Voting for a ‘softer’ Brexit could lead to a general election, warns Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay: Brexit News for Monday 25 March

Voting for a ‘softer’ Brexit could lead to a general election, warns Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay: Brexit News for Monday 25 March
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Voting for a ‘softer’ Brexit could lead to a general election, warns Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay…

Voting for a softer Brexit could lead to a general election, the Brexit Secretary has warned as  MPs prepare to vote for a series of “indicative votes” this week. Stephen Barclay said rejecting Theresa May’s deal while also taking no deal off the table could result in the Conservative party breaking its manifesto promises. Indicative votes allow MPs to decide on a series of options designed to see what can command a majority in Parliament. Supporters of the plan believe it could provide a way out of the current political deadlock. Mr Barclay said “the risk of a general election increases” if the Commons goes down this path. Although the vote itself would “not be binding”, he said Parliament choosing a different Brexit option would “potentially collide with fundamental commitments the Government has given in their manifesto”. On Monday an amendment tabled by a cross-party group of MPs, led by Hilary Benn and Sir Oliver Letwin, will aim to pave the way for indicative votes. Some ministers have suggested the government set aside time for indicative votes itself, if the amendment does not pass. – Telegraph (£)

  • Brexit Secretary warns Brexiteer MPs will force general election rather than accept a Commons bid to soften Brexit – The Sun
  • Brexit secretary warns of general election risk if MPs vote for softer Brexit – City A.M.
  • Cabinet ministers wage open war as MPs threatened with general election if they defy Theresa May – Independent

> WATCH: Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay’s Interview on The Andrew Marr Show

…while Philip Hammond says a second Brexit referendum ‘deserves to be considered’

Philip Hammond said a second referendum is a “perfectly coherent proposition” which “deserves to be considered”, while Theresa May gathers Brexiteers at an emergency meeting in Chequers. The Chancellor said a coup in Cabinet against Mrs May would be “self indulgent” and  warned that “the stakes are very high for our nation and for us as a government.” Asked which Brexit options he would consider if they were put to Parliament in a series of “indicative votes”, the Chancellor said no deal and revoking Article 50 should be off the table. However, he did not rule out supporting a second referendum. peaking on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday, Mr Hammond said: “I’m not sure that there’s a majority in Parliament in support of a second referendum. “But it’s a perfectly coherent proposition. Many people will be strongly opposed to it. But it’s a coherent proposition and it deserves to be considered along with the other proposals that you’ve got on the list.” – Telegraph (£)

  • Philip Hammond wants parliament to have say on second Brexit referendum – The Times (£)
  • Philip Hammond: Second Brexit referendum ‘deserves to be considered’ – Politico

> WATCH: Chancellor Philip Hammond’s Interview on Ridge on Sunday

Cabinet to meet this morning amidst growing pressure on Theresa May to quit…

It comes after a weekend of speculation about her leadership and claims of a plot to oust her – something senior ministers have denied. There have been suggestions that naming a date for her departure as PM could boost support for her Brexit deal. But Downing Street has refused to be drawn on Mrs May’s future. The Sun newspaper has used its front page to urge Mrs May to set a date for her resignation to win over reluctant Tories and the Democratic Unionist Party in order to bolster the chances of her withdrawal agreement passing in a third vote. Her deal has been overwhelmingly rejected in the Commons twice, and it remains unclear whether she will bring it back a third time this week after she wrote to MPs saying she would only do so if there was “sufficient support”. – BBC News

…after she gathered ministers and MPs for Chequers crisis talks yesterday afternoon

Theresa May has held crisis talks with government ministers and senior Conservative MPs amid a flurry of reports she could be forced out of Downing Street. The prime minister gathered the group at her Chequers country retreat on Sunday afternoon as she battles to deal with the ongoing Brexit crisis and to keep her grip on power. She was joined by her de facto deputy David Lidington, Environment Secretary Michael Gove, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, chief whip Julian Smith and Conservative Party chairman Brandon Lewis. Tory Brexiteers were represented by Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Steve Baker, while Mrs May’s long-time ally Damian Green also travelled to the Buckinghamshire residence. The prime minister’s first Brexit secretary, David Davis, was also there, as was Foreign Office minister Alistair Burt. Downing Street said Mrs May and a number of ministers met with “senior colleagues” for “lengthy talks” on delivering Brexit. A spokesman added: “The meeting discussed a range of issues, including whether there is sufficient support in the Commons to bring back a Meaningful Vote this week.”  – Sky News

  • Theresa May summons Brexiteers as she fights off coup – The Times (£)
  • PM fights to retain power as MPs look to seize control of Brexit – Sky News

