Attorney General reportedly abandons demand for time-limit and unilateral exit clause for the Irish backstop: Brexit News for Monday 4 March

Attorney General reportedly abandons demand for time-limit and unilateral exit clause for the Irish backstop: Brexit News for Monday 4 March
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Attorney General reportedly abandons demand for time-limit and unilateral exit clause for the Irish backstop…

The Attorney General has abandoned attempts to secure a hard time-limit or unilateral exit mechanism from the Irish backstop, The Telegraph has been told. Ministers briefed on Geoffrey Cox’s approach said those aims, which represent the central demands of Eurosceptics, are considered too “blunt” and have been rejected by the European Union. Some Cabinet ministers are already resigned to the Prime Minister losing a second meaningful vote on her deal amid concerns that changes to the backstop secured by Mr Cox will not be sufficient to win round Brexiteers. The Attorney General is understood to be focusing on securing an enhanced “arbitration mechanism” that allows the UK or the EU to provide formal notice that the backstop should come to an end. – Telegraph (£)

…as the DUP’s Nigel Dodds reiterates his party’s call for legally binding, treaty-level change

The DUP’s Westminster leader Nigel Dodds on Sunday night made it clear that his party – who Mrs May relies on for her slim Commons majority – would any only accept legally binding, treaty-level change to the deal. “We need something which, whatever its legal form, has legal binding effect and which changes the current meaning of the Withdrawal Agreement, and which makes clear that it cannot be indefinite, and it cannot be a trap both for the United Kingdom generally and for Northern Ireland in particular,” he told the BBC’s Westminster Hour. Mr Dodds added: “It has to be treaty-level change. It has to be a change which isn’t some kind of subordinate document. It has to be treaty-level, legally binding, which makes it very very clear that the current interpretation, the current meaning of the Withdrawal Agreement, is re-opened and changed.” – PoliticsHome

ERG warns Theresa May not to ‘bounce’ Parliament over new Brexit deal…

Tory Brexiters are to demand at least two days to scrutinise any new offer from Brussels on the Irish backstop mechanism, warning the prime minister not to “bounce” the group into an early vote on her Brexit deal. May has pledged that a vote will take place on her proposal, including any changes agreed in Brussels, by 12 March, though it is possible that Downing Street will seek to put the vote to MPs as early as next week if changes can be secured. The EU has suggested that progress has been minimal and a No 10 source said there was little optimism about putting any deal to a vote next week, despite rumours in Westminster that the prime minister could attempt two votes before the 12 March deadline, after which she has promised to hold a vote on a no-deal exit and on delaying article 50. – Guardian

…while Liam Fox welcomes the Brexiteers’ tests for the deal

The Brexit-backing European Research Group has set out three tests it wants Theresa May to pass to secure its support for her deal with the EU. They still want a time-limit to the Irish backstop – but they say they don’t mind how that is achieved. Mrs May has promised MPs a vote on her deal on or before 12 March. The three tests, drawn up by eight Brexit-backing lawyers, including Tories and a DUP MP, is seen as a softening of the ERG’s previous stance on the backstop, which is meant to prevent the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. Liam Fox told the BBC’s Andrew Marr show: “I hope it’s a genuine attempt – and I think it is – to try to map out common territory.” He also sought to allay the fears of Brexit-backing Tories that Mrs May’s offer to MPs of a vote on delaying the UK’s departure – if her deal does not get through Parliament – could scupper Brexit. “To attempt to have a delay mechanism in order to thwart the process of Brexit itself is actually politically completely unacceptable,” he told Andrew Marr. “And, as I have said before, would provoke a backlash amongst voters.” He did not rule out a short delay to Brexit, even if Mrs May’s deal gets through, in order to get the legislation through Parliament, however. – BBC News

  • Trade secretary Liam Fox admits the UK may have ‘no option’ but to delay Brexit – City A.M.
  • Liam Fox says UK may be forced to delay Brexit to ensure smooth withdrawal – iNews

> WATCH: International Trade Secretary Liam Fox’s interview on The Andrew Marr Show

