Prime Minister battles to save Brexit deal with efforts to woo DUP: Brexit News for Sunday 17 March

Prime Minister battles to save Brexit deal with efforts to woo DUP: Brexit News for Sunday 17 March
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Prime Minister battles to save Brexit deal with efforts to woo DUP…

Theresa May will continue efforts to salvage her Brexit deal amid further signs of pressure on her position. Further talks are expected over the coming days with Northern Ireland’s Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) in the hope that persuading the 10 Northern Irish MPs to back the deal will help sway scores of Tory Eurosceptics to fall into line. DUP deputy leader Nigel Dodds said lengthy talks on Friday with senior ministers including Chancellor Philip Hammond were “constructive” and is was a “renewed focus” from the Government on addressing their concerns. Mr Dodds said: “We have had a constructive dialogue. Those discussions will continue over the coming period of time.” The prime minister is expected to bring her Withdrawal Agreement back for a third vote early next week despite its overwhelming 149-vote defeat on Tuesday. – ITV News

  • DUP says issues remain over deal – BBC News
  • DUP demands seat at the table in future EU trade talks as price for backing May’s deal – Sunday Telegraph (£)

…as DUP denies reports Ulster is ‘to be handed millions’ in return for backing May’s deal

The DUP has moved to squash speculation Northern Ireland could be offered extra cash by Theresa May’s government in a bid to break the Brexit impasse. Deputy leader Nigel Dodds MP said on Friday talks between the party and senior cabinet ministers had been “constructive” and that the Government was focused on resolving the Irish backstop issue. He met with chancellor Philip Hammond, chief whip Julian Smith and Environment Secretary Michael Gove. The presence of Mr Hammond prompted speculation that Northern Ireland could be given a further funding boost in exchange for the DUP supporting the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. However, Mr Dodds said “cash” was not discussed during the meetings. Securing the support of the Northern Irish MPs is viewed as crucial to the government’s hopes of winning the third vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement next week. – Belfast Telegraph

Theresa May asks MPs for ‘honourable compromise’ on Brexit…

Theresa May has asked MPs to make an “honourable compromise” as she seeks to persuade them to back her Brexit deal at the third time of asking. Writing in the Sunday Telegraph, the prime minister said failure to support the deal would mean “we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever”. Mrs May is expected to bring her withdrawal agreement back to the Commons next week for a third vote. It comes after MPs this week rejected her deal and voted to delay Brexit. The EU will decide the terms and conditions of any extension. Legally, the UK is still due to leave the EU on 29 March. Meanwhile, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has written to MPs across the Commons inviting them for talks to find a cross-party compromise. Mrs May says if Parliament votes for her withdrawal deal before an EU leaders’ summit on Thursday, the UK will seek a short delay to Brexit to pass the necessary legislation. “That is not an ideal outcome – we could and should have been leaving the EU on March 29,” she said. “But it is something the British people would accept if it led swiftly to delivering Brexit. The alternative if Parliament cannot agree the deal by that time is much worse.” If a deal is not agreed before Thursday, EU leaders are contemplating a much longer delay. Mrs May said it would be a “potent symbol of Parliament’s collective political failure” if a delay to Brexit meant the UK was forced to take part in May’s European elections – almost three years after voting to leave the EU. – BBC News

  • Theresa May pleads with MPs to act like ‘patriots’ in an effort to revive Brexit deal – Sky News
  • Back my Brexit or we’ll never leave, says Theresa May – Sunday Times (£)
  • May warns MPs have three days to back deal or remain under EU rule – Express

…while Tories are urged to hold their noses ‘against the stench’ and back the deal

Eurosceptics in Leave areas were last night urged to support Theresa May’s EU deal – to avoid wrecking Brexit. Switcher Tory MP James Gray is urging colleagues to back the PM “with our fingers crossed and holding our noses at its stench”. Writing for The Sun on Sunday, he said:  “It’s not how we wanted it to be, but it is now the only option available to us.”  He said he will now be voting for the deal “warts and all”. He added: “We must leave the EU. This is our only chance. The chance of a lifetime to achieve something for which I have longed for all of my political life.” Many are concerned that ‘no deal’ has effectively been taken off the table combined with the EU offering a long extension if the exit plan isn’t passed. Many Tories who are so far refusing to back the deal are in areas who overwhelmingly backed to leave the European Union. – The Sun

  • ‘Back me and we’ll be out by May’: Prime Minister urges MPs to vote for her deal or risk being stuck forever in the EU’s ‘Hotel California’ – Mail on Sunday

May is finding some support for her Brexit plan among reluctant MPs – but so far it’s not enough…