How May rebuffed calls to set resignation date during ‘frank’ Chequers summit over Brexit

Theresa May was told she must set a date for her departure during crunch talks with Eurosceptics at Chequers amid warnings that her deal will be defeated in the Commons. The Prime Minister invited Boris Johnson, Dominic Raab, Iain Duncan Smith, Jacob Rees-Mogg, Steve Baker and David Davis to her country retreat for last-ditch talks. During three hours of “frank” discussions she issued an appeal for them to support her deal and said that Britain faced a significantly softer Brexit if it fails to pass in the Commons. The Telegraph was told that several of those present, including Mr Rees-Mogg, the leading Eurosceptic, asked her to set a timetable for her departure. However Mrs May declined to do so and subsequently refused to be drawn on the matter when it was raised again. A Downing Street source said the Prime Minister is concerned that setting a date for her departure will look “weak” and could damage her attempts to pass her deal through the Commons. – Telegraph (£)

  • Theresa May’s resignation could be price for backing Brexit deal – Sky News
  • Theresa May clings on and defies call to set No 10 exit date – The Times (£)
  • Theresa May’s deal on a ‘knife-edge’ as senior Brexiteers demand she sets a date to quit – The Sun
  • Brexiters pile on pressure as May’s deal drifts away – Guardian

Ministers tipped to replace Theresa May rally round…

Two ministers touted as a potential caretaker PM in reports of a cabinet coup say they fully back Theresa May. Environment Secretary Michael Gove told reporters it was “not the time to change the captain of the ship”. And the PM’s de facto deputy David Lidington insisted he was “100% behind” Mrs May. Meanwhile, the Brexit secretary said an election will become more likely if MPs vote this week for a Brexit option the government does not want. MPs are expected to get the chance to hold a series of so-called indicative voteson possible alternatives to Mrs May’s withdrawal deal, but Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said they would “not be binding”. He was among the Tory MPs and ministers at talks with Mrs May on Sunday at Chequers, her country retreat. Prominent Brexiteers Mr Gove, Boris Johnson and Jacob Rees-Mogg were also present. They discussed a range of issues, including whether there was sufficient support to hold a third vote on the prime minister’s deal this week, a Downing Street spokesman said. – BBC News

  • Theresa May’s reported successors dismiss ‘Cabinet coup’ speculation – ITV News
  • Ministers deny plotting to oust May as Brexit rebels head for Chequers – Guardian

…while Iain Duncan Smith warns that the Tory party will not accept ‘ghastly’ scheme to replace May with David Lidington…

The Tory party will not accept a “ghastly cabal” of pro-EU cabinet ministers stitching up a replacement for Theresa May, Iain Duncan Smith has warned. The former Conservative leader declared war on senior ministers rumoured to be planning to topple the prime minister in favour of David Lidington, her de-facto deputy. However, significantly, the arch-Brexiteer left open the “option” of backing Ms May’s deal if it returns for a third “meaningful vote”, for fear of a worse “alternative”. Lashing out at media briefings of a “cabinet coup”, Mr Duncan Smith said: “I think that’s appalling, I think they should be censured and some of them should be sacked. “And the idea of a cabal, a cabal that never wanted to leave the European Union, turning out to decide what should happen over our future would be unacceptable to my colleagues.” – Independent

> WATCH: Former Conservative Leader Iain Duncan Smith MP’s Interview on The Andrew Marr Show

…and Boris Johnson says May’s Government is ‘chicken’ and has ‘bottled it’ over Brexit

Theresa May’s Government is “chicken” and has “bottled it completely” over Brexit, Boris Johnson has said as he urged her to “tell Brussels let my people go”.  Writing in The Telegraph, Mr Johnson said Mrs May must “channel the spirit of Moses” as he called on the Prime Minister to abandon her deal and “come out of the EU now”. Mr Johnson said: “We are not leaving this Friday because the government has chickened out. For almost three years every Tory MP has chirruped the mantra that no deal would be better than a bad deal. “I believed that the government was sincere in making that claim, and I believed that the PM genuinely had the 29th of March inscribed in her heart. “I am afraid I misread the government. We have blinked. We have baulked. We have bottled it completely.” His intervention came as Mrs May was facing one of the toughest weeks of her Premiership, with MPs poised to seize control of the Brexit process amid intense pressure from her own Cabinet. – Telegraph (£)

  • Boris Johnson slams Theresa May’s ‘chicken’ Government for ‘bottling it’ over Brexit – The Sun
  • ‘Chicken’ Theresa May has ‘completely bottled’ Brexit says Boris – Daily Mail