May pledges funds for Labour towns in bid to win Brexit support

Theresa May will set out plans on Monday for a £1.6bn investment fund to boost economic growth in Britain’s “left behind” towns as the prime minister tries to secure Labour MPs’ support for her Brexit deal. The fund, which will primarily help Labour’s heartlands in the Midlands and the north of England, is part of Mrs May’s push to win parliamentary backing for a revised Brexit deal that will be subject to a “meaningful vote” by MPs by March 12. Eurosceptic Conservative MPs and the Democratic Unionist party are softening their opposition to Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement and have signalled they could back it if “legally binding” concessions are made in relation to the so-called Irish backstop. The backstop is meant to avoid the return to a hard Irish border but is loathed by Eurosceptics who fear it could bind Britain in close ties with the EU in perpetuity. So far Brussels has refused to meet British demands on the backstop, but some of Mrs May’s allies believe the deal can yet be passed by the House of Commons. One cabinet minister predicted a “reasonable majority”, with the help of perhaps 20 to 30 Labour MPs. – FT(£)

  • Struggling towns to get £1.6bn post-Brexit boost – BBC News
  • Theresa May launches £1.6billion fund for towns in Labour strongholds in ‘bribe’ to win over opposition MPs – Telegraph (£)
  • Theresa May accused of bribery with £1bn to help towns – The Times (£)

Labour will whip MPs to back second referendum, hints John McDonnell…

The shadow chancellor, John McDonnell, has said the Labour party will whip its MPs to back a second referendum rather than offer a free vote, a move that the senior backbencher Caroline Flint warned could lead to the rebellion of up to 70 MPs. McDonnell said it would be common practice to see MPs whipped to support party policy, but he understood the difficulties such a decision could pose for MPs in leave constituencies. “Normally we will whip and that will be decided in the normal way by the chief whip and the shadow cabinet and the party overall,” he told Sky’s Sophy Ridge on Sunday. “I think on an issue as this we would see a whip but also you’ve got to respect people’s views and their constituency interests as well, and the whipping arrangement will be determined in discussion in due course.” He said Labour would “never be forgiven in the future” if it allowed a Brexit deal or no-deal exit to damage people’s jobs and the long-term future of the economy. – Guardian

  • John McDonnell says Labour may whip MPs to back second Brexit referendum – iNews

…although Caroline Flint suggests ‘up to 70′ Labour MPs will oppose a second referendum regardless

Speaking on Sophy Ridge on Sunday, Mr McDonnell said: “We’ve been forced into this by Theresa May delaying, running down the clock and not coming up with a compromise that we could all support.” But the move has caused disquiet among some of the party’s MPs, particularly those who represent constituencies that voted Leave in the 2016 referendum. One of those, Caroline Flint, told Sky News that up to 70 of the party’s MPs are opposed to holding another referendum. “I think there is something like 60 or 70 Labour MPs who feel as strongly as I do against a second referendum,” the Don Valley MP said. – Sky News

  • Labour Leaver John Mann reveals that 35 MPs are ready to back PM’s Brexit deal and halt chances of second referendum – The Sun

Fury as Tony Blair urges MPs to delay Brexit to have a second referendum and force Britain to Remain

MPs should vote to delay Brexit to have a second referendum and force Britain to remain in the EU, Tony Blair has demanded. The ex-Prime Minister sparked fresh fury as he said France’s leader Macron is “right” and that the EU won’t let us extend Brexit day until Parliament sorts out what it wants. Instead he said that MPs should vote to slap down Mrs May’s deal and delay Article 50 – so they can vote on what kind of Brexit they want. But it would extend the uncertainty and chaos of Brexit for many more months to come, he admitted. “It doesn’t need to be long,” he told the Andrew Marr Show this morning. “Long enough to give us time to make up our minds. It’s possible to put a set of votes to the House of Commons – hard Brexit, soft Brexit, or back to the people.” Theresa May opened the door to delaying Brexit day this week when she said MPs would have a vote on it if she wasn’t able to pass a deal by March 12. Mr Blair, who has been campaigning for months to try and overturn the referendum result and keep us in the EU against the will of the British people, said the options for Brexit were all bad. He said a so-called hard Brexit with a Canada-style trade deal would be “economically painful” and a soft-Brexit where we stayed in the customs union would see Britain become a “rule-taker”. After that MPs should “put it back to the people”, he insisted. – The Sun

> WATCH: Former PM Tony Blair discusses Brexit on The Andrew Marr Show

George Eustice dismisses claims that a no-deal Brexit would be ‘disastrous’ for farmers

