Theresa May to urge MPs to give her more time to seek Brexit concessions: Brexit News for Sunday 10 February

Theresa May to urge MPs to give her more time to seek Brexit concessions: Brexit News for Sunday 10 February
Sign up here to receive the daily news briefing in your inbox every morning with exclusive insight from the BrexitCentral team

Theresa May to urge MPs to give her more time to seek Brexit concessions…

Theresa May is to urge MPs to give her another fortnight to seek changes to her Brexit agreement, as pro-Remain rebels prepare a second attempt to remove the option of leaving without a deal. This week the Prime Minister is expected to pledge to MPs that she will return to the Commons later this month to update MPs on her plans and give them an opportunity to vote on what should happen next. The move is intended to buy time to continue negotiating with EU leaders, who have so far refused to make any changes to the Withdrawal Agreement, after it was rejected by the Commons in its current form. A Downing Street source said Mrs May and ministers was attempting to secure the “legally binding changes” to her deal requested in a Commons amendment passed last month, and warned against a move that would “tie our hands while we seek to fulfill on that instruction.” – Telegraph (£)

  • May to make plea to MPs for time to change deal – BBC News

…as she plans to clinch Brexit deal just 72 hours before 29th March with a ‘tight landing zone’ for vote to avoid No Deal

Theresa May has set her sights on clinching a Brexit deal just 72 hours before departure day. The PM faces a nerve-racking round of talks which will take the process right to the wire. It raises the prospect of MPs having to vote for a final agreement or face crashing out three days later. Twitchy MPs anxious to avoid a “no deal” Brexit were urged to stay calm and hold their nerve. A senior government source said: “It’s a tight landing zone – but it’s a landing zone nevertheless. If we can get our timing right, we’ll touch down in time.” Mrs May will spend this week in talks with 27 EU leaders in her search for a legally-binding change to the hated Irish backstop. – The Sun

> Martin Howe QC on BrexitCentral today: Why seeking an extension to Article 50 would be a terrible idea

Six Cabinet plotters led by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are holding secret Brexit ‘peace talks’ behind Theresa May’s back…

Six Cabinet plotters led by Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt are holding secret Brexit ‘peace talks’ behind Theresa May’s back, The Mail on Sunday has learnt. Aided by Brexiteer Ministers Chris Grayling and Liam Fox, Mr Hunt held an emergency meeting with Remainers David Gauke, Greg Clark and Amber Rudd last week, with more private talks planned for tomorrow evening. The Cabinet has been split into Leave and Remain camps, but fears that No 10 is ‘dangerously close to losing its grip’ have brought Ministers from both sides together, said one source at the meetings. The source said the talks were designed to find ‘common ground’ between the warring Cabinet groups, as well as to strengthen the Prime Minister’s hand by keeping a No Deal option on the table in talks with Brussels. The Foreign Secretary has argued that ‘now is the time to hold that [No Deal] card’ but he is also looking for ways to satisfy Ministers who back a softer Brexit. Our revelation that Mr Hunt is taking a prominent role in bypassing No 10 will reignite speculation of a leadership challenge amid claims he is hoping to cement his position as the frontrunner to succeed her as Tory leader. – Mail on Sunday

…while the ministers who were threatening to resign over Brexit make an epic U-turn

Ten ministers have lifted their resignation threats – and spared Theresa May a St Valentine’s Day massacre of her Government. The Remainer ministers led by Chancellor Phillip Hammond were prepared to quit to support Labour MP Yvette Cooper’s attempts to postpone Article 50, which is due to take us out of the EU on 29th March. Their next chance was to be on Thursday, when Ms Cooper’s redrafted Bill was due before the Commons. But she is not expected to push it to a vote as it is unlikely to go through while Prime Minister Theresa May is in last-ditch talks with Brussels. Mr Hammond’s rebels, understood to include Welfare chief Amber Rudd, reasoned that if so many ministers were to quit, the PM would cave in to their demands. But they pulled back two weeks ago, when Ms Cooper’s Bill first went before Parliament, so that Tory backbench chairman Graham Brady’s amendment got through. – Mirror

