignited after Leave-supporting ministers hit back against colleagues who are trying to exclude the possibility of Britain leaving the EU without a deal. Environment secretary Michael Gove warned the three members of the cabinet who wrote an open letter demanding Brexit be delayed that they were making a “mistake”. Fellow Brexiteer Liam Fox argued that backing a plan in parliament to achieve a delay would “fundamentally weaken our position” in Brexit negotiations, while Andrea Leadsom wrote that moves to delay or prevent Brexit were going against “democracy”. The pushback came after work and pensions secretary Amber Rudd, justice secretary David Gauke and business secretary Greg Clark said Brexit should be delayed if parliament does not approve a deal in the coming days. International trade secretary Mr Fox warned of the “great” consequences of failing to deliver Brexit, on a weekend in which local Tory associations passed motions demanding no deal remain an option. He said: “Taking no deal off the table would be to remove the single strongest card that we have in our negotiation with the EU itself and would therefore fundamentally weaken our position. – Independent

> WATCH: Environment Secretary Michael Gove’s Interview on BBC’s The Andrew Marr Show

…and Liam Fox slaps down Cabinet Remainers over plan to halt a no-deal Brexit

The International Trade Secretary said Britain would lose its “single strongest card” in talks with the EU if MPs swing behind the plot in the Commons next week. Theresa May faces a major cross-party effort to block a no-deal Brexit next week, as backbenchers push an amendment which would seek to extend Article 50 and delay Britain’s departure if the Prime Minister cannot get backing for her deal by mid-March. Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark on Saturday publicly indicated their support for the plan, writing in the Daily Mail: “If there is no breakthrough in the coming week, the balance of opinion in Parliament is clear – that it would be better to seek to extend Article 50 and delay our date of departure rather than crash out of the European Union on March 29.” But, in a direct rebuke to his Cabinet colleagues, Dr Fox took aim at the plot to push for an Article 50 extension. He told the Sunday Telegraph: “Taking no-deal off the table would be to remove the single strongest card that we have in our negotiation with the EU itself and would therefore fundamentally weaken our position … While [I] do not want to see a no-deal scenario, the risk of failing to deliver on Brexit itself is too great to be contemplated.” His comments came as a string of Cabinet ministers launched bitter briefings against Ms Rudd, seen as the ringleader of efforts to pressure Mrs May into taking a no-deal Brexit off the table. One told the Sunday Times Ms Rudd was “the fifth columnist of a stop Brexit bandwagon”, while another accused the Work and Pensions Secretary, who was brought back into the Government earlier this year, of “astonishing disloyalty”. – PoliticsHome

Brexit could be delayed until 2021, suggest EU sources…

A lengthy extension of the negotiating period is gaining traction as the EU’s default position should the Commons continue to reject May’s deal, and a request emerge. Replacing the 21-month transition period with extra time as a member state would allow the UK and the EU to develop their plans for the future relationship with the aim of making the contentious Irish backstop redundant. Brussels is determined to avoid offering a short extension only to have to revisit the issue in the summer when the government again fails to win round parliament. “If leaders see any purpose in extending, which is not a certainty given the situation in the UK, they will not do a rolling cliff-edge but go long to ensure a decent period to solve the outstanding issues or batten down the hatches,” one EU diplomat said. “A 21-month extension makes sense as it would cover the multi-financial framework [the EU’s budget period] and make things easier. Provided leaders are not completely down with Brexit fatigue, and a three-month technical extension won’t cut it, I would expect a 21-month kick [of the can]. It is doing the rounds in Brussels corridors. Martin Selmayr [the European commission’s secretary-general], among others, also fond of the idea.” Exasperation with May’s handling of Brexit is growing in Brussels as senior insiders put the chance of the UK crashing out without a deal at “more than 50%”.  – Guardian