George Eustice labelled claims a no-deal Brexit would be “disastrous” for farmers as “wrong”. Farmers were recently told as many as 10 million lambs may have to slaughtered and buried, or burned, rather than sold in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The former Agriculture, Fisheries and Food Minister also claimed the British civil service has done a “sterling job” in terms of no-deal planing, and Britain is “good to go”. Sky News’ Sophy Ridge asked: “Are farmers right to be this worried?” Mr Eustice bluntly stated: “No they are wrong. I mean it would be difficult, there would be turbulence, but we have done huge amounts of planning for this eventuality. “So the truth is we have already agreed that we will have tariff rate suspensions on goods that we do not produce, things like citrus, so we can keep prices stable. But we will all put in place tariffs to protect some of those sensitive sectors, including beef, sheep and possibly some of the dairy sectors as well. “We have also done a great deal of work in terms of how we can continue to get our exports into the European Union, making sure we have got the IT in place to do export health certificates. Express

> WATCH: Former DEFRA minister George Eustice MP’s Interview on Sky News’ Ridge on Sunday

Gibraltar saved from the clutches of Spain as UK forges new deal to keep Rock after Brexit

It is understood that the UK, Spanish and Gibraltarian governments have tied up a tax agreement for the disputed British overseas territory which will end attempts by Spain to take control of the Rock. The deal will apply even in a no deal situation and is a major boost to the UK government and comes amid further proof from leading economists that a no deal situation will be good for Britain. A source close to Gibraltar’s Chief Minister Fabian Picardo told The Sunday Express: “The Spanish cabinet is to agree measures to apply in no deal and sign a tax agreement with UK in relation to Gibraltar. The UK Government is expected sign it on Monday. – Express

Europeans double UK investment since the Brexit vote

European investors are taking major bets on the UK economy, more than doubling investment in Britain over the past three years. Uncertainty around Brexit has not stopped companies on the continent from embarking on a major deal spree in the UK, indicating faith in the economy’s long-term prospects among foreign money managers. Buyers in the EU have snapped up 553 UK assets through mergers and acquisitions and private placements in the past year, according to S&P Capital IQ data. Purchases of companies, property and stakes in fast-growing firms totalled $31.1bn over the past 12 months. That is up from $21.2bn over 497 purchases in the previous 12 months, and $13.6bn on 454 transactions in the same period of 2016-17, the year encompassing the Brexit vote. – Telegraph (£)

Iain Duncan Smith: ‪British governments have lied about the EU for decades. This deal is the final deceit

“The people must be led slowly and unconsciously into the abandonment of their traditional economic defences, not asked.” So wrote Lord Thorneycroft in 1947 about the plan for a European Union, and in so doing he expressed the growing belief of the political class that this was a pursuit of the ‘greater good,’ which would become the hallmark of successive governments down the years.  Yet there was something else those words indicated, that in pursuit of this greater good, the political ends would always justify the means. What has followed in the intervening 80 years has been a collective deceit about the purpose of the European project. This can be seen in decision after decision taken on issues concerning the EU. Even now after losing the referendum, the political establishment’s Project Fear narrative of economic Armageddon is as narrow as it was in 1973.  One only has to look at the disastrous negotiations to join the EEC in 1972. As Sir Con O’Neill, the leader of the negotiating team said, the overriding principle guiding the UK team from the top was, “swallow the lot and swallow it now.” Which attitude led to the last minute and tragic abandonment of the UK fishing industry. Much of our manufacturing industry suffered a similar fate in our desperate haste to sign up to the ‘greater good’. – Iain Duncan Smith MP for the Telegraph (£)

Owen Paterson: If May delivers on Brexit she will win back Conservative MPs’ loyalty, if she fails they’ll know who to blame

When the House of Commons voted for Sir Graham Brady’s amendment in January, it sent a clear message that the very worst part of the Withdrawal Agreement – the Backstop – would have to be “replaced with alternative arrangements” before it could accept the Prime Minister’s deal. It is easy to see why. The Backstop would be an outrageous breach of the Belfast Agreement. The UK could be locked into its arrangements indefinitely as a permanent rule-taker with no say as to how those rules are made. Where are the 17.4 million Leave voters and all those Conservative members loyal to the Party’s manifesto commitments to go? The Prime Minister can answer that question. If she delivers Brexit on time and in full, they will find their home in the Conservatives – the only Party genuinely committed to honouring the result of the 2016 referendum and securing a prosperous, independent future. But if she does not – if she fudges, delays or reneges – then they will know exactly who to blame. – Owen Paterson MP for The Sun

Martin Howe: It is far better to risk extending Article 50 than to accept May’s bad deal