Labour plans no-deal Brexit ambush…

Labour is planning to seize control of the Brexit negotiations by forcing Theresa May to put her deal to a second decisive vote before the end of the month. In an interview with The Sunday Times, Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary, reveals that Labour will try to stop a no-deal exit with an amendment that will compel the prime minister to hold another “meaningful vote” before February 26. The move is an attempt to stop May delaying the vote until after the European Council summit on March 21 — only eight days before the UK is due to leave the EU. “We have got to put a hard stop into this running down the clock,” Starmer says. “And that’s what we want to do this week.” He says the aim of the amendment, which is likely to attract cross-party support, is to stop MPs from being forced to vote on the deal at the 11th hour when they face a “binary choice” between May’s deal and no deal. – Sunday Times (£)

  • Embattled May faces Labour ambush that could force vote to kill off her Brexit deal within weeks – as Remainer MPs launch fresh bid for second referendum – MailOnline

…as Jeremy Corbyn says Labour could back a second Brexit referendum if May’s Brexit deal is rejected again…

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has emphasised the party could still support a second Brexit referendum after taking flak for his olive branch to Theresa May. He said Labour’s plan “could win the support of Parliament and bring the country together” but Mrs May has so far “chosen the path of division”. Mr Corbyn has faced a backlash from pro-EU Labour MPs after he set out his conditions for accepting a Brexit deal in a letter to Mrs May. In a speech in Coventry on Saturday, Mr Corbyn accused Mrs May of an “utterly cynical” and “reckless” attempt to run down the clock before the UK’s exit from the European Union on 29 March. “If she is unable to adopt a sensible deal because it would split the Tories, then the answer is quite simple: there must be a general election,” Mr Corbyn said. – iNews

…while Remain-obsessed backbenchers propose backing May’s deal in return for their so-called “People’s Vote”

Theresa May could win parliament’s approval for her controversial Brexit deal in return for guaranteeing another referendum, under a new plan being drawn up by a cross-party group of MPs. The new vote would give the British people a simple choice: to confirm the decision or stay in the EU. The initiative, aimed at breaking the political impasse, is being advanced by Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson and has won the support of prominent Remainers in the Tory party including Sarah Wollaston, Dominic Grieve and Anna Soubry. Kyle says the idea, which is likely to be put forward as an amendment to the EU withdrawal bill, is also being taken seriously by “people at a high level in government” as a potential way to resolve the Brexit crisis. The amendment would offer all MPs the chance to support, or abstain on, the withdrawal bill and would specify that, if passed, the decision would be implemented on the condition it was put to the public for approval in a second referendum. If the amendment passed through parliament but the deal was rejected in the subsequent referendum, the UK would stay in the EU under current arrangements. – Observer

Theresa May’s Tories face wipe out in May local elections

Theresa May has been warned her party faces a local election Brexit wipe out if she extends Article 50 beyond the March 29 deadline. Concerns Article 50 will have to be extended beyond the Brexit deadline have escalated in recent weeks amid the ongoing deadlock between the UK and European Union. Tory ministers and local government officials have warned Theresa May her party will be wiped out at the local elections in May if she fails to withdraw Britain from the bloc on March 29. Conservative councillor, Lord Porter, who chairs the Local Government Association, said: “If we’re not out by the time of the elections, we’re going to get kicked. – Sunday Express

> Cllr Bob Perry on BrexitCentral today: Betrayal of Brexit manifesto commitments would be catastrophic for the Conservative Party

Seaborne Freight no-deal ferry contract scrapped…

The government has axed its no-deal Brexit contract with a ferry company which had no ships, after the Irish company backing the deal pulled out. Transport Secretary Chris Grayling had faced criticism for the £13.8m deal with Seaborne Freight, which the BBC found had never run a ferry service. The government said it is in “advanced talks” to find another ferry firm. But local MP Craig Mackinlay said this could be the “last throw of the dice” for commercial shipping from Ramsgate. Meanwhile, Labour has called on Mr Grayling to resign or be sacked, describing him as “the worst secretary of state ever” – BBC News

  • Pressure grows on Chris Grayling as Brexit ferry firm dumped – Sky News
  • No-deal Brexit ferries in doubt as Irish firm withdraws its financial backing – Sunday Telegraph (£)
  • Britain scraps Brexit ferry deal with company that has no ships – Politico