Prime Minister Theresa May is trying to win over MPs, who have so far voted against her Brexit deal with the threat that the only other option is a long delay to leaving the EU. The fear of a Brexit delay or a second referendum is winning some support but so far, not by the numbers needed to turn last week’s defeat into this week’s victory. Backbencher Daniel Kawczynski, MP for Shrewsbury and Atcham, is among the few rebels who say they will now back the Prime Minister. Mr Kawczynski said Mrs May’s deal was now the “only game in town”. “Do we continue to obstruct and risk no Brexit? I doubt I can take that risk,” he said after talks with local Tories, farmers and businesses. Former cabinet minister Esther McVey, who resigned over the Brexit deal, suggested she and other MPs could now back it, even though it was “rubbish”. – iNews

  • Brexit chaos triggers reluctant backing for Theresa May’s deal – ‘Only game in town’ – Express
  • ERG cracks appear as Tory MP vows to back May’s deal – Express

…although Boris Johnson will reportedly boost his hopes of becoming PM by backing May’s deal…

He has twice voted against it but admirers believe he must be on the winning side again to stand a chance of making it into Number 10. BoJo’s chances increased after front runners Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid irked grassroots Tories by voting to delay Brexit until the end of June. One minister told The Sun on Sunday: “There’s a tremendous opportunity for Boris here – bigger than when he decided to support the Leave campaign three years ago. “In the next few days he can become the man who saves Brexit and be in a great position to mount a leadership challenge.” Another admirer added: “If he backs the deal and it gets through Parliament at the third attempt, he can claim to be the man who saved Brexit. “He’s already stolen a march on his two biggest rivals so it would put him in pole position. Win or lose, Theresa can’t cling on to the job much longer so it would be his for the taking.” Win or lose this week, Mrs May will be forced to set out her timetable for stepping down. – The Sun

…and Esther McVey hints she will too

Former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey has suggested that she will U-turn and back Theresa May’s Brexit deal when it returns to the Commons for a third time next week. In a major boost for the PM, the former Cabinet minister – who quit in November over the agreement – said MPs would need to back it to see Brexit through. Speaking to BBC’s Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast, the staunch Brexiteer heavily hinted that she will vote in favour of the deal, which she criticised on leaving her post as failing to honour the 2016 referendum result. In a major boost for the PM, the former Cabinet minister – who quit in November over the agreement – said MPs would need to back it to see Brexit through. Speaking to BBC’s Nick Robinson’s Political Thinking podcast, the staunch Brexiteer heavily hinted that she will vote in favour of the deal, which she criticised on leaving her post as failing to honour the 2016 referendum result.She added that more Tory MPs are likely to “hold up their noses and vote”. Yes they will, I don’t know what the number is, but they will have to do that if they therefore now want Brexit, because of what has happened,” she said. “What happened in the House yesterday and the day before shows that without doubt we don’t have a Prime Minister who believed no-deal was better than a bad deal. We’ve got a Prime Minister who’s saying a deal at any cost and that could be chucking Brexit under a bus.” Conservative colleague James Gray also told the BBC he will now endorse the Prime Minister’s “obnoxious” deal after a “great deal of soul-searching”. – PoliticsHome

  • Brexiteers may back Theresa May’s deal, says Esther McVey – Express

The EU is war-gaming for the fall of May’s Government

The EU is war-gaming for the fall of Theresa May amid a complete collapse in confidence in the prime minister after a week of chaos over Brexit, a leaked document seen by the Observer reveals. In the run-up to a crucial summit of EU leaders where May will ask for a delay to Brexit, Brussels fears there is little hope that she will succeed in passing her deal this week and is preparing itself for a change of the guard in Downing Street. A diplomatic note of a meeting of EU ambassadors and senior officials reveals an attempt to ensure that any new prime minister cannot immediately unpick the withdrawal agreement should May be replaced in the months ahead. Some hardline Brexiters want to replace her with a leader who will back a harder split with Brussels. According to the minutes, the European commission’s secretary general, Martin Selmayr, who is known as a master of strategy, asked: “Imagine that they have a new Brexit secretary or prime minister – what then? Article 50 has been agreed and the process has ended. It must be clear that the starting point is not a renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement.” The moves in Brussels come before another critical and highly unpredictable week in the Brexit process in which May is expected to launch her third attempt to secure support for her beleaguered deal. The Observer understands that Labour will use the opportunity to offer its most strident support yet for a second referendum, by voting for a plan drawn up by two Labour backbenchers to put May’s deal to a public vote. – Observer

John McDonnell says MPs will ‘move heaven and earth’ to prevent a no-deal Brexit…

