Brexit must not be frustrated, vows Theresa May: Brexit News for Sunday 24 February

Brexit must not be frustrated, vows Theresa May: Brexit News for Sunday 24 February
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Brexit must not be frustrated, vows Theresa May…

In a speech to Tory activists the PM said, as her negotiations with the EU reach their final stages, the “worst thing we could do is lose our focus”. It came as three pro-EU cabinet members warned they could vote to delay Brexit to prevent a “disastrous” no-deal. Mrs May’s speech to the National Conservative Convention in Oxford on Saturday evening came as MPs prepare for a series of votes on Wednesday which could see Parliament take control of the Brexit process. Delegates at the convention overwhelmingly backed a symbolic motion saying Brexit should not be delayed, and leaving without an agreement should remain an option. An amendment tabled by former Tory minister Sir Oliver Letwin and Labour’s Yvette Cooper would give Parliament the opportunity to delay Brexit and prevent a no-deal situation if there is no agreement with the EU by the middle of March. But Mrs May told activists: “Our focus to deliver Brexit must be absolute. “We must not, and I will not, frustrate what was the largest democratic exercise in this country’s history. In the very final stages of this process, the worst thing we could do is lose our focus.” Mrs May also said there should be no moves to deselect MPs because of their views on Brexit. – BBC News

  • Tories are not party of ‘purges and retribution’ and should resist attempts to deselect MPs, Theresa May says – Sunday Telegraph (£)
  • Theresa May insists Brexit ‘must not, will not’ be blocked – Observer

…as anti-No Deal Cabinet ministers face a backlash…

A vicious cabinet war erupted last night over a plot by senior ministers to delay Brexit, as Theresa May looked certain to shelve plans for a Commons vote on her deal this week. Five cabinet colleagues rounded on Amber Rudd, calling for her to be sacked after she publicly threatened to defy the prime minister by voting to delay article 50. The work and pensions secretary was singled out by cabinet colleagues as the ringleader of a cross-party campaign to stop Brexit. She was accused of seeking to further her own leadership ambitions. The party was plunged into fresh bloodletting after May was warned she could be forced to quit within weeks should her Brexit deal go through. Rudd, with David Gauke, the justice secretary, and Greg Clark, the business secretary, sparked a furious backlash after they vowed to delay Brexit unless the prime minister secures a breakthrough on her deal. In comments that are likely to escalate the row, Phil Wilson, a Labour MP, told The Sunday Times that he has held secret talks with cabinet ministers to gain their backing for an amendment that would open the door to a second referendum. Wilson said: “It’s a massive step and what’s important is the reach we’re also having among Tory MPs.” – Sunday Times (£)

  • Three Cabinet rebels accused of taking a sledgehammer to Theresa May’s Brexit deal – The Sun

…and Downing Street is accused of orchestrating their intervention

Three cabinet ministers who signalled they could vote to delay Britain’s withdrawal from the EU should resign, a Tory Brexiter MP has said. Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke should step down, said Andrew Bridgen, a member of the hard-Brexit European Research Group (ERG). He said the ministers were rejecting government policy in breach of cabinet collective responsibility. “What they are actually saying is that they are rejecting collective responsibility of being in government, they are rejecting government policy,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme. “In that case, they should do the honourable thing and resign from the government immediately.” He accused Downing Street of orchestrating their actions in an attempt to pressurise Tory Brexiters into backing Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. “This is partly organised by No 10 – potentially Robbie Gibb, the comms director – to try to bully Brexit-supporting MPs into supporting the withdrawal agreement. I am afraid this is not going to work,” he said. But the Conservative former minister Nick Boles, who is backing moves to delay Brexit if there is no deal, welcomed the intervention of the three cabinet ministers. “I think it is courageous and it is principled, and I applaud them for doing it,” he told Today. – Observer

Delaying Brexit could prevent our departure from the EU altogether, warns minister who backed Remain