….but MPs call for Grayling to be sacked over the issue

Theresa May faced cross-party calls to sack her transport secretary, Chris Grayling, last night, after the calamitous collapse of a no-deal Brexit ferry contract handed to a company with no ships. Senior Tories said the prime minister had turned “a blind eye” to Grayling’s decision to award the £13.8m contract to Seaborne Freight to run ferries between Ramsgate and Ostend, despite widespread derision and accusations that it had been awarded illegally. The collapse of the contract comes amid growing unease in the international business community about Britain’s preparedness for a no-deal outcome, with less than 50 days until Brexit is due to take place. Several MPs suggested Grayling should now consider his position after his department revealed the contract had been cancelled, and Bob Kerslake, the former head of the civil service, said the saga would “just confirm the view of many that this country is in a mess”.  – Observer

  • Calls for British transport secretary to resign over ferry deal – Irish Times

UK ‘not ready’ for Brexit, claims former Whitehall chief Gus O’Donnell

Writing in the Evening Standard, Sir Gus said that leaving on 29 March as planned was “a recipe for further division and dysfunction in politics”. The former Whitehall chief said that “the priority must be to seek an extension of the Article 50 timetable, to allow for a process of deliberation in Parliament and the country about the direction of our future relationship with the EU”. His warning was echoed by another former Cabinet Secretary, Lord Kerslake, who backs a second EU referendum. Launching a report by the People’s Vote campaign, he said: “As a former head of the civil service, I worry that we are not ready as a country to step into this unknown future.” – PoliticsHome

Brussels refusing to guarantee healthcare for expats under no-deal Brexit

Brussels is refusing to let EU countries agree arrangements with the UK to provide healthcare to British expats under a no-deal Brexit, according to an official memo. Government papers seen by The Telegraph claim that the European Commission is preventing individual member states from engaging with ministers to put in place health and benefits arrangements for British nationals in the EU. Under an EU-wide principle, EU citizens with a right to live in the UK are entitled to claim benefits in this country in the same way as British nationals. Britain has announced that EU citizens in this country will be given continued access to the NHS and welfare benefits under a no-deal Brexit. But Brussels has refused to offer a similar guarantee for British expats or commit to providing the healthcare and benefits to which they are currently entitled as a result of paying into the UK system. – Sunday Telegraph (£)

Japan seeking big concessions from Britain in trade talks

Japan is seeking tougher concessions from Britain in trade talks than it secured from the EU, while negotiations between London and Tokyo are also being slowed by the looming risk of no-deal Brexit. Japanese trade negotiators are confident they can extract better terms, the Financial Times reported, in a sign of the mounting difficulties facing UK officials as they attempt to line up post-Brexit trade deals around the world. Japan and the EU began trading under a new free trade agreement this month, an arrangement that will be unavailable to the UK after Brexit. While officials from the UK and Japan are seeking to agree a bilateral deal, it will not be in place before 29 March when Britain is scheduled to leave the EU. The UK’s trade with Japan will also revert to World Trade Organization tariffsin the case of a no-deal Brexit. The Department for International Trade (DIT) told business leaders this week that time was running out for Britain to roll-over trade deals with about 60 countries the EU has free trade arrangements with which the UK benefits from until it leaves the bloc. Barring a handful of small and medium-sized countries, including Chile and the Faroe Islands, the majority of deals are expected to miss the deadline. – Observer

EU governments provide Brexit relief for asset managers

European governments have stepped up efforts to grant crucial concessions to UK asset managers to limit the worst effects of a no-deal Brexit. France, Germany, Italy and the Netherlands are among countries that have amended national laws to ensure UK investment companies can still serve foreign customers. British groups manage at least £1.8tn for clients in the EU. Such relationships are in jeopardy because of the likelihood that Britain will crash out of the bloc without a deal on March 29. The UK government rolled out its so-called temporary permissions regime last month, which allows EU managers to continue to sell investment products to UK consumers after Brexit. As the clock ticks, EU27 governments are introducing mirror policies. – FT(£)

Dominic Raab: Wreckers on both sides of the Channel must not stand in the way of a deal