The Prime Minister’s statement to the House of Commons on 26th February 2019 opened the door to a “short, limited extension to Article 50 not beyond the end of June” if the House again rejects her deal on 12th March. She thereby abandoned her commitment, repeated in the Commons more than 100 times, that the UK will leave the European Union on 29th March 2019. Without any apparent consciousness of the irony, she told the House that she would stick by her commitment to hold a vote on extending Article 50 “as I have [stuck by my] previous commitments”. But in the background, there is a threat of a much longer extension. On 11th February 2019, Olly Robbins, the Prime Minister’s chief Brexit “negotiator” was overheard by an ITN reporter in a Brussels hotel bar, saying that he expected MPs in March to be presented with the choice of backing a reworked Brexit deal or a potentially significant delay to Brexit. Despite her protestations about not wanting an Article 50 extension, it is clear that May is now seeking to use the threat of one as a lever to exert pressure on MPs opposed to her deal. But how should they react to such a threat? – Martin Howe QC for ConservativeHome

Henry Newman: Where better to look to solve the Brexit backstop problem than Ireland’s history with the EU?

Fewer than ten days remain until Theresa May’s Brexit deal will face a second chance to clear its parliamentary hurdle. It suffered a historic defeat in January, yet limps on. MPs have since signalled they would back the deal if improvements could be made to the controversial backstop. Brussels is irresponsibly resisting this, with President Juncker saying the EU “cannot accept the idea that the withdrawal agreement could be reopened”. But in the past the EU did return to deals, which had supposedly been signed off. And although the EU is understandably reluctant, a backstop with a clearer exit mechanism is surely better than No Backstop – to coin a phrase. There is a fundamental difference between being a member of the European Union – an organisation whose laws can trump our own legal system and having a treaty-based relationship with the EU. As long as we can secure the improvements to the backstop, then MPs should cautiously back the deal, however reluctantly. For once we are out the EU, we are out. Brexit would have meant Brexit.  – Henry Newman for the Telegraph (£)

Ross Clark: Whatever happened to the great Brexit property crash?

Whatever happened to the great Brexit property crash? The stock market has been pummelled on occasion since the referendum in 2016 but none so much as housebuilders’ shares. They suffered one downward loop immediately after the Brexit vote. Then again, as the chances of a no-deal Brexit increased towards the end of 2018, it was housing shares which suffered the most, with Taylor Wimpey, Barratt and several others plunging by 30 per cent, as rumours of sliding house prices took hold. No one has satisfactorily explained why the housing market should suffer from Brexit, unless you believe Osborne’s equally silly pre-referendum forecast that unemployment would surge by between 500,000 and 800,000 in the event of a Leave vote. Why should people stop moving house just because we are no longer in the EU? The pound has fallen, yet it hasn’t led to more than a token rise in interest rates. True, the construction industry has come to rely on overseas labour, but so well-remunerated are many building jobs (there are reports of brickies on £100,000 a year) that they are not going to suffer too much from the minimum £30,000 a year earnings requirement the government says it will impose on EU migrants after Brexit. Houses will still get built — even if they don’t get cleaned as much. – Ross Clark for The Spectator

Matthew d’Ancona: Could Gina Miller’s next move compel the EU to delay Brexit?

In a crisis, imagination is as important as commitment – and Gina Miller has both. As 29 March hoves ominously into view, the investment manager, who successfully challenged the government’s authority to invoke article 50 without parliamentary approval, is making another significant intervention in the Brexit process – more subtle this time, but no less worthy of political and legal attention. Having used the courts in 2017 to give parliament a say in the triggering of article 50, Miller is now, I gather, seeking to reframe the way in which Westminster and Brussels contemplate the possibility of its extension. Armed with a legal opinion written by Kieron Beal QC and three other senior lawyers, the co-founder of the pro-remain campaign Lead Not Leave will argue that the EU council of ministers could itself, unilaterally, extend the article 50 deadline. There is no intrinsic reason to assume that the EU or European parliament will heed Miller, or that the exhausted Westminster class will seize this opportunity. Then again, she has a record of defying the odds. At a moment of the most depressing political paralysis, her proposal holds the door open to fresh possibilities. Who, then, has the courage to walk through? – Matthew d’Ancona for the Guardian

Telegraph: Geoffrey Cox faces a mammoth challenge in his legal showdown with the EU

