May warned by Tories backstop must be removed not just tweaked: Brexit News for Saturday 9 February

May warned by Tories backstop must be removed not just tweaked: Brexit News for Saturday 9 February
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Irish PM refuses to negotiate over dinner date with Theresa May…

Theresa May stepped up her push for a revamped Brexit deal last night by holding talks with the Irish premier in Dublin. The Prime Minister discussed the border row that has proved a major stumbling block in the quest for a withdrawal agreement with Leo Varadkar over dinner. Their meeting was understood to be focused on seeking to improve Anglo-Irish relations that have been soured in the dispute about the so-called “backstop” proposals for guaranteeing no physical customs checks on the border with Northern Ireland. The private dinner was held at Ireland’s official state guesthouse Farmleigh House. – Express

…as she is warned by Tory MPs the backstop is a ‘monumental’ issue that cannot be resolved with ‘tweaks’

Theresa May has been warned by a group of Tory MPs attempting to break the Brexit deadlock that the Northern Ireland backstop is a “monumental” issue that will not be resolved with a “few cursory tweaks”. Three former Cabinet ministers who helped draw up a Brexit “Plan C” known as the “Malthouse compromise” say it appears the Prime Minister has “forgotten” the fact that her Brexit deal was defeated by 230 votes in the Commons last month. Writing in The Telegraph, the Brexiteers Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson join Remainer Nicky Morgan in warning the backstop “in anything like its present form” is “never” going to pass in the Commons. – Telegraph (£)

  • Our Malthouse Compromise is the only solution that will satisfy both the public and MPs – Nicky Morgan, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson for the Telegraph (£)

Corbyn and McDonnell say they have not ruled out a second referendum…

Jeremy Corbyn and his allies today insisted they have not completely ruled out a second Brexit referendum as they scramble to stop Labour imploding. The party’s civil war has escalated dramatically after the Labour leader tried to outflank Theresa May by offering to support a Norway-style deal with the EU. Mr Corbyn tried to woo Tory rebels by dropping his notorious ‘six tests’ which demanded that any agreement had ‘the exact same benefits’ as EU membership.  But the move infuriated Labour Remainers, who accused him of ‘enabling’ Brexit – with some even threatening to quit the party. – Daily Mail

…as John McDonnell claims Labour’s plan can get a majority

Labour’s plan for a permanent customs union with the EU after Brexit can secure a Commons majority, the shadow chancellor has told the BBC. John McDonnell said it was a “very traditional British compromise” to avoid a “catastrophic” no-deal Brexit. “We believe that this is a deal that could fly within Parliament,” he said. Jeremy Corbyn’s letter setting out Labour’s demands for supporting a Brexit deal was welcomed by some EU figures and Tory MPs. Downing Street is expected to reply to Mr Corbyn’s letter later on Friday.  – BBC News

Theresa May warned Tories face local election wipe-out if Brexit is delayed beyond March 29…

Theresa May has been warned that the Tories face a local election wipe out if Brexit is delayed by more than a few weeks. The ongoing deadlock with the EU has led many to expect the Article 50 exit talks will have to be extended beyond the March 29 deadline. But local government bosses and Cabinet ministers have warned No10 as well as the Tory party’s chairman that its vote at the council polls on May 2 will be decimated if they are seen to have broken the key Brexit promise. That gives the PM just a five week extra window to wrap up Brexit and pass all necessary new laws, and 12 weeks in total from now. The Conservatives most senior councillor, Lord Porter – who chairs the Local Government Association, told The Sun: “If we’re not out by the time of the elections, we’re going to get kicked. “It won’t be good for us. “It will also hit turnout, as people will be put off politics altogether. “Brandon Lewis has been made very aware of this.” – The Sun

…as thousands of Tory party members could defect to Nigel Farage’s new Brexit Party

Thousands of Conservative members are likely to defect to a new Brexit party which was yesterday officially recognised by the electoral regulator, its backers claim. The Electoral Commission on Friday formally recognised the Brexit Party as an official organisation which will allow it to field candidates at elections. Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader who is supporting the party, said “the engine is running” and he stood “ready for battle” to fight the Tories and Labour if European Parliament elections are held on May 23. – Telegraph (£)

  • Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party spells trouble for the Tories – Steerpike for The Spectator
  • Nigel Farage’s new Brexit party should scare the living daylights out of the Tories – Iain Martin for Reaction

Cabinet members claim there is a ‘very real’ chance of a referendum on Irish unity in the event of no deal