Delaying Britain’s departure from the EU is an “elephant trap” that could kill off Brexit altogether, senior ministers warned last night. Writing in The Sunday Telegraph, John Penrose, the Northern Ireland minister, said an attempt to remove the option of a no-deal departure on March 29 “could torpedo Brexit completely” by leading to further temporary extensions that “would become permanent”. Meanwhile, Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, warned that it was “essential that we hold our nerve” as Theresa May seeks the concessions that could win Parliament’s support for her deal. The Telegraph understands that Philip Hammond, the Chancellor, and David Lidington, the Prime Minister’s de facto deputy, are privately lobbying Mrs May to publicly pledge that she will not take the UK out of the EU without a deal at the end of next month. Sources said the pair were acting in a “pincer movement”, along with Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark, who wrote a joint article yesterday claiming that Brexiteers would be at fault for a delay because of their opposition to the current deal. Mr Hammond and Mr Lidington were working “intensively behind the scenes” to persuade Mrs May to commit herself to a delay. They believe the move would prevent pro-EU ministers resigning this week to vote for a plan by MPs, including Yvette Cooper and Nick Boles, to force an extension by seizing control of the Commons agenda. A voluntary extension by Mrs May was “the only option”, according to a Whitehall source familiar with Mr Hammond and Mr Lidington’s thinking. “It’s better to be in control than to have it forced upon us [by Parliament].” But Mr Penrose, who supported Remain in 2016, writes: “Taking the option off the table wouldn’t just massively weaken the Prime Minister’s negotiating position. It could torpedo Brexit completely, leaving us in a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where we’d checked out but could never leave.” – Sunday Telegraph (£)

Motion for a second referendum to be tabled in Parliament next week by Lib Dems…

Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable has said his party will next week make a fresh drive to give MPs the chance to back a second Brexit referendum. Sir Vince asked members of the new Independent Group for support as he sought backing for a motion aiming to lock a new public vote into law. As it stands it is unclear whether any other group will try to bring forward or support a bid for a fresh referendum this Wednesday, when MPs will have another opportunity to table alternative proposals for the next steps in the Brexit process. Some senior Labour figures have signalled their party might support a plan that would mean backing the prime minister’s Brexit deal in return for it being put to a referendum, but the idea may not be put to a vote in the Commons till further down the line. Talking ahead of his speech to his party’s Scottish  conference, the Lib Dem leader said: “For the good of our country, we will cooperate on areas of shared values, not least stopping Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn’s chaotic and damaging Brexit. “That is why I can announce Liberal Democrats will once again this week seek to secure cross-party support for an amendment in the House of Commons calling for a people’s vote, with the option to stay in the EU. “We cannot let Theresa May or Jeremy Corbyn conspire to run down the clock. Liberal Democrats have led the campaign for a people’s vote. We have campaigned for it, we have marched for it and we will vote for it.” – Independent

  • Lib Dems’ Vince Cable says MPs will ‘kill off’ the ‘wickedly irresponsible’ no-deal Brexit – iNews

…as Jeremy Corbyn says he could back a second Brexit referendum

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said if his party won power he would renegotiate a Brexit deal with the European Union and could hold another referendum, as he comes under pressure to support giving the public another chance to stay in the bloc. Parliament is deadlocked over Britain’s departure from the European Union after resoundingly rejecting Prime Minister Theresa May’s plan last month, throwing up several outcomes, including leaving without a deal or a second referendum. Corbyn, when asked if he would hold a referendum on any deal on any deal he negotiated, told Sky News: “We’d consider putting that to the public.”  Asked to clarify if he was considering calling for another referendum, Corbyn said: “That’s the point we’re discussing now in the party.” – Reuters

Irish no-deal Brexit plans show talk of a hard border is just bluff, says DUP’s Sammy Wilson

