Prime Minister facing prospect of a mass walkout after three senior ministers signal they are ready to help force a delay to Brexit: Brexit News for Saturday 23 February

Prime Minister facing prospect of a mass walkout after three senior ministers signal they are ready to help force a delay to Brexit: Brexit News for Saturday 23 February

Prime Minister facing prospect of a mass walkout after three senior ministers signal they are ready to help force a delay to Brexit…

Theresa May is facing the prospect of a Cabinet walkout after three senior ministers signalled they are ready to help force a delay to Brexit to stop a ‘disastrous’ No Deal. Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark today make clear they are prepared to defy the Prime Minister unless there is a Parliamentary breakthrough on her deal next week. Writing in the Daily Mail, the trio publicly serve notice that if hardline Tory Brexiteers in the European Research Group scupper a deal they will back other MPs to try to force Mrs May to extend Article 50 and delay Britain’s exit from the EU. In their joint article, the Cabinet ministers warn a No Deal departure would wreck the economy, put the defence of the realm in jeopardy and risk the break-up of the UK. They say it remains their hope that Parliament agrees a deal ‘in the next few days’. But they add: ‘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. It is time that many of our Conservative parliamentary colleagues in the ERG recognised that Parliament will stop a disastrous No Deal Brexit on March 29. If that happens, they will have no one to blame but themselves for delaying Brexit.’ – Daily Mail

  • Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke issue delay warning – BBC News
  • Tory ministers signal they will rebel to stop no-deal Brexit – FT (£)

…with a warning that she has five days to agree to a Brexit delay or face a mass revolt…

Theresa May has been warned by ministers she has five days in which to announce she will delay Brexit or she will face a mass rebellion that risks collapsing the Government. Earlier this week Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, David Gauke and David Mundell effectively challenged the Prime Minister to sack them by vowing to support a backbench bid to take a no-deal divorce off the table. They warned Mrs May in a meeting in Downing Street as many as 22 members of the Government are prepared to vote for a backbench bill that would force her to request an extension of Article 50. The Telegraph has been told if the Prime Minister fails to seal a deal with the EU that she can put before Parliament on Monday or Tuesday, the only way she can avoid a revolt is by announcing a Brexit delay. “If she doesn’t take no-deal off the table then Parliament will do it for her. And we are not willing to stand by this time. “She has to say publicly that she will formally request an extension of Article 50.” It came as Mr Gauke, the Justice Secretary, told The Telegraph that Eurosceptic MPs risked causing Brexit to be postponed. – Telegraph (£)

…while she faces a Brexiteer rebellion over ‘watered down’ backstop demands…

Senior Brexiteers have warned Theresa May that watering down her Brexit demands to secure a deal at the eleventh-hour would be a “catastrophic misjudgement”. The Prime Minister has held further talks with Brussels this week as she scrambles to secure last-minute changes to her unpopular Withdrawal Agreement. But Mrs May is facing the prospect of a Remainer rebellion if she refuses to rule out no deal, while Brexiteers have demanded she make good on her pledge to revise the Irish border backstop. Mrs May is working to secure legally binding changes to the contentious arrangement but has now scrapped demands to reopen negotiations into the full Withdrawal Agreement, The Sun reports. Instead, EU diplomats are reportedly working with their British counterparts to devise a “parallel declaration” which would sit alongside the treaty. The declaration is said to include a mechanism which could bring the backstop to an end within 12 months of it being triggered. But MPs last month voted for an amendment by Sir Graham Brady to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements” – a demand the EU immediately refused. – Express

…and she is warned by Cabinet ministers she must quit in three months before next stage of Brexit

Theresa May must stand down after the local elections in May to allow a new leader to deliver the next stage of Brexit negotiations, Cabinet ministers have warned. Ministers said that the Prime Minister will have to leave after the first phase of Brexit negotiations are concluded or she will face defeat in a vote of no confidence at the end of the year. Cabinet ministers believe that should Brexit be delivered on time for March, the party may be able to secure good results at the local elections in May.  The Prime Minister pledged to Conservative MPs in December that she would stand down before 2022, although she did not specify when. Ministers want the Prime Minister to announce her departure before the spending review in Autumn, which is expected to set out the Government’s economic priorities for the next three years. – Telegraph (£)