…as Donald Tusk demands that May prove she has Parliament’s backing

The walls are closing in on Theresa May. Even in Egypt. The EU stuck to its line as its leaders gathered, alongside the U.K. prime minister, at the Red Sea coastal resort of Sharm el-Sheikh for an inaugural EU summit with Arab country leaders Sunday night. European Council chief Donald Tusk warned May Sunday afternoon that EU leaders will not offer concessions on the Brexit divorce agreement until she holds another vote in the House of Commons, and proves she has majority support for specific tweaks to the current Brexit deal. Tusk’s position, relayed to the prime minister in a 30-minute private talk, came after May said she would delay the next parliament vote on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement until March 12. A senior EU source confirmed May reiterated this position in the meeting with Tusk. May’s delay sparked fury in the U.K., with business leaders and opposition figures attacking the prime minister for taking Britain closer and closer to the cliff edge of no deal on March 29. Labour’s Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer dubbed it the “height of irresponsibility.” – Politico

Ireland focused on ‘reassuring’ UK to pass deal, insists Simon Coveney

As the British government announced on Sunday that it would delay the meaningful vote on Brexit from Wednesday until March 12th, Mr Coveney stood firm on the withdrawal agreement. “We can’t reopen the withdrawal agreement for that to be renegotiated or changed, and so we are in the space of trying to provide reassurance and clarification for the British parliament to allow them to ratify this deal,” Mr Coveney told Sky News on Sunday. However, he again said that once the deal was agreed, Ireland could offer substantial flexibility that would assuage British concerns over the Border and the backstop. “The way to do this is to change the wording of the future relationship declaration [in a way] that can help to provide more clarity and reassurance to Westminster.” However, he again reiterated his view that the peace process could not be diluted or diminished to placate Brexit proponents within the Conservative Party. “You can’t ask Ireland to compromise on something as fundamental as a peace process and relationships linked to the Good Friday Agreement in order to get a deal through which is about placating a group within the Conservative Party who are insisting on moving the prime minister away from her own position.” He said the idea of putting a time limit to the backstop without saying what would happen after that time limit ran out was a non-starter. He continued: “This is about shared responsibility for Britain and Ireland as co-guarantors of a peace agreement in Northern Ireland to ensure we don’t go backwards.” – Irish Times (£)

> WATCH: Irish Deputy PM Simon Coveney’s interview on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday

Maltese PM says May’s Sharm offensive won’t change the EU’s Brexit course

Maltese Prime Minister Joseph Muscat swatted aside the idea that a last-minute British charm offensive at today’s EU-Arab summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, Egypt could change the course of Brexit negotiations. “If someone thinks the EU will give in to any sort of change in tack from what’s being done so far, it’s a mistake,” Muscat told Politico in an interview from a Socialist congress in Madrid. “There are no exceptions to the single market, to the four freedoms. This is what we really believe in,” he said. Muscat supports an extension of the Brexit deadline if the U.K. requests it —”definitely we should give her more time” — but he ruled out, as a matter of principle, a reopening of the Withdrawal Agreement: “It’s not an issue of whether we lose a couple of millions [of euros] here or there … I don’t think we can fudge on principles,” he said. Instead, Muscat urged fellow European Union leaders to focus on a long-term plan to convince the U.K. to rejoin the EU within a generation. – Politico

Pro-EU business groups slam May for Brexit vote delay as Chamber of Commerce boss warns ‘we are well into the eleventh hour’

Business leaders reacted with dismay today to the announcement by the Prime Minister that the next meaningful vote would not take place this coming week. Touching down for an EU summit with leaders of Arab nations, in Sharm El Sheikh, Egypt, Mrs May said the vote would now take place on or before March 12. But industry leaders said the new timetable filled them with fear of their being ‘little realistic chance’ of a deal being agreed by the UK’s planned departure date on March 29. It comes after months and years of increasingly shrill warnings from Industry groups representing firms across the country, asking for certainty from the government to allow them to plan ahead. Already, imports have hit the water with their British buyers unsure whether the goods will be subject to new and greater tariffs by the time they arrive. Edwin Morgan, interim director general of the Institute of Directors, said: ‘With today’s announcement, it’s clear the writing is on the wall. ‘There appears to be little realistic chance of a deal being agreed and the necessary legislation getting through by 29 March. ‘Businesses do not want to drag out the uncertainty and would much prefer to reach a deal by the end of next month. – MailOnline