The Omnibus Bill, which will be fast-tracked through the Dail, is designed to support businesses and jobs impacted by a no-deal and secure ongoing access to essential services and products across the border. The huge raft of proposed legislation, which will only become law if the UK leaves on March 29 without a deal, was published as the EU Commission confirmed it was relaxing certain state aid regulations, apparently in preparation for Brexit. That is a move that will give the Irish Government more latitude to offer support to farms and other affected businesses. Mr Coveney said that he hoped the Bill would never need to be enacted. But he warned a no-deal Brexit would cause widespread damage, adding: “Let me be very clear in saying a disorderly Brexit will be a lose, lose, lose for the UK, for the EU and for Ireland. “We cannot offset all of the damage it will do, but we are doing everything we can through legislation, through preparation, through investment, through information and through support of the multiple sectors and the multiple numbers of people that will be impacted potentially by that worst-case scenario.” Mr Wilson, the DUP’s Brexit spokesman, said a lack of border checks in Ireland’s emergency Brexit plans proved that warnings about the frontier were just careless rhetoric. Mr Wilson claimed talk from Ireland and the EU about the risks of a hard border returning was designed to manipulate people’s fears. “This legislation points to the reality that in 2019 there is no need for the type of borders we knew in the Seventies, Eighties and Nineties,” he said. “No one is building a so-called hard border or going back to checkpoints with soldiers. Such talk was rhetoric designed to foment 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

Bank of Ireland launches £1.75bn fund to help businesses prepare for impact of Brexit

Bank of Ireland has launched a £1.75bn Brexit fund to help businesses on both sides of the border absorb the potential impact of the UK leaving the EU. The bank’s Northern Ireland managing director, Ian Sheppard, said while larger businesses appear better prepared, many SMEs (small and medium sized enterprises) still need support. “In the recently published NI Chamber Quarterly Economic survey 50% of their members report that Brexit is having a negative impact on costs which in turn impacts cash flow,” he said. “Bank of Ireland is ready to support our customers whatever the outcome for Brexit.” Earlier this month the board of Invest NI expressed “deep concern” over the readiness of small businesses for a no-deal Brexit. New research from InterTradeIreland has also found that SMEs on both sides of the border are feeling pressure on a range of fronts. Bank of Ireland said it has already held 250 events around the island for smaller companies in the past 18 months. – Belfast Telegraph

John Penrose: Taking No Deal off the table could torpedo Brexit completely

No-one wants a World Trade Organisation ‘no-deal’ Brexit, right? So why not rule it out now, once and for all. Wouldn’t that be safer, and let everyone calm down? Well no, not really. Taking the option off the table wouldn’t just massively weaken the Prime Minister’s negotiating position. It could torpedo Brexit completely, leaving us in a ‘Hotel California’ Brexit, where we’d checked out but could never leave. Why? Because if we say we will never, ever leave without a deal, the EU would know, for certain, that they can stop Brexit in its tracks simply by refusing to agree a deal with us. Or, if they’re feeling subtle, by offering a bad deal they know Parliament will turn down. Either way, they’d know we’d blink. Faced with those options, we couldn’t take either of them. We would have no choice. We’d have to go cap in hand and beg the EU to delay the day we leave. Some people think that would be fine. According to them, Parliament would ‘take charge’ and find a new, better, more democratic solution. Peace would break out and, before you know it, we’d all be sitting round the campfire holding hands and singing ‘kum-ba-yah’. – Northern Ireland Minister John Penrose MP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Andrea Leadsom: We’re so close to the Brexit finishing line — it’s time to come together with one final heave