Several cabinet ministers have told the BBC a no-deal Brexit could lead to a vote on Irish unification. One senior minister said the prospect is “very real” and very much on the prime minister’s mind. A second cabinet minister warned the government risked “sleepwalking into a border poll”. And a third cabinet minister said there was an understanding in government that a vote on unification would be a “realistic possibility” if the UK leaves the EU without a deal next month. “If we are party to creating an environment of chaos, disruption and uncertainty – that could move the dial”, the source said – BBC News

UK, Norway and Iceland reach post-Brexit citizens’ rights deal

The United Kingdom reached an agreement Friday with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway on citizens’ rights if Britain would leave the EU on March 29 without a Brexit deal. “The agreement protects the rights of EEA EFTA citizens living in the UK and British citizens living in the EEA EFTA States, providing certainty that they can continue to do so in the event of a no-deal Brexit,”  reads a statement from the Icelandic government. Britain and the three EU outsiders (who are members of the European Economic Area but not the EU) agreed last year to apply the principles of a Brexit agreement in their respective bilateral relationships, but the new legislation will also cover a no-deal scenario. “The citizens’ rights part of the EEA EFTA separation agreement broadly mirrors the arrangements agreed with the EU,” the British government said in a statement. – Politico

French firms start to panic about ‘nightmare scenario’ of no-deal Brexit…

French business is playing last-minute catch up over the prospect of a hard Brexit amid increasingly plaintive calls from government and trade bodies to act or lose out to European and global rivals. As many as 30,000 French companies export to the UK, and 3,300 have British-based operations, according to government figures. “I’ve just got off the phone from Brussels office and the news is not good,” said Thierry Pouch, chief economist of France’s agriculture chambers of commerce. “The European Commission refuses any renegotiation of the Withdrawal Agreement, we have zero room for manoeuvre. – Telegraph (£)

…as Dutch business fears Netherlands has much to lose from Brexit

“Chaos. Disaster. Costs.” These are all words Dutch businesses use to describe how Brexit will hit their trade with the UK. The Netherlands, seen as one of Theresa May’s closest European allies, has a lot to lose, particularly with a disorderly departure. Trade with the UK makes up 3.1pc of GDP for this nation of merchants, which is the world’s second largest exporter of agricultural products and ships all kinds of goods through Europe’s largest port of Rotterdam. – Telegraph (£)

UK-Japan trade talks stall

Britain and Japan have made little progress on a new trade deal in the past 18 months, according to officials involved in the talks, with tariffs set to revert to World Trade Organization levels at the end of March unless the UK ratifies a Brexit deal. Japan has agreed to extend existing trade terms for the duration of Britain’s planned transition period with the EU — but this will not apply if the UK fails to strike a deal with Brussels. It is now too late for the Japanese Diet to ratify any agreement before Brexit is scheduled to take place on March 29. There is also a wide gap in expectations about a trade accord, which would apply either in the case of no-deal Brexit or at the end of Britain’s planned transition period, which is due to end in December 2020. – FT (£)

Hauliers fear EU lockout over missing permits

Thousands of hauliers face being barred from entering the EU after missing out on permits that may be needed after Brexit. Department for Transport figures show that about one in twelve HGV operators that applied for a permit were given an annual pass. A total of 11,392 were applied for but only 984 have been made available. A further 2,832 one-month permits will “start to be allocated” by the end of March, it emerged. Critics warned that large numbers of HGV operators had been left in limbo, with fears that they could be barred from crossing the Channel. The DfT insisted that additional permits would be made available soon. It said the government was confident of striking a deal with the EU that would mean permits would not be needed. – The Times (£)

Firm with no ships has Brexit ferry contract cancelled

A firm with no ships that was to ensure ferries kept crossing the Channel in a no-deal Brexit has had its contract cancelled. Seaborne Freight’s contract worth £13.8m had attracted widespread criticism after it emerged the firm owned no vessels suitable for carrying goods or vehicles. The Department for Transport said it had decided to terminate the Seaborne’s contract after Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had provided backing to the deal, stepped away. A DfT spokeswoman said: “Following the decision of Seaborne Freight’s backer, Arklow Shipping, to step back from the deal, it became clear Seaborne would not reach its contractual requirements with the Government.  – Sky News

Nicky Morgan, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson: Our Malthouse Compromise is the only solution that will satisfy both the public and MPs