Boris Johnson: Brexiteers are not far-Right zealots. Just ask the younger Tony Blair

There is nothing extreme about standing by democracy. I don’t know about you, but I am getting sick of the constant suggestion that anyone who sticks up for Brexit must have far Right tendencies. I can’t understand why people are suddenly claiming that anyone who wants to get out of the EU – and follow the instructions of the British people – is a zealot, or an extremist, or Ukip, or Blukip, or some kind of ultra-conservative bigot. Where is this stuff coming from? It is a matter of historical fact that a desire to leave the EU was once rampant in the Labour party. Can anyone remember the name of the fresh-faced young Labour lawyer who stood for election in 1983, and told the people of Sedgefield that the EEC was an anti-democratic monster that drained the economy and destroyed jobs? It was Tony Blair. Delivering Brexit is about democracy. We tried for years to make our membership work. For decades the UK government would pretend to the people that our partners didn’t really mean what they said about an ever denser economic and political union; and as the process of integration accelerated, and more and more was decided in Brussels, that pretence became so feeble that when they were finally given the freedom to choose – in 2016 – the people chose freedom. Now that we are coming out we are not fated to behave as zealots, or bigots, or foaming right-wing nutters. If we get Brexit right, and if we genuinely control our own laws, we Conservatives will have the chance to be more liberal, more humane and more compassionate than ever before. – Boris Johnson MP for the Telegraph (£)

Daniel Hannan: I helped found the ERG – accusations of extremism are ridiculous

Cripes. It’s all my fault, apparently. Justifying their decision to quit the Conservatives, Anna Soubry, Sarah Wollaston and Heidi Allen cited the “dismal failure to stand up to the hardline ERG”. Those three letters have become an abbreviation, not just for “European Research Group”, but for the extreme Euroscepticism that, in the minds of commentators, has seized the governing party. And I, along with the amiable Michael Spicer, was the man who founded the ERG 25 years ago. Should I then declare, with Prospero, “This thing of darkness I acknowledge mine”? Actually, I’m proud to have played a part in setting up the ERG. The notion that it is a network of obsessives bent on taking over the Conservative Party is not just untrue; it is the pretty much opposite of the truth. The ERG is pushing for the implementation of the manifesto on which all Conservative MPs were elected 20 months ago. Its members have a far more loyal voting record than have the MPs who have just broken away. Its spirit, for 25 years, has been constructive. From the start, the ERG worked with, rather than against, the party machine. Its first publication – a 1995 paper on how some powers might be returned from Brussels to national capitals – carried a foreword by John Major. – Daniel Hannan MEP for the Telegraph (£)

The Sun:  Brexit vote has been delayed again but this time it isn’t the PM’s fault

Another vote, another delay. But this one isn’t the Prime Minister’s fault. The finger is firmly pointed at the Cabinet careerists who are making Government policy on the hoof, seemingly incapable of grasping even the most basic rules of collective responsibility. The traitorous trio in her Cabinet — Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke — sunk any chance of progress in Egypt this week with their demand for No Deal to be “taken off the table”. What reason do EU leaders, who already need to be dragged to the negotiating table, have to give the PM any concessions when even her fellow Cabinet members are giving Brussels a wink that Parliament wouldn’t allow a clean break? Is that helping or hindering our chances of a better deal? We are entering a vital fortnight. The last thing Mrs May needs now is Cabinet rebellions, backbench grandstanding and a leadership beauty contest. Too many Tories seem not to realise what damage they are doing to the party’s hard-won reputation for competence when they go completely off-grid. – The Sun says