What gets you out of bed in the morning? This is a question I’m often asked as a politician. It tends to be closely followed by a dozen other questions about what I’ll do in “x” scenario, or whether I’ll resign if “y” happens. But the thing that gets me out of bed in the morning is the same thing that drove me into national politics nearly a decade ago — and that is to help the UK become an even greater force for good in the world. We can only achieve that with a strong and united government which collectively seeks to deliver on the referendum and trusts in the path we set out. I believed in 2016, as I strongly believe now, that we have a bright future of independence ahead of us. Like so many other people in the UK, I took the chance offered to us in a single question: Should we leave the European Union or remain within it? Following a great deal of thought and thorough analysis, the answer I arrived at was: “Yes, we should leave the EU.” We are so close to the ­finishing line, so my plea to politicians here and in ­Brussels is: Please don’t snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. The EU must lift its eyes and look beyond the current frustrations and towards the close friendship we all want in the future. The Labour Party must carry out the wishes of the majority of its own ­voters, who wanted to leave the EU. And my own colleagues on the ­Conservative benches must not make the perfect the enemy of the good. Don’t hold the PM to ­ransom at such a critical point. Instead, we must hold our nerve and push through. – Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom MP for The Sun

The Sun: Tory trio of rebels are playing with fire by trying to force No Deal off the table

Theresa May faces a crucial Brexit showdown on Wednesday with a gun to her head, held by her closest colleagues. Cabinet Ministers Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke have launched a shamefully self-serving threat to back the Remoaners who are trying to force No Deal off the table. But these rebels at the very heart of Government are playing with fire by openly challenging their own PM. Their disloyal showboating will undermine our negotiations with Brussels at a critical stage. By signalling they will defy Number 10 and side with backbenchers plotting to stall Britain’s EU exit, they are wiping out the PM’s options. Jeremy Corbyn’s flip-flopping leadership is only making her position more precarious. With members of her own Cabinet ranged against her, Mrs May is coming under massive pressure to abandon her sensible negotiating stance that No Deal is better than a bad deal. The PM must resist this at all costs. If she takes No Deal off the table, Brussels will have no reason to make concessions. Iain Duncan Smith says the rebels have taken a sledgehammer to the Government. We couldn’t agree more. They have abandoned collective Cabinet responsibility. But they haven’t even shown the guts to resign. – The Sun says

Nikki Da Costa: The Remainer rebels plotting to cripple the PM next week need to step back from the brink

The sense of political jeopardy is now very great: we are seeing the fracturing of parties, MPs taking drastic destabilising action, the potential for a no-deal Brexit, and further uncertainty of an unknown duration. Oliver Letwin, Nick Boles, members of the Cabinet and a raft of junior ministers seem to want to take the Prime Minister’s legs out from under her in the next round of Brexit votes on February 27. Just when the EU27 have said they will provide “legal assurances” on the backstop and provide a “guarantee” on its temporary nature, these MPs are arguing that the time has come for decisive action to take no‑deal off the table. What is the “decisive” action proposed? It’s a three-step process: first, secure a majority for an amendment next Wednesday giving MPs the power to legislate; secondly, pass legislation to require the Government to hold and comply with a vote on March 14, at the earliest, on extending the Article 50 deadline; and finally, win that vote. There are flaws: the Bill may not pass in time for March Council. No attention at all has been paid to how to get it through the Lords, a chamber about which MPs know relatively little, nor what to do if the Bill is delayed or amended. Nor does the plan require the Commons to decide what it does want. And for this uncertain chance of a vote on March 14, and for an extension with no plan, MPs will seek to “fundamentally realign the relationship between civil service, Government and Parliament” and undermine the final stage of negotiations. Mr Letwin and Mr Boles have embraced accusations that they are stripping the Government of its power. – Nikki Da Costa for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Rod Liddle: The ‘noble’ quitters desert their ships but the thing sinking fastest is Brexit