Politicians will move heaven and earth to prevent the country leaving the EU with no deal, John McDonnell has said, adding that such an outcome would be catastrophic for the economy. Speaking before an event in Gravesend, Kent, the shadow chancellor also indicated that Labour might support a compromise proposed by two of the party’s MPs which would see Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement put to a public vote after being passed in the House of Commons. McDonnell criticised the prime minister’s parliamentary tactics this week, particularly her emphasis on the legal default of the UK leaving without a deal on 29 March. “I think that’s irritated MPs so much, that’s why no deal was voted out, and I know that was only an advisory motion but I think MPs would move heaven and earth to prevent no deal if she tried that again,” he said. “People have looked over the edge, they’ve taken the advice of Theresa May’s own Treasury department, they’ve taken the advice of the Bank of England, every independent assessment of the consequence of no deal, which is pretty catastrophic for our economy.” – Observer

  • Labour to back a second Brexit referendum but only if there is a ‘credible’ exit plan – The Sun

…with Labour set to back amendment for a referendum on May’s deal this week

Labour will this week back a cross-party amendment which would set Britain on course for a referendum on Theresa May’s deal. The Sunday Telegraph can reveal the final text of the amendment by backbenchers Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which has been revised following input from Sir Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary. Labour plans to whip its MPs to vote for the amendment, which the two backbenchers will table on this week’s Meaningful Vote. Sir Keir told The Sunday Telegraph the amendment “is clearly in line with the approach the Labour party has taken to a public vote”. The amendment has also drawn support from Conservative MPs, with former minister Phillip Lee a lead signatory. It will add the following text to the government motion, explaining that MP will vote for her deal “but will not allow the implementation and ratification of the Withdrawal Agreement unless and until both it and the Framework for the Future Relationship have been approved by the people of the United Kingdom in a confirmation ballot.” On Thursday Mr Kyle and Mr Wilson met Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Sir Keir, who said the meeting was “very constructive in finding a way forward”. – Sunday Telegraph (£)

Ex-minister Nick Boles resigns from local Conservative association over Brexit…

Nick Boles, the Tory MP for Grantham and Stamford, has resigned from his local Conservative association after public disagreements regarding his stance on Brexit. Boles, who has represented the constituency since 2010, has been at the head of efforts in parliament to deliver a softer exit from the EU, co-sponsoring an amendment with Labour’s Yvette Cooper in January that would have given parliament control over the Brexit process. He had been facing efforts by local activists in the Grantham and Stamford Conservative Association to dump him as the party’s candidate for the next general election. In a letter obtained by the BBC, Boles said: “I am not willing to do what would be necessary to restore a reasonable working relationship with a group of people whose values and views are so much at odds with my own.” He told his local party: “I regret that my relationship with you should end in this way. But a politician without principles is worthless. I am in no doubt about my duty, which is to be true to my convictions and to dedicate the rest of my time in parliament to the best interests of the people I was elected to serve.” – Observer

  • Pro-EU MP Nick Boles resigns from local Conservative party over Brexit – Sky News
  • Nick Boles resigns from local Conservative association over Brexit – FT(£)

…while May is told by 50 Tory associations she will be ‘personally’ held responsible for any Brexit ‘betrayal’…

Theresa May has been told by the leaders of dozens of local Conservative grassroots associations that she will be “personally” held responsible for any “betrayal” of Brexit. Nearly 40 local party chairmen and longtime activists have told the Prime Minister that they are in an “absolute state of despair as to what is happening to democracy in this once great country of ours”. They add in an open letter, seen by The Sunday Telegraph, that if Mrs May cannot ensure that Britain leaves the EU as planned at the end of next week she should resign. Conservative activists are increasingly angry about how MPs are trying to frustrate Brexit. Several Remain-supporting Tory MPs are facing no confidence votes from their local parties before the end of the month. Sam Gyimah, the Remain-supporting former minister who quit over Brexit, is facing a no confidence motion at the annual meeting of East Surrey Conservatives next week on March 22. – Sunday Telegraph (£)

> Cllr Bob Perry and others today on BrexitCentral: Prime Minister, you will be held responsible if Brexit is not delivered as you pledged

…and Sajid Javid and Jeremy Hunt will be ‘remorselessly’ targeted by Brexiteers after backing A50 extension

Jeremy Hunt and Sajid Javid will be “remorselessly” target by Eurosceptics during the next Tory leadership campaign after voting to extend Article 50. Mr Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, and Mr Javid, the Home Secretary, are seen as “centrist” prospects for the Tory leadership who have the potential to win the support of both Eurosceptics and Remainers. However on Thursday evening they were among 18 Cabinet ministers who backed the Prime Minister’s motion to extend Article 50 until the end of June. Seven Cabinet ministers voted against motion including Gavin Williamson, Stephen Barclay, Andrea Leadsom, Liam Fox, Chris Grayling Liz Truss and Penny Mordaunt. A senior Eurosceptic told The Telegraph: “In any leadership contest they will be reminded remorselessly how they voted last night. “I don’t think that the party membership will vote for someone who voted to take no deal off the table or to extend Article 50. Sajid and Jeremy came from Remain and are Remainers.” It came as Mr Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, said that Britain should leave without a deal rather than accept a long delay to Brexit. Mr Barclay said a “short technical extension” beyond March 29 to implement a deal would be acceptable. – Sunday Telegraph (£)

