Barnier 'working on legal add-on' to the Brexit deal: Brexit News for Saturday 2 March

Barnier 'working on legal add-on' to the Brexit deal: Brexit News for Saturday 2 March
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Michel Barnier ‘working on legal add-on’ to the Brexit deal without time limit…

Michel Barnier has told EU ambassadors that he is having to repeatedly rebut British demands for a time limit on the Irish backstop but that he is working on a legal add-on to the Brexit deal to help the prime minister. During a meeting on Friday in Brussels, the EU’s chief negotiator expressed frustration with the British demands after the latest round of talks. “The UK side keeps on insisting on the same two things,” one EU diplomat said following Barnier’s briefing after the latest week of talks. “And we keep on explaining why it won’t happen.” But in an interview with the German newspaper Die Welt, Barnier publicly admitted for the first time that he was looking at drafting a joint interpretative instrument as an adjunct to the withdrawal agreement. He also suggested that the parliamentary arithmetic might be moving in the prime minister’s favour. – Guardian

…as Brexiteers seek DUP’s opinion on legal changes to backstop

As far as the influential European Research Group (ERG) of Eurosceptic Tory MPs are concerned – it is not Cox’s legal advice they are waiting for, but that of DUP leader Nigel Dodds. As the Telegraph reported on Friday, a star chamber of eight Brexiteer lawyers has been assembled to forensically analyse whatever Cox brings back from Brussels – and the inclusion of the Londonderry born politician in that octet is seen as crucial. According to one senior Tory source: “MPs in the ERG are all waiting to see what Dodds says. If the DUP is happy with the amended withdrawal agreement then they’ll be happy.” Another ERG insider added: “The addition of Dodds is absolutely critical. If Dodds gives his assent, then that will help to move the vast, vast majority of those who voted against the withdrawal agreement last time. But of course it all depends on what Cox brings back.”  – Telegraph (£)

  • How far will the Brexiter ERG MPs capitulate? – Robert Peston for ITV News

> Jonathan Isaby on BrexitCentral on Wednesday: Meet the eight lawyers who will judge whether ‘Cox’s codpiece’ cuts the mustard

EU ‘not right’ to use Northern Ireland as Brexit leverage, says Dominic Raab

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab accused the European Union of using “sensitivities” over Northern Ireland to try and lock the U.K. into keeping EU laws and undermining British competitiveness. Speaking on the BBC’s Today program, Raab also said that the substance of changes to Theresa May’s Brexit deal were more important than the means of how they are achieved. That is significant because Brexiteer MPs had previously stated that only reopening the Withdrawal Agreement would be acceptable. – Politico

Article 50 extension ‘could be illegal’ unless UK elects new MEPs

A Brexit delay of longer than two months could be illegal unless the UK elects new MEPs, lawyers are warning, appearing to torpedo Theresa May‘s strategy. Article 50 cannot be extended beyond the end of May unless the UK takes part in fresh European parliament elections, according to a legal opinion issued by the German Bundestag. The conclusion came amid fresh evidence that the exit talks remain in trouble, with a lack of progress that might persuade MPs to approve the prime minister’s deal. The controversy over Euro-elections is crucial because Ms May told MPs a delay to June would be possible without a U-turn on withdrawing MEPs – if parliament forces her to abandon the 29 March deadline. – Independent

  • EU elections will leave new MEPs in limbo until Brexit – The Times (£)

Theresa May sees Brexit as ‘damage limitation’, says ex-aide Nick Timothy…

Theresa May’s former chief of staff has told the BBC she always saw Brexit as a “damage limitation exercise”. In his first TV interview, Nick Timothy suggested the PM and other ministers’ attitude meant the government has “not been prepared to take the steps” needed to make the most of Brexit. And he warned the government’s mishandling of it risked “opening up space for a populist right wing party”. His comments are in forthcoming BBC Two documentary Inside the Brexit Storm. Mr Timothy, who is considered to have been one of Theresa May’s most influential advisers, said that the prime minister should have been clearer that different sides of the Tory Party would have to compromise much earlier on.  – BBC News

…as Cabinet ministers indicate they expect May to go in November

Several members of the cabinet believe that Theresa May will be gone by the end of the year, with those who backed Britain remaining in the EU being the most enthusiastic about her staying. Many senior colleagues believe that Mrs May’s future could come to an end in November, when the one-year grace period that she secured after the vote of no confidence as Tory leader expires. “There’s no way she’ll win that vote when it happens again,” a cabinet member told The Times. “That’s the view of lots of colleagues.” – The Times (£)