Sir Keir Starmer piles pressure on Jeremy Corbyn to back a second Brexit referendum…

Pressure is growing on Jeremy Corbyn from within his shadow cabinet to back a second Brexit referendum. Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, insisted yesterday that the party supported a new public vote, saying that Labour believed that any deal governing Britain’s secession from the EU should be subject to a confirmatory referendum. Asked if the party would guarantee a public vote if it won a general election, Sir Keir told the BBC: “I would expect our manifesto to build on those commitments, both in relation to the type of deal and a public vote.” Labour’s official position is that it will back a referendum only if it fails to force a snap election, but the party is as riven as the Conservatives on Brexit and harbours a multitude of conflicting views. Sir Keir added: “What the party has said is there must be a public vote and we said we would either put down an amendment ourselves or support an amendment, and that needs to be between a credible Leave option and Remain.” – The Times (£)

  • Labour could fight snap election with second referendum pledge – Guardian

> WATCH: Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer’s Interview on The Andrew Marr Show

…while Hilary Benn says Article 50 ‘could be revoked’ to prevent a no-deal Brexit…

The chair of Parliament’s Brexit committee, Hilary Benn, has said that Article 50 should be revoked if the only alternative is a no-deal Brexit. The Labour MP spoke out on Sunday amid reports of a Cabinet plot to oust Prime Minister Theresa May, warning that political chaos must not facilitate a no-deal Brexit. Speaking on Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday, he said: “I think we’re probably seeing the final stages of the current Prime Minister’s leadership, but frankly what matters more is the crisis that is still facing the country. “The first priority is to ensure there is not a no-deal Brexit.” Mr Benn, who chairs the Commons Brexit select committee, warned: “No-deal Brexit has been rejected by Parliament twice now, and that’s absolutely clear (…) we must ensure we do not  leave without a deal.” EU leaders have only agreed to delay Brexit until 12 April in the event that Parliament rejects May’s deal for a third time, and leaders have signalled that any further extension is unlikely. The MP indicated that he would be prepared to support the revocation of Article 50, the process by which Britain is leaving the EU, if there is no possible extension and the only alternative is crashing out without a deal. – iNews

> WATCH: Brexit Select Committee Chair Hilary Benn’s Interview on Sky’s Ridge on Sunday

…as does Foreign Office Minister Mark Field

Mark Field said he would be “happy’ to back the move to halt the Brexit process if MPs are handed a free vote on the way forward in the event Theresa May’s deal defeated for a third time. A cross-party group of MPs will on Monday try to secure Commons time for a series of so-called “indicative votes” on a batch of Brexit options. Chancellor Philip Hammond this weekend refused to say whether Tory MPs would be whipped to pick a particular outcome if the bid succeeds – and Mr Field made clear he would support revoking Britain’s Brexit request if ministers are handed a free vote. “My personal view is that I would be happy to revoke Article 50,” he told the BBC’s Westminster Hour. “But I appreciate that is probably a minority view. “But if we get to this utter paralysis and I sincerely hope that in the next 48, 72 hours we do not, then if that becomes an option, it’s an option I personally would take.” He added: “I accept it probably would not be a majority view in the House of Commons.” The intervention comes despite Theresa May insisting in a letter to MPs this weekend that revoking Article 50 would “betray the result of the referendum” held in 2016. – PoliticsHome

Medicines won’t run out in Britain if we leave the EU with a no-deal Brexit, says Royal College boss

Britain won’t run out of drugs and medical supplies in a No Deal Brexit, a royal college head has admitted. Professor Russell Viner, President of the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, said drug supplies were well stocked ready for Brexit no matter what happens. The Sunday Telegraph revealed he had emailed 19,000 doctors with a Brexit update ahead of our EU exit. He wrote: “I know that many of you will have been watching the news about Brexit with feelings of uncertainty and increasing alarm [but] I have been considerably reassured by the Government’s preparations relating to medicines supplies.” He went on to say all the bodies had been “working hard behind the scenes and we believe our medicine supplied are very largely secured”. “We do not believe there is a need to stockpile medicines and would encourage you to dissuade patients from doing so.”  – The Sun