Sir Vince Cable to stress commitment to EU in farewell Liberal Democrat conference speech

Sir Vince Cable will say the Liberal Democrats are on a mission to go from “protest back to power” as he addresses the party’s spring conference just days after setting out the timetable for his departure. The 75-year-old who will step down as leader after the local elections in May, said the party had to continue arguing for the benefits of staying in the European Union (EU) as the Brexit debate rages at Westminster. He will use his speech in York to accuse Theresa May of putting a higher priority on keeping the Conservative Party together than maintaining peace in Northern Ireland in her efforts to revise the Brexit deal’s backstop. Declaring that “we are Remain”, he will say: “To those outside the Westminster bubble, the parliamentary games on Brexit are baffling: a weird combination of snakes and ladders, chess and all-in wrestling. – Independent

Prepare to fight European elections, parties told as Brexit delay fears grow…

Britain’s political parties have been formally told by the electoral regulator to prepare to fight the European Parliament elections in two months’ time as fears of a lengthy delay to Brexit grow. In a move that is likely to ignite anger among Brexiteers, fresh guidance running to 23 page booklet seen by the Sunday Telegraph has been made available to political parties by the Electoral Commission. The document states as fact to parties hoping to stand candidates that “on 23 May 2019 voters in the United Kingdom will cast their ballot to elect 73 Members of the European Parliament.” The elections would trigger a likely return to British politics for Nigel Farage, the former Ukip leader turned radio phone in host, who is backing a new Brexit party to field candidates. In stepping up its preparations, the regulator has also set aside £686,000 in the new financial year to fight the elections on May 23. Conservative MEPs have already been asked if they will stand in the elections in May if there is an extension to the Brexit negotiations. The European Union and Theresa May have both said that any lengthy extension, of between a year and 21 months, would mean Britain having to run the elections in May.  – Sunday Telegraph (£)

…and EU gives UK July deadline for Brexit delay if country doesn’t participate in European elections

The EU will terminate Britain’s membership of the bloc on 1 July if the country does not take part in the European elections scheduled for 23-26 May, according to a document seen by the Financial Times. The draft paper reportedly outlines that if the UK seeks an extension to Article 50 of more than three months than it must take part in the election.European leaders will decide at a summit next week whether to delay Brexit beyond its current date of 29 March and how long an extension, if any, should be granted. All 27 leaders must unanimously agree. The document also states the legal constraints on the EU over a possible extension, warning that arns that its institutions would “cease being able to operate in a secure legal context” if the UK does not hold elections but remains in the bloc beyond the end of June. It could be a legal standpoint that aids Prime Minister Theresa May to get Brexiteers that have opposed her deal twice, to vote for it in a third round next week. May that the UK will need to seek a much longer extension, likely of over a year, if her deal is rejected for a third time. It would also force the Conservative party into an election campaign. “No extension should be granted beyond July 1 unless the European Parliament elections are held at the mandatory date,” the paper said according to the FT. “If they are not held, the extension should terminate its effects before the European Parliament meets on 2 July.” – City A.M.

  • EU sets out July 1 deadline in Brexit delay plans – FT(£)

Brexit delay could cost millions in extra payments to ferry firms

Any delay to the UK leaving the EU could cost the government tens of millions in extra payments to keep its no-deal ferry contracts in place. The extra costs will be a fresh political blow to the transport secretary, Chris Grayling, after the collapse of one contract with an operator that had no ferries and a lawsuit by Eurotunnel that was settled out of court at a cost of £33m. It seems unlikely the contracts will now be realised after MPs voted to instruct Theresa May to seek an extension to article 50, which would delay Brexit beyond 29 March. According to the Financial Times, the cost of the delay could reach £28m. Brittany Ferries, which has contracts worth £46.6m under the deal, said the terms “included fair and proportionate compensation in a deal scenario, taking account of the significant preparatory work and concomitant costs incurred”. It said the firm had already “incurred a series of direct costs and resource commitments”, including hiring new staff and changing more than 20,000 bookings, and “the new schedule cannot now be changed, even as an extension to article 50 seems likely”. – Observer

  • Government ferry contracts to cost millions more if Brexit is delayed – City A.M
  • The UK will be forced to pay millions to ferry firms if Brexit is delayed – iNews