Government pays £33m out over Brexit ferry case…

The government will pay £33m to Eurotunnel in an agreement to settle a lawsuit over extra ferry services in the event of a no-deal Brexit. In December, the Department for Transport (DfT) contracted three suppliers to provide additional freight capacity on ferries for lorries. But Eurotunnel said the contracts were handed out in a “secretive” way. As part of the agreement, Eurotunnel has agreed to make some improvements to its terminal. One of the firms awarded a ferry contract, Seaborne Freight, has already had its deal cancelled after the Irish company backing it pulled out. Shortly after it was awarded the contract, the BBC found out that Seaborne had no ships and had never run a ferry service. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling has been heavily criticised for the Seaborne deal, which would have been worth £13.8m.  – BBC News

…as Ramsgate’s no-deal port funding is axed

Funding for the Port of Ramsgate which was at the centre of a row over a no-deal-Brexit ferry contract has been axed. Thanet District Council has approved cuts of £730,000 saying it will no longer keep the port “ferry-ready”. In December the government gave Seaborne Freight a contract to run a service to Ostend, Belgium to offset delays in the case of a no-deal Brexit. The Seaborne contract was later cancelled after a backer pulled out. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had faced criticism for the £13.8m deal with firm Seaborne Freight, which the BBC found had never run a ferry service.  – BBC News

UK should embrace US farming methods to agree trade deal, says US ambassador…

The EU is a “museum of agriculture”, the US ambassador to Britain has said, as he urged the UK to embrace American farming methods to seal a transatlantic trade deal. Writing in The Daily Telegraph, Woody Johnson says US practices such as chlorine-washing chicken and feeding growth hormones to cattle are “the future of farming” while the EU’s “traditionalist approach” belongs in the past. On Friday Donald Trump’s administration published its demands for a post-Brexit trade deal with Britain, which insists on “comprehensive market access” for US agricultural products and the elimination of “unwanted barriers” to food and drink imports. – Telegraph (£)

  • Don’t let smears about US farms trap Britain into the EU’s Museum of Agriculture  – US Ambassador Woody Johnson for the Telegraph (£)

…but Michael Gove vows Britain will follow all EU food and farming regulations for at least nine months in a no-deal Brexit

Britain will unilaterally agree to follow all EU foods safety and animal health regulations for a period of a least nine months in the event of a ‘no deal’ Brexit in order to protect British farming, the Telegraph can reveal. Senior Whitehall sources said that The Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) had won cabinet committee clearance for the plan last week. The move sends a clear signal of the UK’s determination to remain aligned with European, not US agricultural and food standards after Brexit. – Telegraph (£)

Jaguar Land Rover plans big UK investment

Jaguar Land Rover is preparing to make a major investment in advanced manufacturing in the UK. Contradicting recent press reports that Indian parent company was considering selling the luxury car business it bought from Ford in 2008, sources close to the company and the government told the BBC that news of fresh investment in the UK was imminent. When announced, this news will be a welcome boost to the UK car industry which has seen a raft of bad news in recent weeks. – BBC News

George Eustice: The EU smells our fear and thinks we are biddable. It’s time to walk out of the room

In 1990 Lithuania declared its independence from the Soviet Union. There was no deal and no agreement, it was even allowed to leave. Its leaders didn’t know whether Russian tanks would arrive or not. It took real courage. There was an attempted blockade that folded after a couple of months, there were some skirmishes and tensions, but the other Baltic states followed suit and they never looked back. Why are we finding it so hard to summon the confidence to leave the EU with everything we have going for us? In the country at large, especially outside of London, we see courage in spades. – George Eustice MP for the Telegraph (£)

US Ambassador to the UK Woody Johnson: Don’t let smears about US farms trap Britain into the EU’s Museum of Agriculture

You will find the highest quality food in the world in the United States – from our wild salmon, to our world-beating wines, and beef used in only the finest restaurants. If you want food made to the highest standards of sustainability, animal welfare or organic farming, America can offer all of that. It is always worth hearing the full story. It would be a genuine missed opportunity to buy into the idea that the EU’s traditionalist approach to agriculture is Britain’s only option for a quality and efficient agriculture sector moving forward. You now have the freedom to make your own choices about the way you farm and fish, the products you import, and the technology you utilise. This is the country that once changed the world with the innovations and revolutions that took place on British farms. You could do the same thing again now and together we could shape the agricultural revolution of the future. – Robert Wood Johnson for the Telegraph (£)