Express: United Tories can beat Labour and win EU war

As Labour implodes around Jeremy Corbyn, warring Tories can’t seem to stop picking at the frayed threads of Brexit. While they should be banding together to complete Labour’s downfall, they launch a series of civil wars every bit as pointless and obscure as they are unwinnable. The Prime Minister is going to Egypt in an effort to bang EU heads together for an improved deal for Britain. But back in Westminster, without even waiting to see what Mrs May brings home, splinter groups are already busy tearing her apart. Mrs May is not without blame. She has kicked the can down the road for so long there is no longer room to swing a boot. Does she now support the hardline Brexiteers or does she back the soft – or no – Brexit ministers threatening to resign? It comes down to this: The Conservatives stand on the threshold of either greatness or disaster. In the days ahead, they can disappear into the abyss of failure and hand the keys of No 10 to Corbyn and his acolytes. – Express editorial

Nicky Morgan: Downing Street needs to tell us clearly this week what it wants from the EU

There is a good reason why the Conservative Party is the longest-standing and most successful political party in the world – and that is because it is based on pragmatism and a set of core values, not an ideology. Conservatives seek to deal with the world as it is, not the world that we might wish it to be. And to be successful we need to be a broad church. So I was very sorry to see Anna Soubry, Heidi Allen and Sarah Wollaston leave the Conservative Party this week. I understand fully why they made their decision, although I disagree with their conclusion. I believe that their voices would be stronger, and they would be more effective in seeing the values that they believe in prevail, if they stayed in the Conservative Party and argued their case from within. In over six hours of meetings, officials tried to make the tyres fall off these alternative arrangements, and couldn’t do so. Indeed, we identified that the current backstop proposals don’t actually work and need to be replaced. So these alternative arrangements as envisaged in the Malthouse Compromise could, as Michel Barnier has apparently acknowledged in recent days, supersede the backstop. The handling of the vote this week is therefore critical and the mistakes of the Valentine’s Day votes must be avoided. We now know this week won’t see a meaningful vote on the actual agreement. So can the Government provide sufficient assurances this week that a deal can be reached, so that MPs don’t need themselves to take ‘no deal’ off the table? The Government needs to table a motion which captures the changes it is asking for from the EU. This would enable MPs to show that if these changes are secured there will be a majority for the agreement. To do this would be in the finest Conservative tradition. Not ideological but practical – as I say, dealing with the world (and Brexit) as it is, not as we ideally would wish it to be. – Nicky Morgan MP for ConservativeHome

Pieter Cleppe: The EU27 are far less prepared for no-deal Brexit than you’d think

As 29 March gets nearer and Theresa May tries to get a Brexit deal through parliament, preparations for no deal continue in both London and mainland Europe. It’s been well-documented that the UK government’s preparations haven’t been optimal, and many British companies aren’t really prepared for no deal. However, on the other side of the Channel, things aren’t going all that well either. Both the EU, member states and companies are trying to prepare for a no-deal Brexit, but since I looked at this last summer, arranging to limit some of the worst damage seems to be the main thing they have managed to do. Economic estimates of the effect of a no deal are notoriously difficult, but the damage has been estimated at 500,000 jobs for the UK and around 1 million for the EU27. However, even if the reality of no-deal is half as bad as those economic predictions, it won’t be a rosy prospect for anyone and most certainly not for the EU, whose institutions, member states and companies are everything but well-prepared for it. – Pieter Cleppe for The Spectator

Robert Peston: Theresa May has picked the day on which Brexit will live or die

It is playing out just as Olly Robbins – the civil servant negotiating Brexit for the PM – told his mates it would in that Brussels bar, as overheard by my ITV colleague Angus Walker. Because the PM has just said that she will not put a reworked Brexit deal to MPs for a vote till 12 March. Well actually she said “we will ensure that happens by 12 March” – which probably means on 12 March. And that in turn means MPs will face what may be their last chance to decide whether the UK leaves the EU with a deal desperately close to the wire, 17 days before the fateful moment of no return, Brexit day on 29 March. May was speaking to journalists in the traditional airplane “huddle”, as she travelled with Robbins and her ambassador to the EU Tim Barrow for informal Brexit talks with EU leaders in Egypt (of all places), where a summit between the EU and the League of Arab States is taking place. So for an orderly negotiated Brexit, 12 March is the ides – the day it lives or dies, one way or another. P.S. A senior member of the government tells me the PM is sincere in not wanting Tory MPs to vote for Cooper Letwin. But he adds that the PM is working on an alternative plan to prove to the Brexiters of the ERG that they don’t get a no-deal Brexit if they kill her deal – since it is the very prospect of building what they see as the heaven of no deal in our green and pleasant land that motivates some of them to eviscerate her plan. My source implies she will tell MPs, and us, her plan to rule out no deal on Tuesday. But given the multiplicity of times she has refused to countenance even a short delay to Brexit this feels a bit like a unicorn in May’s clothing. – Robert Peston for The Spectator