Theresa May: The patriotic thing for MPs to do is vote for my deal

Amidst the Parliamentary drama at Westminster, last week a greater clarity emerged about the choices we face as a country. In Strasbourg last Monday, I secured a package of legally-binding improvements to the Brexit deal that respond to the legitimate concerns of MPs about the Northern Ireland backstop. I said that a failure to support that improved deal would open up a range of undesirable alternatives, from not leaving the EU as scheduled on 29 March, to the risk of a second referendum, a general election or the increased possibility of leaving without a deal. So it proved. Over three dozen of my Conservative colleagues switched their support to give the improved deal their backing. I am grateful to each one of them. But I know that I will have to do more to convince others, as well as the DUP, if I am to succeed in finally securing a majority for the deal. That remains my goal. It is the only way through the current impasse, a fact reinforced by the further votes taken by MPs last week. – Prime Minister Theresa May for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Graham Brady: The public is losing patience – MPs must vote for May’s Brexit deal

Scenes in the House of Commons this week were redolent of crisis. Ministers disregarding collective responsibility with impunity; the government in headlong retreat; and once-great parties competing to outdo each other in splits. But all the UK is doing, for heaven’s sake, is leaving the EU, a bureaucratic political institution with a sclerotic economy and a flawed currency union. Meanwhile, the great British public is losing patience with a political establishment that seems to hold the electorate in contempt. Regardless of how people voted in the referendum, the constant refrain is, “just get on with it!”. When I speak to business groups, the clamour is for certainty, but when I return to Westminster the place is heaving with people trying to achieve delay and confusion. Craziest of all are those who think it is a good idea to tear up the standing orders that govern parliament, seizing control of the process just so that they can indulge their own obsessions. Do it once and we are stuck with it, a recipe for bad governance and chaos whenever the electorate returns a government without a huge majority. Having secured improved guarantees that the Irish backstop would only be temporary, we should accept the imperfect agreement and move on. Having left the EU and entered the transition period, there will still be everything to play for: negotiating a future trading relationship based on free trade instead of the replication of the customs union should be the priority. Politics is the art of the possible. Where we stand today, it is possible that we are on our way to a great future outside the EU. But it is also possible that parliament will drive our country into an endless nightmare of uncertainty and instability. – Sir Graham Brady MP for the FT(£)

Andrea Leadsom: We don’t need lots of Brextra time to leave the EU — we should acknowledge the country’s desire to get this settled and crack on

To those who voted to leave the European Union, and to those who accepted the democratic result, March 29 represented more than just a date. It was a symbol that leaving the EU wasn’t a pipe-dream, but a reality. In triggering Article 50, the Prime Minister held firm to her promise of honouring the referendum result. March 29 spoke to that — that no matter how tough things were, no matter how difficult the negotiations got, there was light at the end of the tunnel. But this week, that certainty has been removed. Worse still, Parliament has offered nothing in return. The right thing to do would have been to leave on March 29 with the Prime Minister’s deal. I’ve always made clear that I am in Government to support the Prime Minister to deliver Brexit, and I’m not about to give up now. It’s an uncomfortable fact that leaving the European Union in a way that is true to the referendum result is becoming harder and harder to deliver. By refusing to vote for the Prime Minister’s deal — for reasons of party politics or idealism — we are now forced to face up to some brutal truths. I want to be straight with the country about what they are. – Andrea Leadsom MP for The Sun

Owen Paterson: I still won’t back Mrs May’s deal – because it’s not Brexit

Despite the turbulence of last week’s votes, the law remains that the UK will leave the EU at 11pm on March 29. The Remainer plots – supported on some votes by certain unruly ministers – to seize control of the parliamentary timetable or force a second referendum were all defeated. But the Commons did resolve that a short extension to June 30 2019 should be sought on the condition that “the House has passed a resolution approving the negotiated withdrawal agreement.” The Prime Minister will, therefore, present her deal to the Commons again. Without substantial changes, I will vote against it again and I cannot see how the House – having already emphatically rejected it twice – will change its mind. The Withdrawal Agreement is riven with problems, but objections to it have understandably focused on the Northern Ireland backstop. We are, therefore, left with the option of leaving without a Withdrawal Agreement as the Malthouse Plan B sets out. This need be nothing to fear. “No deal” is not an end state. Under Article XXIV of the WTO’s General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade, so long as the UK and EU agree to a free trade agreement and notify the WTO of a sufficiently detailed plan and schedule for it as soon as possible, we could even maintain our current zero-tariff, zero-quantitative restrictions arrangements while the new deal was being negotiated. Such arrangements are now the only way of delivering Brexit on time and in full. We would leave on 29 March as the law requires, honouring the votes of 17.4 million people and fulfilling the Conservative and Labour manifesto pledges. Brexit will not go away, and the future of parliamentary democracy relies on MPs having the integrity to deliver on the largest democratic exercise in our history. – Owen Paterson MP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Matthew Elliott: I’ve led us to the exit. It’s Theresa May’s Brexit deal or nothing