EU’s Michel Barnier doesn’t rule out another Brexit delay

Michel Barnier, the European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator, said he doesn’t exclude a delay to the date Britain leaves the bloc though the decision would require unanimity among the European heads of government who “will ask what for and for how long.” Asked on Europe1 radio about the chances of a so-called Hard Brexit, Barnier said “today I am more worried than before, but I think there is still a chance to save this accord.” Barnier called Brexit a “lose-lose”’ situation for both sides. “Theresa May has to get a majority to approve this accord,” he said. “That’s the condition to go further. The separation has to be orderly so that we can move on to the more important task of defining our future relationship.” – Bloomberg

Second referendum still an option for Labour, says John McDonnell…

John McDonnell insisted that Labour was moving towards backing another Brexit referendum as a close ally of Gordon Brown became the ninth MP to quit Labour in a week. Ian Austin, 53, blamed “a culture of extremism and antisemitism” as he said he was quitting the “broken party”, saying he was “ashamed” of what Labour had become under Jeremy Corbyn. However, the former minister said he had no plans to join his eight former colleagues in the Independent Group they established this week. Mr Austin has supported Theresa May’s Brexit deal in the Commons and opposes plans for a second referendum. Meanwhile Mr McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, said that the option of Labour backing another referendum was still on the table and “we’re moving towards that”. He told the London Evening Standard: “On the People’s Vote, we’ve kept it on the table and we’re moving towards that.” He said Labour was “moving into implementation stages around our conference decision, around the People’s Vote”. A compromise option put forward by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson could present a route to the party supporting a vote. The two MPs have devised a plan to support the prime minister’s Brexit deal on the condition it is put to a confirmatory public vote. – The Times (£)

  • Labour ‘moving towards’ backing a fresh referendum, John McDonnell says – Independent

…while Tony Blair suggests Corbyn could win back Scotland with a second Brexit vote

British opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn could seize on a “huge opportunity” to win back key seats in its former Scottish heartland by endorsing a second vote on Brexit, former Labour prime minister Tony Blair said. He said Labour could recover ground from the Scottish arm of Prime Minister Theresa May’s Conservatives, led by Ruth Davidson, by offering a second vote and a way out for Scots, most of whom oppose Britain’s planned exit from the European Union. Nationally, Britons voted by a 52-48 percent margin in 2016 in favour of Brexit. “The vulnerability of Ruth Davidson’s Conservatives is that they are tied to Theresa May. That is a vulnerability, but it’s only a vulnerability you can exploit if you’re prepared to say, ‘We’d stop the thing’,” Blair, premier for a decade to 2007, told Holyrood Magazine in an interview published on Friday. “So, you’ve literally got those votes just lying on the table waiting to be taken, you just need to say it,” said Blair, a centre-left Europhile who backs a second referendum on Brexit. With just five weeks until Britain is due to leave the EU on March 29, May is yet to get the changes to her exit deal with Brussels she needs to secure its ratification in parliament.She has ruled out a second referendum, saying that would negate “the will of the British people” expressed in 2016. Ahead of a promised parliamentary debate and vote on the next steps on Brexit on Feb. 27, Corbyn is under intense pressure from moderates within his party to back a second referendum explicitly, now that the terms of Brexit are known. – Reuters