Peter Foster: If May’s deal stands and she goes, installing a Brexiteer PM won’t change anything

There are whispers in the corridors of Westminster that a grand bargain could be struck with the Tory back benches that trades the promise of Theresa May’s head in exchange for supporting her Brexit deal. The rationale for this deal is apparently that a committed Brexiteer could then be installed in Number 10 in order to prosecute the kind of clean-break Brexit which the ERG and the party grassroots crave. This is essentially a version of the Michael Gove position, in which the divorce deal is put over the line in Westminster in order to open the door to trade negotiations where Brexiteers can pursue the ‘SuperCanada’ trade deal they believe is right for Britain. – Peter Foster for the Telegraph (£)

Juliet Samuel: Parliament is snuffing out the last Brexit hopes

They have organised themselves behind a coterie of pro-Brexit lawyer-MPs, who will be charged with judging whatever dog’s breakfast Theresa May can bring back from Brussels. After several weeks (arguably, years) of incoherent blather about codicils and treaty texts, this sign of Brexiteer unity and coordination is most welcome. The irony is that it is almost certainly too late. The problem is that it relies on the idea that Mrs May is actually on the cusp of forcing through some sort of change to the Irish backstop. A meeting of EU ambassadors held yesterday and yielding no progress on the matter strongly suggests otherwise.  – Juliet Samuel for the Telegraph (£)

Mark Galeotti: What does Putin really make of Britain’s Brexit mess?

When it comes to Brexit, Britain’s friends, neighbours, trade partners and even antagonists are generally united in one thing: wondering what on earth is going on. In Russia, there is a particular cocktail of satisfaction and bewilderment.The satisfaction is predictable. From the Kremlin’s point of view, the whole Brexit extravaganza is a gift, regardless of the eventual outcome.- Mark Galeotti for The Spectator

Kai Weiss: For the EU elite, Brexit is a chance to further their own ambitions

Brexit is now officially less than one month away – at least in theory. Over the last days, much drama has occurred, but, as so often over the last two years, little has actually changed. As Alex Massie wrote here a few days ago, if the government does not find a way in the next two weeks to pass the Withdrawal Agreement through Parliament, Britain will either slither into a No Deal Brexit, agree to an extension of Article 50, or possibly call a second referendum – an outcome that has become a little more likely with Labour’s recent change of position. – Kai Weiss for CapX

Comment in Brief

  • It’s four weeks to go until Brexit day, and the polls are getting interesting – John Curtice for the Telegraph (£)
  • Remainers both cause and exploit Brexit unreadiness – Dr Bruce Oliver Newsome for Conservative Woman
  • Getting the economy growing faster – John Redwood’s Diary
  • The Independent Group is the start of a historic political realignment – Steve Davies for CapX
  • Kepa, Brexit and the art of compromise: Why it doesn’t need to end in tears – Simon Targett for Reaction
  • Why victory is within Theresa May’s grasp – Peter Oborne for the Daily Mail
  • Here are my Brexit regrets. What are yours? – Iain Martin for Reaction
  • They have no intention of cutting immigration – Conservative Woman
  • May’s deal is now the most likely Brexit outcome – Ben Kelly for Reaction

News in Brief

  • Companies rush to ensure clearance for UK exports – The Times (£)
  • A five-year timeline featuring Britney, Ariana and Pokemon – BBC News
  • EU countries revolt against Commission’s dirty money list – Politico
  • Tusk urged to meet MPs on citizens’ rights – BBC News
  • Tobias Ellwood says ministers will stop no-deal ‘whenever’ – BBC News
  • President of Slovenia: EU could approve Brexit delay – Sky News

And finally… Brexit ‘will cause more unplanned pregnancies’

The New Statesman has published an unintentionally hilarious article by the aptly-named Dr Rebecca Grossman, a GP who is trying to hard sell the notion that no deal could lead to “more unplanned pregnancies” or even “individuals resorting to alternative methods of contraception, such as sterilisation.” Has she forgotten that Brexit was about bringing an end to protectionism? Unfortunately it looks like Dr Grossman hasn’t actually bothered to read the Department of Health’s reports on no deal planning herself, which leave her lurid claims looking rather limp. The Government has already taken measures to open new shipping channels and procure freight capacity to ensure that all medical supplies can still get smoothly in and out of the UK even if there is increased friction at the border. In any case, trusty condoms are built with stamina in mind – they can survive on the shelf for three years, far longer than the six weeks suppliers are anticipating having to last for. – Guido Fawkes