Since the referendum, as editor-at-large of BrexitCentral, I have followed the process closely. I have watched aspects of the negotiations with abject horror and published numerous articles outlining the significant pitfalls of Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. But I also recognise that our great victory, which so many of us worked so hard to achieve, has never been at greater risk. If MPs vote down the withdrawal agreement for a third time this week, Brexit probably won’t happen. And the European Council meeting taking place later this week is the point of maximum danger. If the meaningful vote fails to pass again, we will be forced to ask the EU for a long extension, in exchange for which it is likely to impose horrendous conditions — permanent membership of the customs union, a second referendum or even another Brexit bill on top of the £39bn we have already promised. But if MPs do allow the vote to pass, we will leave in a matter of weeks, needing only a short technical extension to give parliament time to pass the necessary legislation. We will be free from the EU’s political institutions by the summer. We can then begin negotiating a free trade agreement with the EU, enabling us to take the second step of Brexit at the end of 2020. We will have to significantly improve our statesmanship in the next negotiations to avoid the dreaded backstop. But forced to choose, I would rather deal with the risk of staying in the customs union from 2021, than be forced into a permanent customs union by either opposition MPs or the EU in a matter of weeks. – Matthew Elliott for the Sunday Times (£)

Michael Howard: Why, with a heavy heart, Brexiteers should now back Theresa May’s deal

I have been a critic of the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement right from the start. I have spoken against it, twice, in the House of Lords. Had I still been a Member of the House of Commons I would have voted against it twice. As the Attorney General, with commendable courage confirmed, the risk of the United Kingdom being trapped in the backstop against our will remains, though it has been reduced. And that is not the only feature of the Withdrawal Agreement that I dislike. It does not provide the Brexit I voted for. What’s more, I have no great fear of what is misleadingly called a No Deal Brexit. A number of preparations have been made on both sides of the Channel to ensure that the worst predictions of the doomsters would not come to pass. Regrettably, these preparations do not seem to have been co-ordinated. But, if it ever became clear that we were to leave the European Union without an overarching agreement, I am in little doubt that last-minute deals would be reached which would reduce any difficulties even more. But we are where we are and facts, however disagreeable, have to be faced. If the choice before us is between a Brexit which would limit our freedom of action to a greater extent than the Withdrawal Agreement, no Brexit at all or an agreement that would take us out of the EU in a matter of weeks we must choose the latter. It was Keynes who, when asked to justify a change of opinion, is said to have replied, “When the facts change, I change my mind. What do you do?“ In the last few days the facts of the Brexit debate have changed. So I have changed my mind and I hope that others will do, too. –  Lord Howard of Lympne for Sunday Telegraph (£)

Daniel Hannan: This is the Tories’ last chance to reject May’s deal, press reset and undo her appalling mistakes

Our constitutional machinery was rattling and shrieking, but Theresa May ignored the flashing red lights and grabbed at the same lever a third time. It was too much. With a horrible spluttering noise, the machine conked out. Cabinet ministers voted with impunity against their government. Some were told to resign and refused point blank. A backbencher left his local party but kept the Whip. The government lost its majority, its authority and its purpose. That should have been that. Yet, even now, the PM is tugging away at the same loosened lever. It is reported that she hopes to induce the DUP to vote for a deal that has been expressly designed to weaken the Union. Under its terms, Northern Ireland would remain under the regulatory control of the EU, but have no representation there. Already, Dublin politicians are discussing mechanisms to ensure that the interests of “the North” are formally upheld by the Republic, rather as Greek Cyprus notionally represents Turkish Cypriots in EU institutions. Voting against the deal, even if it means a delay until the end of 2020, gives us a chance to leave on mutually beneficial terms before the next general election. The alternative is to sign up under duress to a permanent arrangement. I know which outcome I’d rather defend on the doorstep. There is, in short, every reason to press the reset button, reject the deal and install a new prime minister – something that won’t happen if the Withdrawal Agreement passes. Conservative MPs had a chance to change direction after the general election fiasco, and a second chance in December. They now have one last opportunity. Heaven help us all if they flunk it. – Daniel Hannan MEP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Liam Halligan: With clarity on Brexit, UK stocks and the pound will soar