Ireland’s Brexit plans show border warnings are careless rhetoric, says DUP

A lack of border checks in the Irish government’s emergency Brexit plans proves warnings about the frontier are just careless rhetoric, the DUP has claimed. The party’s Brexit spokesman, Sammy Wilson, said talk from Ireland and the EU about the risks of a hard border returning was designed to manipulate people’s fears. Reacting to the publication of the Dublin government’s package of laws that will be enacted in a no-deal scenario, Mr Wilson said: “One thing absent from the Republic of Ireland’s no-deal Brexit legislation is any plan for border checkpoints or the sort of border infrastructure that some in Dublin and Brussels have been having nightmares about. This legislation points to the reality that in 2019 there is no need for the type of borders we knew in the 70s, 80s and 90s. No one is building a so-called hard border or going back to checkpoints with soldiers. Such talk was rhetoric designed to ferment fear in genuine communities along both sides of the border. To manipulate people’s fears in such a way was careless and reckless.” – Belfast Telegraph

Lib Dems to make fresh bid for second Brexit referendum…

Liberal Democrats will make a fresh attempt to persuade MPs to back a second Brexit referendum – with leader Vince Cable reaching out to members of the new Independent Group for support. With Parliament expected to stage another series of votes on the UK’s withdrawal from the European Union, Mr Cable confirmed his party would again try to get a majority for a People’s Vote. The Liberal Democrat leader is to address his party’s Scottish Conference in Hamilton as the clock ticks down to Britain’s formal departure date, on March 29. Theresa May is still trying to find a deal that commands the support of the House, and has so far ruled out any possibility of an extension to the Brexit timetable. With dissatisfaction over Brexit having sparked several Tory and Labour MPs to quit their party and form the Independent Group, Mr Cable said he has been speaking to “many of these now independent MPs” and that they have “much in common” with his party. –

…as one Lib Dem MP counsels party against backing a return to the EU after departure

The Liberal Democrats shouldn’t campaign to take the UK back into the EU if the party fails to stop Brexit, a senior party source has said. The Lib Dem MP said keeping up the party’s campaign to stay in the EU after Brexit would put it at odds with the public mood, and get in the way of addressing other issues facing the UK. Addressing the Scottish Lib Dem conference in Hamilton today, party leader Sir Vince Cable will keep up the pressure for a second EU referendum that could stop Brexit. Mr Cable will pledge to work with a newly-formed group of independent MPs, made up of pro-EU defectors from Labour and the Conservatives, to back a last-ditch Commons bid for a so-called People’s Vote next week. However, one of his MPs told The Scotsman that the campaign for EU membership should be put on hold the day after Brexit, if the Lib Dem referendum push fails. “If Brexit does happen, I don’t see that we should automatically and immediately say to people, ‘We need to go back in’,” the source said. “I just don’t think that’s where the country is going to be. Obviously we would argue for the UK to stay close to the EU, and to preserve as many of the protections and benefits it gave us as possible.” – The Scotsman

Anna Soubry says it was inevitable she would leave Tories

Anna Soubry said she watched in “absolute horror” as Theresa May used her first speech to the Conservative party conference as prime minister to assert that “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere”. Critics accused Mrs May of engaging in a new form of Brexit nationalism that would alienate immigrants, and Ms Soubry said the prime minister’s speech in October 2016 was the moment when she felt the Tories were drifting away from her. On Wednesday Ms Soubry became one of three Europhile MPs to quit the Conservative party and join the newly formed Independent Group that is aiming to seize the centre ground of British politics. The group — which was unveiled on Monday by seven Europhile MPs who resigned from the Labour party — has unleashed the biggest rupture to the British political system in almost 40 years. Ms Soubry, who was elected MP for Broxtowe in Nottinghamshire in 2010, said it was “inevitable” she would join the group. – FT (£)

Charles Moore: Brexiteers must now hold their nerve against Remain’s desperate last stand