Leo Varadkar confident of keeping border invisible in no-deal scenario

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar signalled he’s confident some special arrangement can be found to keep border in Ireland invisible in a no-deal Brexit. Ireland is hoping to win a special deal with both the U.K. and EU that would keep the border with Northern Ireland open if the U.K. leaves the bloc without a withdrawal deal. The frontier will be the only land crossing between the EU and U.K. after Brexit, and how to keep it open has become a key stumbling block in talks between the two sides. “The U.K. government has already indicated that in the event of no deal the first thing they will do is treat Northern Ireland differently in terms of customs,” Varadkar said in an RTE Radio interview on Sunday. “That’s what will be required essentially” Varadkar said talks on the matter have already begun in a “preliminary and very rough way,” he said. “There is a real understanding of the unique situation we face in Ireland.” – Bloomberg

Brandon Lewis: Corbyn, it’s time to stop dithering and deliver Brexit

Brexit has undoubtedly raised passionate debate on all sides of politics, not least in my own party, where people have long and strongly-held views on our relationship with the European Union. But there is a difference between principled and strongly-held opinion and cynical political game playing. This week, Jeremy Corbyn has the chance, once again, to put party politics aside and do the right thing for the country. He has called for compromise and for MPs to reach out beyond party lines. Well now it’s time for Corbyn to put his money where his mouth is. He got off to a rocky start last week when he refused to attend a meeting with the Prime Minister because former Labour MP Chuka Umunna was there. That was baffling, given the list of characters Corbyn has been willing to sit down with in the past. But at the 11th hour, we must have faith he may yet do the right thing. The truth is, there is nothing in the deal that is cause for principled objection from Labour. The deal ensures a transition period, so businesses and trade unions have time to plan and adapt. It guarantees no hard border in Northern Ireland. It guarantees the rights of EU citizens already living here, for whom Britain is home. It is a deal that has been negotiated, debated and signed off not just by this government but by all of the 27 other countries of the European Union – for the benefit not just of Britain but the whole of Europe. And it delivers on the referendum result, something Labour promised to do. – Brandon Lewis MP for the Express

Boris Johnson: Theresa May is a chicken who’s bottled Brexit. The only way forward is to come out of the EU now

It is wrong in every sense to blame MPs for blocking Brexit. It is both shameful, and inaccurate. MPs voted overwhelmingly to trigger Article 50, and therefore to leave the EU on March 29 – this coming Friday. It is a scandal that we are not in fact doing so.  The reason we are not leaving on Friday is not the fault of MPs. We are not leaving this Friday because the government has chickened out. For almost three years every Tory MP has chirruped the mantra that no deal would be better than a bad deal. That assertion was repeated in the Tory manifesto. I believed that the government was sincere in making that claim, and I believed that the PM genuinely had the 29th of March inscribed in her heart. She repeated her commitment to coming out – deal or no deal – so often that I trustingly assumed that she meant it. It surely followed, I thought, that if she could not persuade the House of Commons to support the withdrawal treaty on which the EU insisted – and the Commons has now voted it down with two colossal majorities – she would draw the logical conclusion. She would simply enact the mandate of both parliament and people. She would fulfil the manifesto promise. She would take us out. I assumed that the Treasury was serious in allocating billions to No Deal preparations, and that we would be ready – after three years – to cope with any disruption. I imagined that the government would be sufficiently full of gumption to make a success of our departure, whatever happened, and that we would show the confidence commensurate with one of the greatest economies on earth. I am afraid I misread the government.  – Boris Johnson MP for the Telegraph (£)

Nicky Morgan: Indicative votes. If the Commons can’t reach a Brexit decision, beware a second referendum

Yet again, it seems another momentous week in Westminster looms. Much remains unpredictable – except the fact that the UK will now not be leaving the EU this Friday, March 29. If the draft Withdrawal Agreement had been approved in January, first time round, we would be leaving this week. If it had been approved earlier this month at the second attempt, then we’d probably be well on the way to approving the necessary legislation to ensure the UK left shortly. But that hasn’t happened. Of course, we might be almost there if the agreement is presented to Parliament for a third time this week, and it is approved. I still think that is the best outcome for everyone – the Prime Minister, Parliament, the stability and ability of the Government to govern, businesses who need to know where they stand, those who’ve campaigned for Brexit for years and EU citizens living in the UK. Getting the agreement approved would also mean that the UK could start to plan for the second and much more important phase of the Brexit negotiations – the future relationship between the UK and the EU. For this, we will need new Party leadership. But we would have time to organise any leadership contest, if the agreement is passed, in a more orderly fashion – while the EU focuses on the European Parliamentary elections and the appointment of a new commission. – Nicky Morgan MP for ConservativeHome

Martin Howe: Theresa May has abandoned constitutional precedent by committing to extend A50