A week is a long time in politics. And what a week it’s been. The UK Parliament has staged hours of dramatic debate and held reams of Brexit votes. Then we had a Spring Statement, a major fiscal set-piece – which included a downgrade to economic growth. Yet, for all the garish headlines, and declarations of national meltdown, the pound went steadily up. From well under $1.30 at the start of the week, sterling has risen to well over $1.32 this weekend. It’s worth quickly summarising what’s been happening at Westminster. On Tuesday, MPs voted down Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement for the second time. The 149-seat majority against was significantly less than last time, but still huge. The following day the Commons turned the screw further, narrowly voting to reject a no-deal Brexit under any circumstances. Then, on Thursday, the Government won a key vote, just prevailing against a backbench attempt to take over the Brexit process. And there was further relief for the Government when MPs voted to seek an extension to Article 50, which May argues is vital to pass enabling legislation relating to her withdrawal deal, if the deal itself gets through. Last week’s no-deal vote in the Commons undermines, and practically extinguishes, any chance of the UK getting an improved deal from the EU, included changes to the Irish backstop which could prove vital. For those who backed this amendment, that’s the point – they’re among the four fifths of MPs who voted remain, many of whom still hope Brexit can be stopped. That aside, while no deal would be bumpy – and it could still happen – it would be far less damaging than is widely reported. Yet, developments reducing the possibility of no deal, which we saw last week, still elicit rising share prices and a stronger pound – even though investors understand the economic realities in a way so many mainstream political and media analysts don’t. A week is a long time in politics – and there’s still at least two weeks to go. But here’s the thing. Prolonged Article 50 uncertainties have weighed down UK share prices. As and when Brexit clarity emerges, British stocks – and the pound – are set to soar. – Liam Halligan for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Dia Chakravarty: The PM is dire, but this shameless Remainer Parliament will go down in history, too

It was with a degree of incredulity that I heard Hilary Benn stand up in the House of Commons on Thursday and declare that “the House has never been given the chance” to “try to find a way forward” out of the Brexit logjam. Really? The accusation that the Prime Minister simply doesn’t listen is evidently fair – she is trying to resurrect a deal which has been overwhelmingly rejected twice by the House of Commons. But her colleagues in Parliament are guilty of exactly the same charge, demanding as they did last week a series of “indicative votes”, despite having spent the last two years debating and rejecting every kind of Brexit. Time and again we are told there is a consensus in the Commons for remaining in the single market or customs union, if only the Government would listen. But this is just a smokescreen to mask Remain MPs’ intransigence in delivering Brexit. MPs debated and rejected customs union and single market membership in January and then again in June and July last year. The House of Lords proposal to keep the UK in the EEA was rejected by a clear margin when MPs voted against it by 327 to 126 votes. And what about the so-called “People’s Vote”? After managing to attract only 23 votes in December 2017, a second referendum was again rejected overwhelmingly last week as even its most vocal supporters failed to vote for it. Apparently the time wasn’t right. MPs, minded to waste more time dithering, have now chosen to beg the EU for an extension. It is utterly shameless to hide behind the dishonest excuse that Parliament has never been given the chance to find a way forward.  It’s fair to say that Mrs May may well be remembered as the worst Prime Minister we’ve ever had. But this entire Parliament is carving a place in history as unworthy of representing the people of these isles. – Dia Chakravarty for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Johnny Leavesley: Brexit uncertainty is stifling British prospects – a delay would be worse than no-deal

Around this time last year, I pestered my way to see several investors in the Gulf and asked them for a few tens of millions for a new property business. As a first stage it went well, and their pledges allowed me to begin talking to the City of London about fundraising for much larger amounts. The finely tailored gentlemen of the City are used to this sort of talk. They smiled, shrugged their shoulders and told me to return when I had those first millions in hand. Timetabling begins to become important when you are trying to raise serious money. Investors and institutions must put their money to work reasonably promptly. They would be negligent stewards if they did not. Acquisition targets grow stale and change because the economy is a fluid entity.  For some weeks though, I had prospects and options. Then the timetable did not so much shift as shunt completely, because of Brexit. Along with most businessmen I know, I voted Leave in 2016. (I live in the Midlands. It is a different economic biosphere to that south of Oxford – we make things, for instance.) Our Brexit debates have been destructive to our national cohesiveness and appeal. They have detrimentally affected and delayed prospects for one of my businesses. Commentators and politicians have ruminated for too long, oblivious to how timid and self-doubting they make us appear to the world beyond Europe. What is worse for the economy than no deal is the prospect of too much delay. I want to be returning to the Gulf soon and telling my investors that the UK is still safe, stable and moving on beyond Brexit. How long will I have to wait?  – Johnny Leavesley for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Tim Stanley: Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement is now our only guaranteed route out of the EU