The Independent Group (TIG) in Parliament came into being this week, chiefly to stop Brexit. If the Conservatives hold their nerve, this reason for the group’s existence will have passed in five weeks’ time: we shall have left the European Union. That nerve – never strong at the best of times – is showing signs of fraying. In this long, exhausting story, fear has been the weapon used 99 per cent of the time by the Remain side. It did not work with the British electorate, but it does take its toll on some Tory MPs and so, as D-Day approaches, it is being recycled – each time faster and more furious. Since the three Tory “Tiggers” bounced out on Wednesday to join the more sorrowful and numerous Labour escapees, fear has been stoked once again. The Brexit Delivery Group of backbench Conservatives, seeking the sort of all-smiles divorce which will never be available so long as people like Jean-Claude Juncker walk this earth, wrote to the Prime Minister. Some of its members, it said, felt “deeply troubled” about the prospect of No Deal. Unless that prospect were removed, they would be tempted to “get behind amendments that are planned in the name of Oliver Letwin” in the key parliamentary vote next week. At the same time, it was leaked that four Cabinet ministers had threatened Mrs May with resignation over the same point. – Charles Moore for the Telegraph (£)

Giles Fraser: Why won’t Remainers talk about family?

A South London GP friend told me a disturbing story last week. I paraphrase, but this is roughly it. A woman in her fifties called up the surgery. Her elderly and confused father had soiled himself and she wanted to know if the surgery could send someone round to clean him up. “Did you have children?” my friend asked her. She did. He went on: “When they were babies did you ever contact the state to see if it would come round to change their nappies?” She went quiet. Ouch, what a question. Last week the Evening Standard – now, of course, a propaganda rag for George Osborne’s Remain-inspired end-of-the-world fearmongering – led with the following front-page headline: “Who’ll look after our elderly post Brexit, ask care chiefs”. I’m still spitting blood at the arrogance and callousness of that question. It summed up all that I have against the Osborne neoliberal (yes, that’s what it is) world-view. And why I am longing for a full-on Brexit – No Deal, please – to come along and smash the living daylights out of the assumptions behind that question. – Giles Fraser for Unherd

David Collins: Bright days await us after a no-deal Brexit, as long as we keep preparing for it

From a tactical standpoint, the persistent rejection of ‘no deal’ is staggering in its absurdity. Imagine going into any negotiation (buying a car, house, whatever) and declaring: ‘Just to let you know – I have to buy xyz. I cannot leave here without it.’ The seller (in this case the EU) will have the luxury of setting whatever terms they wish, no matter how unreasonable. The only way to have any genuine leverage in a transaction is by being prepared to walk away. Yet this is bizarrely what some of our MPs would have us do in relation to the Brexit withdrawal negotiations. Make no mistake – the EU is in this to secure the best outcome it can (tying the UK to its regulations as closely as possible). They are not seeking an outcome which is ‘mutually beneficial’ – they will only take this lesser outcome as the last resort if they realize that we won’t back down from the conditions they force upon us. They have drawn their red ‘no-renegotiation’ lines in the sand. We must draw ours. – David Collins for the Telegraph (£)

Matthew Lynn: A sterling future is waiting for us on the other side of Brexit

The public finances are in good shape. Employment is at record levels. The economy is growing at a perfectly reasonable rate, and the country is politically stable, with a moderate centre-Right government secure in power and with virtually no threat from populist insurgencies. It sounds like a remarkably attractive safe haven – the perfect place to park some cash in a turbulent world. Where is it? It is, of course, the UK in five weeks’ time. For the last two years, sterling has taken a battering and British assets have been shunned by global investors. Our tortured exit from the EU and the political chaos it has unleashed have resulted in international money giving us a wide berth and rightly so. But that is about to change. Getting out of the EU has been a traumatic process. But once it is done, it is done, and the outlook will suddenly look very different. Compared with other major economies, Britain is going to be in better shape than most – and investors will notice. There is no question that global investors have wanted nothing to do with the UK ever since the referendum result in 2016. Sterling sunk like a stone, and the FTSE took a battering. A Bank of America Merrill Lynch survey in December found a net 39pc of investors underweight on the UK, the second highest number on record. Most of them would rather invest in Kazak yak-hide futures than anything with the word British attached to it. – Matthew Lynn for the Telegraph (£)

Brexit in Brief

  • Ian Austin’s departure proves Labour’s crisis goes much deeper than Brexit – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)
  • Negotiation expert says Brussels to blame for Brexit stalemate for this reason – Express