Every day of the Brexit process brings new and startling turns, but Theresa May’s latest gambit moves events into new realms of astonishment. On Friday, she instructed Sir Tim Barrow, our man in Brussels, to write a letter to the EU which formally agrees to Article 50 being extended to April 12 (at least), without first waiting for Parliament to approve the extension. The EU (Withdrawal) Act 2018 governs our exit from the EU. It says that “exit day” will be on March 29. After that day, the European Communities Act 1972 – which gives effect to EU treaty obligations in UK domestic law – will be repealed. But the 2018 Act also allows “exit day” to be changed – by a special piece of legislation called a “statutory instrument” (SI) – so long as a draft of the SI is approved by a vote in each House of Parliament. Those votes on the SI are expected this week. But the government is claiming that because of Sir Tim’s letter, the extension has already happened. Nothing Parliament can say or do can stop it. All that will happen if the SI is voted down, says the government, is that the UK’s internal law will be not be changed to match the new exit date which has been internationally agreed. So voting down the SI will cause legal chaos because the UK’s internal law will not conform with our international obligations, but won’t actually prevent us from still being an EU member state and bound by the EU treaties for this extra period of time. – Martin Howe QC for the Telegraph (£)

Paul Bew: Merkel has let alternatives to the backstop out of a bottle. So there’s no putting them back in

Does the long tedious and unhappy story of the Irish backstop have one last twist? Last week, the terms of the debate began to change. Frightened by the prospect of a no-deal Brexit, Angela Merkel instructed Michel Barnier to consider a fall back plan to uphold the Good Friday Agreement. Merkel has some form on this. In January, she held a lengthy phone conversation with Leo Varadkar in which she stressed her concerns on the Irish protocol. But this time she has clearly gone a step further. On Saturday, the Irish Times reported that the European Commission and the Republic of Ireland had begun discussions in this new context. The Irish government has reacted with visible nervousness and a determination to downplay such news. Poor old backstop! It was initially hailed by both the UK and EU governments as the only way to save the Good Friday Agreement and a soft border in Ireland. It has now decidedly lost that status. – Lord Bew for The Spectator

Roger Bootle: Black Wednesday shows that a no-deal Brexit would be a blessed release for Britain’s economy

I hadn’t meant to write about that subject again for fear that readers are suffering from a severe bout of B-fatigue. But the events of last week were extraordinary and this week could prove to be even more dramatic. We must be prepared for anything and everything – including a no-deal exit, if not this Friday, then later. Given the awfulness of Theresa May’s “deal” and the EU’s intransigence, a “no-deal” outcome remains a serious possibility. Its merits are still under-estimated. So, sorry about your Brexit fatigue, but needs must. The expression “no-deal” is misleading. It refers to the absence of an over-arching agreement between the parties. But it does not mean that there cannot be deals on anything. In fact, there have already been umpteen deals with various European bodies in order to promote a smooth transition. And there can be many more. It is often claimed by Remainers that no one wanted a “no-deal” Brexit. Yet, from the beginning, quite a few leading Brexiteers believed that we should go for a no-deal departure. For some, this was a matter of tactics. They believed that if we embraced and prepared properly for the no-deal option then the EU would come to us, keen to do a deal. So, paradoxically, the best way to get a good deal was to aim to leave without one. But others embraced no-deal because they didn’t think that the EU would be very obliging and that we would therefore be hitting our heads against a brick wall, getting nowhere and losing time. We might as well get out and realise the benefits of Brexit as soon as possible. – Roger Bootle for the Telegraph (£)

Express: Back May’s plan or it could be chaos ahead

The last thing this country needs is more political uncertainty and an even longer delay to Brexit. The prospect of a general election should make us all worry, not least because it opens the door to a hard-Left government led by Jeremy Corbyn which will wreak havoc on the nation’s finances and security. But if there is another poll then it will mean Brexit has to be delayed even further and Britain will be trapped under Brussels’ rule for maybe another two years. We should fear the chaos that an election would cause and, given the record of the main parties in Parliament, we should also be concerned that voters may turn to extremists in their frustration. This country needs politicians to come together for the good of the country and deliver Brexit over the next few weeks. Thousands may have marched in London yesterday but don’t be fooled. The majority want Brexit and the 17.4 million must not be ignored. – Express editorial

Brexit in Brief

  • Theresa May has shown courage — but to seal her deal and deliver Brexit, she needs to resign – The Sun says
  • Cabinet coup or not, the Government is on the brink of collapse over Brexit – Robert Peston for The Spectator
  • Changing PM settles nothing unless we leave the EU – Brian Monteith for The Scotsman
  • Commons prepares emergency protocol in case May collapses at dispatch box – Express