This is hard to write. I’m an idealist when it comes to Brexit; it should be about vision, not detail. Our great country can do anything it puts its mind to. But we are still prisoners of parliamentary arithmetic, of what is possible rather than what is desirable. That’s why I’d urge Brexit-backing MPs to vote for the PM’s Withdrawal Agreement on its third go. I hate the deal. It threatens to trap us in the backstop; it grants too many concessions. Up to this point, were I an MP, I’d have voted against it. But circumstances have changed dramatically and, as a consequence, it has become our only guaranteed route out of the EU. Last week, this Remainer Parliament did two things that change everything. First, it voted to request from the EU an extension to our scheduled date of departure. This was a national humiliation. It said to the world, “silly old Britain has tried to leave on time and screwed up.” Failure to launch. Power now passes to the EU, which gets to decide how much time to offer us. Some Brexiteers think it will refuse an extension or else that there isn’t enough time to see the delay through. These “ifs and buts”, however, rely on the Government and Brussels permitting the UK to “crash out”, which I really can’t believe they would do. It is far more likely that the EU will grant a long extension, for the establishment always finds the time and means necessary to get what it wants, and it is very much in the interests of Remainers and the EU to start renegotiations from scratch. Why? Because of the second stupid thing the Commons did: it voted to take a no deal Brexit off the table. This act of national self harm means Britain will reenter talks on the precondition that it’ll buy whatever the EU is selling, and we’ll end up driving off in a clown car called the “permanent customs union.” – Tim Stanley for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Telegraph: In Brexit Britain, there is no real policy choice. It’s the establishment’s way, or nothing

Trust in British politics is on the verge of collapse. The vast majority of the political class promised one thing in relation to Brexit and is delivering another. They said they would implement the result of the referendum, but Remainers have frustrated it with a shameless campaign of attrition. No 10 set a date for leaving but is now having to beg the EU for a delay. And while the Tory manifesto stated that no deal is better than a bad deal, last week 13 Conservative ministers defied their party’s whip to abstain on a vote to retain a no-deal option – meaning that Britain might lose the option to walk away, no matter how terrible the EU’s next offer. Remainers appear to believe that we should only leave the EU if Brussels allows us to do so. If Britain renegotiates, it will now be with its hands tied behind its back, which would probably result in an even softer Brexit, such as never being permitted to conduct our own trade deals. Nothing better illustrates the failure of our political class than the Electoral Commission telling the parties to prepare for European parliamentary elections – three years after Britain voted to leave the EU. This is almost laughably ironic. The Conservative Party only held a Brexit referendum in reaction to how well Ukip performed in the Euro elections: in 2014, Nigel Farage’s party came top of the polls, the first time a party other than Labour or the Tories had won the popular vote since 1906. – Sunday Telegraph (£) editorial

James Forsyth: Better than 50:50 chance that the Government can get the DUP on board for Meaningful Vote 3

The DUP spent yesterday in intensive talks with senior government figures. I understand that these talks were broadly positive. One Cabinet Minister close to the process tells me that the chances of the DUP backing the deal are ‘a bit better than 50:50. I’d put it at 60:40.’ What is winning the DUP round is the promise of putting into the Withdrawal Agreement Bill, which puts the deal into UK law, a requirement that there be no divergence between Northern Ireland and Great Britain. The Withdrawal Agreement Bill would be so-called superior legislation. This would mean that it would trump other bill, giving the DUP some reassurance that the next Prime Minister couldn’t just decide to cut a Brexit deal for Great Britain leaving Northern Ireland behind. The big question is how many Brexiteer rebels climb down Jacob’s ladder. Downing Street think that there are 25 to 50 Tory diehards who won’t vote for the deal even with the DUP on board. What that precise number is, is absolutely crucial. As one senior Downing Street source explains, ‘If it is at the lower end of that scale, it can be made up with Labour. If it is at the higher end, it can’t be.’ There are, I’m told, between 20 and 30 Labour MPs prepared to back a deal but only if it has a realistic chance of passing. Influential figures in the Cabinet are urging Number 10 to make the vote on Tuesday a free vote to make it easier for Labour MPs to support it. – James Forsyth for The Spectator

Brexit  in Brief

  • If we can’t leave on time, we should stay in and become Macron’s worst nightmare – Janet Daley for the Sunday Telegraph
  • Our clueless elected representatives in Parliament do not represent normal British people – Tony Parsons for The Sun
  • How the United Kingdom voted on EU referendum day – and why –  Lord Ashcroft for ConservativeHome
  • Why great minds get Brexit wrong – Charles Moore for The Spectator
  • Nigel Farage leads supporters on 270-mile ‘Brexit betrayal’ march as they set off from Sunderland – Sunday Telegraph (£)
  • Chaotic scenes as Nigel Farage’s Brexit march sets off for London – Observer