Theresa May has forgotten her deal was defeated by 230 votes and the backstop is unacceptable to MPs Throughout this week, senior Conservative colleagues who have supported Leave and Remain have been meeting with Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay and senior officials from across Government as part of the Alternative Arrangements Working Group (AAWG). The Group was formed after the House of Commons agreed to  Sir Graham Brady’s amendment requiring “the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements to avoid a hard border” to work on the precise details of what those arrangements might be. – Nicky Morgan, Iain Duncan Smith and Owen Paterson for the Telegraph (£)

Nigel Farage: My new Brexit party stands ready to defend democracy

It seems increasingly clear that Theresa May’s appalling Withdrawal Agreement, the worst deal in history, will not pass through the House of Commons. Perhaps the only way in which it could is if the Government repeats Edward Heath’s tactics in 1972, when he forced the original European Communities Act through with the support of Labour. Mrs May’s problem is that she knows doing the same now would irreparably split her own party.I have thought for many months that the most likely outcome is the can getting kicked down the road. – Nigel Farage MEP for the Telegraph (£)

Alberto Alemanno: The real winner of the Italy-France dispute is Europe

Italy and France are at it again. But it would be a mistake to brush off this latest row as just a “stupidity contest.” In announcing its decision to pull its diplomat from Rome this week, France accused the country’s populist government of launching a series of “targeted, baseless attacks” as part of an effort to manipulate the relationship for electoral aims.” Indeed, the spat between the two European powers — the worst since World War II, according to France’s foreign ministry — is about more than just a diplomatic tit-for-tat. It’s the start of a new way of doing politics in Europe. Historically, EU politics has been more of a national affair than a truly European one. When it comes to electing the next European Parliament, for example, voters across the bloc cast their ballots on different dates, for national parties and candidates running on national programs.  – Alberto Alemanno for Politico

Brian Monteith: No, Nissan’s move is not proof that Brexit will be a disaster

Here’s the truth about Nissan. Dig deep, and it is not hard to find those who really know their four-wheel-drives from their Formula Ones explaining that, while Brexit has undoubtedly contributed to business uncertainty, the reality is that the decline in diesel car sales in the UK is the major factor in Nissan’s decision. It has probably not escaped readers’ notice that the existential shock to the diesel car market came from the EU’s badly designed climate change policy. Brexit cannot be blamed for that. Moreover, production of the X-Trail is being repatriated to Japan. If it were all about Brexit, the shift would have been to inside the Single Market. – Brian Monteith for City A.M.

Melanie Phillips: Why the UK must now keep its nerve

As March 29 approaches, the British should have one thing in mind above all: that the EU are digging in like this because they are terrified of Brexit. And the reason for that is that if Britain leaves the EU, not through Mrs May’s Brexit-in-name-only-Remain-by-stealth deal but through a clear, undeniable, unequivocal departure, the EU knows this will accelerate its own disintegration while it watches the UK start to prosper. Which is why it may then be forced to come cap-in-hand for a deal on British terms. Which is why it is ONLY by leaving with no deal that the UK has any prospect of gaining the whip hand in the negotiations that really matter – to establish a permanent trading relationship between the UK and the EU once Brexit has occurred. Which is why MPs and the rest of the country must now screw their courage to the sticking place and keep their nerve. – Melanie Phillips

Comment in Brief

  • Labour Party is going to take the UK out of the European Union – Briefings for Brexit
  • MPs must not bind May’s hands on Brexit next week – Ashley Fox MEP for Conservative Home
  • Why our divided country needs a day of national reconciliation after Brexit – Simon Targett for Reaction
  • Brexiteers are rejecting exactly the kind of Brexit they used to want – Juliet Samuel for the Telegraph (£)
  • Stay or go? Brexit is forcing City firms to make tough decisions – Ioannis Glinavos for Reaction
  • Italy’s spat with France shows the EU is at threat not of disintegration but of hijack – Mark Wallace for Conservative Home
  • Juncker’s Irish thank you card is yet another crass insult that Britain has been forced to endure – Juliet Samuel for the Telegraph (£)
  • The Irish border – John Redwood’s Diary
  • Why Britain wants to leave this European Union of failed nation states – Andrew Gimson for Conservative Home

News in Brief

  • UK ‘forcing poor nations into risky trade deals’ – Independent
  • Sir John Major interview: ‘If Tory Brexiteers think I’ll move over, they’re making a big mistake’ – The Times (£)
  • Government working to ensure NHS can ‘operate fully’ in event of no-deal Brexit – Sky News
  • Radiohead’s Thom Yorke: Brexit like ‘early days of the Third Reich’ – Politico