Just a few months ago, few people outside the Bar had heard of Geoffrey Cox QC, a successful barrister who entered Parliament only in 2005. He was appointed Attorney General last year and sprang to prominence as the “warm up” act ahead of Theresa May’s party conference speech. Suddenly, he is the central character in the greatest political drama of modern times. It falls to Mr Cox to decide the fate of Brexit. He has been tasked with persuading the EU to agree to changes to the backstop in the Withdrawal Agreement. This would be a significant achievement in itself since Brussels has so far insisted it would not reopen the legal text. Furthermore, it places Mr Cox in the difficult dual role of negotiator and legal arbiter of any bargain that he strikes. As we report today it appears that he has been unsuccessful in getting the EU to agree a time-limit on the backstop. They will be looking to Mr Cox to provide that certainty and have established their own team of constitutional lawyers to test his interpretation against their demands for “a clearly worded, legally binding, treaty-level clause” to escape the backstop. They also want a clear and unconditional route out of the backstop if future trade talks break down. It is a huge responsibility on Mr Cox’s shoulders. We wish him luck. – Telegraph (£) editorial

Charles Moore: MPs will greatly harm our country if they vote for the PM’s ‘damage limitation’ deal

Nick Timothy, Theresa May’s former right-hand man, is surely correct when he says that she sees Brexit mainly as a “damage limitation exercise”. It explains so much. The oddest characteristic of damage limitation exercises is that they normally make the damage worse. People can see that the person trying to limit the damage is on the defensive. If you embark on something as complicated, controversial and protracted as Brexit, you are at an enormous disadvantage if you never wanted it yourself. You can work conscientiously to get it right, and Mrs May clearly has; but this cannot overcome the original problem that your heart is not in it. As a result, the bigger and bolder the new thing being suggested, the more you fear damage. Your opponents notice this, of course, and hem you in. The European Commission leaders saw this from the first. When Mrs May made her withdrawal agreement with them, she fell into the trap they had been carefully preparing for two years. So now, in the name of damage limitation, she wants Parliament to vote next week for a deal which it has already rejected by 230 votes – one which hands over the money in advance, keeps us under the EU’s aegis without any power of decision and provides for the effective break-up of the United Kingdom if we later decide to go our own way; and all because the alternatives are supposedly more damaging. This is seen as “pragmatic”, but in fact it is funk.  – Charles Moore for the Telegraph (£)

Clare Foges: Leavers’ immigration hopes will be betrayed

Johnson — and Vote Leave — knew full well that voters’ frustration over high levels of immigration was political dynamite. Year after year, when people were asked about the most important issues facing the country, immigration came at or near the top of the list, while Europe barely registered. They were not talking about the perils of “ever-closer union” in the Dog and Duck. The overwhelming public anxiety was about immigration. So when voters were told they could “take back control”, they foresaw a significant fall in numbers. This is why public opinion on immigration has softened so dramatically since the vote. In June 2016 YouGov found that 56 per cent of people named “immigration and asylum” as one of the top issues facing the country. By last month the figure had tumbled to 27 per cent. What happened? Have all those concerns about mass immigration and its impact on housing and infrastructure just melted away? No. Concern about immigration has softened because people believe Brexit will cut immigration significantly. They trust that the issue is in hand, that numbers are bound to fall. But figures released last week gave us a clear indication that overall numbers will not fall. While net immigration from the EU has dropped to its lowest level in a decade, net migration from outside the bloc is at its highest since 2004, with 261,000 more non-EU citizens arriving than leaving in the year to September 2018. The Poles and Romanians are simply being replaced by migrants from outside Europe. – Clare Foges for The Times (£)

The Sun: Tory MPs need to be careful endorsing any Brexit delay which could be fatal to the process

Any delay to Brexit could be fatal to the whole operation – so Tory MPs must think very carefully about endorsing one. We could just about stomach a short extension to cross the t’s and dot the i’s of necessary legislation. But Liam Fox and ERG hardliners seem to see a delay as an insurance policy in case the PM’s deal doesn’t get past Parliament, allowing us to wring further concessions from Brussels. European leaders have already made it clear that’s a fantasy. Any lengthy delay will only signal an even softer Brexit or, worse, open the door to the democracy-deniers calling for the whole operation to be cancelled. Kicking the can down the road isn’t risk-free. – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • We want to be free – Anne Marie Morris MP for Facts4EU
  • Britain faces a flawed Brexit and dignified Therexit — the price of ‘success’ will be for the PM’s departure date – Trevor Kavanagh for The Sun
  • Are Brexiteer MPs really softening their opposition to May’s deal? – Katy Balls for The Spectator
  • The Brexit wreckers: the MPs who are betraying their constituents by trying to thwart Brexit from Anna Soubry to Amber Rudd – The Sun