Armed by the House of Commons with a clear mandate to revise the UK-EU Brexit Withdrawal Agreement, our Prime Minister, Theresa May, should be supported in redoubling efforts to secure acceptable terms. The greatest threat to a deal now comes from fringe efforts to derail the negotiations, in the EU and UK, at their most sensitive moment. On Wednesday, the President of the EU Council, Donald Tusk, mused that there was a “special place in hell” for those promoting Brexit. Not to be outdone, the European Parliament’s Brexit coordinator, Guy Verhofstadt, chirped up: “I doubt Lucifer would welcome them, as… they would even manage to divide hell.” Putting aside the disrespect to the 17 million who voted Leave, and the many more who want the referendum respected, do Mr Tusk and Mr Verhofstadt believe insulting the British people will make a deal more likely? It is difficult to read their interventions as anything other than a premeditated effort to derail reasonable compromise, leading to a UK departure on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms. For all those MPs who want a deal, it is vital that we see off such wrecking tactics next week. At the same time, we must continue to prepare for a WTO departure on March 29. Under Project After, the Government is developing plans for tax cuts and tariff liberalisation to boost businesses, as well as managing the risks at the border. It is the responsible thing for any government to do, and will reinforce the Government’s negotiating leverage at this crunch moment in the talks. The UK public’s mood has palpably shifted. Weary of the haggle with Brussels, people want Brexit delivered, not delayed. We should strive every sinew to get an acceptable deal over the line, but ready ourselves in case the EU rejects all reasonable compromise. Facing down the wreckers, on both sides of the Channel, will give us our best chance to seal the deal. – Dominic Raab MP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Daniel Hannan: Jean-Claude Juncker embodies everything Britain detests about the EU

You want to understand why Britain voted Leave? Here is an explanation in three words. Jean. Claude. Juncker. There he was again this week, reminding us of all the self-satisfied, antiquated and anti-British attitudes that we rejected in 2016. Though commentators focused on Donald Tusk’s “special place in hell” remarks, it was in reality far more obnoxious to watch Juncker cooing with Leo Varadkar over a card from a Dublin woman asserting that “Britain does not care about peace in Northern Ireland.” That the President of the European Commission thought it right to release the text is proof, if proof were needed, that his resentment against Britain outweighs his interest in the prosperity of the EU’s remaining members.​ Britain reacted wearily, almost resignedly. We have reached the point where our blazing rows have given way to quiet contempt. The tipsy Luxembourger embodies everything Britain was voting against in 2016. If you want a perfect symbol of the remote, smug, entitled Brussels bureaucracy, look no further. – Daniel Hannan MEP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Dominic Lawson: Watch out, Dublin. After Brexit, the EU is coming for you

Brit-bashing has never been more in vogue at the European Commission. Not only did we witness the (obviously rehearsed) remarks by the president of the European Council, Donald Tusk, that “those who promoted Brexit without even a sketch of a plan of how to carry it out safely” would be consigned to hellfire. There was also the spectacle of the president of the commission, Jean-Claude Juncker, displaying a gigantic card from an Irish admirer declaring: “For the first time ever Ireland is stronger than Britain. That strength comes not from guns, it comes from your words . . . Britain does not care about peace in Northern Ireland. To them it’s a nuisance.” We know exactly what the card said — including the studiously offensive assertion that the British regard peace in Northern Ireland as “a nuisance” — because it was transcribed and released by the commission’s press office. On both occasions the relevant EU president was accompanied by the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, who seemed to be enjoying himself immensely. We shouldn’t be surprised — or touchy. British cabinet ministers have hardly been shy about denigrating the political institutions of the EU — for the former foreign secretary, Boris Johnson, it was his métier. The insulted have a right to return the insult, however gratuitously. As for Varadkar: well, no Irish leader ever lost domestic support for being seen to stand up against the former imperial overlord. But solidarity with Brussels, while handy for taking on the Brits, could soon have a devastating effect on Ireland’s entire economic model (as Varadkar realises only too well). And that’s even apart from the next euro crisis, if there is a recession on the Continent. – Dominic Lawson for the Sunday Times (£)