Trevor Kavanagh: Trapped Prime Minister can still blow foes out of water with Brexit deal on 29th March

Theresa May is cornered, her back to the wall and sword broken, surrounded by gleeful enemies and treacherous political allies. Yet even at this darkest hour, she must know she has the mouthwatering opportunity to spring free and thwart all those who think she is the worst PM in living memory. To make her day, she would simultaneously give the kiss of death to renegade Tory quitters and drown the mongrel Tigger Party — The Independent Group — at birth. All she needs to do is negotiate a “sunset clause” on the Northern Ireland backstop, free Britain from never-ending subordination to Brussels and scrape through Parliament with a deal by March 29. Yes, it sounds yawningly familiar. We’ve been here before. But this time she can win without reopening her ghastly Chequers deal. Brexiteers have signalled they would accept a deal which leaves Chequers intact, saves face for Brussels and guarantees Britain can leave when it is ready. This guarantee, written into a separate legally binding appendix, would remove the poisonous threat of BRINO — Brexit In Name Only. It would honour the result of the 2016 referendum, bolster the election manifesto vows of all major parties and justify the empty promises of Anna “Suck it up” Soubry’s Tory bolters. It would also leave future UK governments free to decide their own future. – Trevor Kavanagh for The Sun

Stephen Booth: Brexit and the economy. There are ups, there are downs. But whatever happens, our fundamentals remain strong

As the ongoing Brexit saga continues to drag towards the 29th March without resolution, every announcement or scrap of economic news is greeted by hard-line Remainers or Brexiters as proof positive of their arguments. Nuance is no use to either extreme in this debate. In reality, since the referendum, there have been positives and negatives but, overall, the economy has held up relatively well compared with the political wreckage that Brexit has been causing in Westminster. After retail sales figures outstripped forecasts in January, the consultancy Oliver Wyman suggested the reason for this pleasant surprise was that consumers might be stockpiling for a No Deal Brexit. This might have tallied had the boost been attributed to a spike in the purchase of tinned baked beans, but Office of National Statistics figures illustrated that sales of discounted clothing were the biggest driver. Are we really stockpiling jumpers? Looking to the longer term, the UK’s economic fundamentals remain strong. A flexible labour market, a well-regarded legal system, and comparatively favourable demographics relative to the major European economies are all valuable assets. In and of itself, Brexit will not be a life or death matter for the economy. As consumers and supply chains adjust to whatever new trade barriers arise on both sides of the Channel, there will be winners and losers. This is the inevitable reality of altering years of deep economic integration. However, onlookers and potential foreign investors might wonder whether the fundamentals of our politics are as sound. Parliament has so far been found desperately wanting in what is only the first stage of Brexit. Many MPs on either side are still intent on debating Brexit as a matter of principle rather than pragmatism, two-and-a-half years after the referendum campaign. There must be major doubts about their ability to wrestle with the real-world challenges and decisions required to reshape Britain for the big, wide world outside the EU. – Stephen Booth for ConservativeHome

Brexit in Brief

  • Anti-climaxes are the new norm in British politics, but the PM is still running out of time – Telegraph (£) editorial
  • If Labour aids a Tory Brexit it will be destroyed by what follows – Aditya Chakrabortty for The Guardian
  • The Independent Group is a long way from becoming a credible political force – Brian Monteith for The Scotsman
  • Theresa May pleads with Tory MPs to let her stay on as PM after Brexit so she can do more for the country – The Sun
  • Theresa May dismisses pressure to step down as PM after Brexit – Guardian
  • No-deal hardship fund planned for surge in jobless – The Times (£)