Until last Monday there were nine political parties represented in the Commons, of which eight were in favour of remaining within the EU. Oh, and a sole independent — she was for remain as well. But then, last week, a political tornado blew apart this unrepresentative consensus, with the formation of an exciting new outfit, the Independent Group. So now we have a House of Commons where, in effect, 10 parties are represented, nine of them in favour of remain. Plus Ian Austin, bless him, who is for leave. The Labour MPs deserted for three reasons. First, they were in danger of losing their jobs through deselection, either because they opposed Jeremy Corbyn’s policies (Gavin Shuker and Chuka Umunna) or didn’t hate Jewish people with sufficient vigour (Joan Ryan) or were actually Jewish (Luciana Berger). The more noble reason was that they all professed an antipathy to the anti-semitism of Jeremy Corbyn and his Momentum lunatics. But, third, what they all had in common (except Austin, which is why he hasn’t joined them) was that they were for remain and a second referendum. This is the main thing that ties them together, other than a perfectly reasonable dislike of “Magic Grandpa”, as Julie Burchill calls Corbyn. This was reinforced when they were joined by three Conservatives — Heidi Allen, Anna Soubry and Sarah Wollaston — who have been among the most vocal opponents of leaving the EU. “Don’t worry, they won’t let it happen” has always seemed the most likely outcome of our referendum. The lip service MPs paid to respecting the voice of the people is fading before our eyes. – Rod Liddle for the Sunday Times (£)

Sunday Telegraph: Brexiteers must stand firm, not panic

The old political order is in its death throes: Brexit has finally forced MPs to rethink their labels and even break from their party. The new Independent Group, although also a revolt against Labour’s disgusting anti-Semitism, is largely a Remainer bloc; more may yet resign their whips to sit with it. But the creation of the Group doesn’t actually change the mathematics in Parliament and will eventually help the Brexiteers in the country. Every MP who allies with the Independents was always against Brexit and will continue to be – and pro-Brexit MPs should not be spooked by all this political excitement into thinking that the advantage has moved to the Remainers. To use a phrase popular with Theresa May, nothing has changed. Her Withdrawal Agreement is still a terrible document, it needs serious rewriting (at best) and a no-deal should not and cannot be ruled out. If anything, any further defections from Labour that genuinely give the Independent Group some momentum will split the Left and deliver a majority to a pro‑Brexit Conservative Party at the next election, strengthening the hand of the next prime minister when it comes to our future negotiations with Brussels. The voters are watching. MPs who are Leavers or, like Mr Penrose, have reconciled themselves to the referendum result, know that there is mounting anger at the mismanagement, delay, even sabotage of Brexit – so they must vote against any attempt to weaken Britain’s position or to dilute our withdrawal. – Telegraph (£) editorial

John Rentoul: Despite the Cabinet revolt, Theresa May’s Brexit star is rising

Today, in “Constitutional Innovations Induced by Brexit”, we have the concept of optional collective responsibility. Three cabinet ministers, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Gauke, have written an article explaining why the government’s policy is wrong. Last year Rudd resigned because she told a select committee what her civil servant told her to say, but this time she has merely contradicted the prime minister on the central question facing the nation and undermined the government’s negotiating position in Brussels. Paradoxically, however, the chances of Theresa May getting her Brexit deal through parliament are rising. I think it is now the most likely outcome, with the UK leaving the EU on 29 March or a few weeks later. Partly, this is because it is finally sinking in that the chances of a no-deal Brexit are small. Today’s cabinet revolt reinforces the solid majority in the House of Commons against it happening. If the prime minister fails to win parliament’s approval of her deal, the alternative is likely to be that Brexit will be postponed, possibly for ever. The prospect of Britain leaving without an agreement still scares people because May refuses to rule it out. But she has to do that because it is the only remnant of negotiating leverage she has in Brussels. However much Rudd, Clark and Gauke weaken her hand, the EU side can never be completely sure that the prime minister won’t reveal herself as Theresa “Mad Dog” May at the last moment, determined to tear the house down if she can’t get her own way.  – John Rentoul for the Independent

Brexit in Brief

  • Brussels’ arrogance is undermining the Union across Europe – Salvatore Murtas for ConservativeHome
  • Donald Tusk says Brexit hell comment was a ‘deliberate exaggeration’ to provoke Brexiteers – Sunday Express