James Forsyth: Corbyn has complicated May’s Brexit strategy

Number 10 had hoped that if it could hold off the Cooper amendment again next week, then it could eke out a concession from the EU on the backstop. But as I say in The Sun this morning, this approach has been complicated by Jeremy Corbyn’s soft Brexit plan. This scheme, obviously, appeals to the EU: it would keep Britain in the customs union and following many of the rules of the single market. ‘The Labour party and the EU are operating in tandem to some extent, which is worrying for us’ frets one Cabinet Minister. So, May needs to persuade Brussels that such a deal couldn’t get through because her government would collapse as soon as she proposed it. May faces a formidable series of obstacles to getting a deal through. Her hope must be that as time ticks down, both the EU and her own backbenchers become more willing to compromise. – James Forsyth for The Spectator

Janet Daley: The endless claim that there are no solutions to Brexit is pure insanity

Most of the talk outside Westminster isn’t about political realities any more. Almost everybody you speak to now is discussing pathology. Precisely what personality aberration or psychodynamic imperative has produced the latest bizarre behaviour from one side or the other of the Brexit farrago. The general consensus is that all the principal players have gone technically insane. The mystifying obtuseness of Theresa May is countered by the wild opprobrium of Donald Tusk. There are grown-ups entrusted with responsibilities for the well-being of whole populations who are wishing their opponents eternal damnation. Social and diplomatic conventions are dissolving. Can this really be happening? The best evidence for this being what it seems – certifiable madness, rather than tactical bluster – is the lying. Telling more and more brazen, desperate untruths has to be the giveaway. The mendacity that prevails now goes way beyond the hyperbole that made the early stages of this drama rather absurdly endearing. Forget George Osborne’s emergency budget and the mass loss of jobs that would follow instantly on a Leave victory in the referendum. That’s all water under the bridge. – Janet Daley for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Jon Tonge: DUP must be clear whether it wants backstop rewritten, time-limited or flat-out rejected

Will the real DUP Brexit policy please stand up? You can have whatever DUP Brexit you like at present. There’s the belligerent, backstop-free one, courtesy of Sammy Wilson, the party’s Brexit spokesman. If you prefer you can choose the time-limited backstop not ruled out by DUP leader Arlene Foster or MP Jim Shannon. Alternatively, there’s a cuddly soft Brexit left open as a possibility by DUP Westminster leader Nigel Dodds (in, for example, a recent interview with ITV’s Robert Peston) by which alignment to the EU customs union and single market would not necessarily be opposed, provided that Northern Ireland’s Brexit-lite was identical to that of the rest of the UK. There is, of course, common ground across the DUP that the backstop cannot remain in its current form. That is part of the reason why Theresa May is still on mission impossible, seeking a codicil here, a new legally-binding paragraph there, all to no avail. And if the DUP has offered some differences over how to change the backstop, they are mere amateurs at incoherence compared to our Prime Minister. – Jon Tonge for the Belfast Telegraph

Stephen Pollard: How a post-Brexit Britain can start to boom right now

Economists have many skills, but forecasting the future isn’t one of them. When it comes to predicting how the economy will behave even over the next few months, they are as bad as I am when I try to predict what will win the 2.30 at Kempton Park. All of this should be taken with a very large pinch of salt. It was only in November that Mr Carney was forecasting growth of 1.7 per cent for this year. In truth, such forecasts are little more than educated guesswork, not least because the Bank of England doesn’t have a clue – none of us do – what our relationship will be with the EU on March 30. And even if you think no-deal Brexit might be the best option, it’s clear that it will have an impact on the economy. Britain needs to reclaim its place as one of the most attractive places on the planet to do business. – Stephen Pollard for the Sunday Express

Brexit in Brief

  • Chris Grayling’s glassy-eyed confidence doesn’t help with Brexit debacle – Gwyn Topham for the Observer
  • Brexit supporters form social club to escape hostility – FT(£)
  • Leave Means Leave announce anti-singles-market Valentines Day protest – Guido Fawkes
  • Government toughens rules for people seeking citizenship with new English language requirements – Independent
  • Dutch claim hundreds of companies plotting Brexit switch – Politico
  • Foie gras is a cruel and inhumane product – now Brexit finally offers us the opportunity to ban it – Independent