Michel Barnier says a Brexit delay is now unavoidable, as Andrea Leadsom and Jeremy Hunt warn against an attempt to frustrate departure: Brexit News for Sunday 3 March

Michel Barnier says a Brexit delay is now unavoidable, as Andrea Leadsom and Jeremy Hunt warn against an attempt to frustrate departure: Brexit News for Sunday 3 March
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Michel Barnier says a Brexit delay is now unavoidable, as Andrea Leadsom and Jeremy Hunt warn against an attempt to frustrate departure…

A delay to Brexit is now unavoidable, even if MPs sign off a deal next week, the European Commission has suggested. In an interview with a Spanish newspaper, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, indicated that a “technical” extension would be needed to implement a deal. His deputy, Sabine Weyand, later “liked” a tweet summarising his comments, in English, as “extension now inavoidable [sic] – will be granted”. Mr Barnier’s comments confirm the private view of a significant number of the Cabinet that a limited delay is now inevitable, after Theresa May agreed to put the option to MPs if she fails to win a majority for her deal by March 12.  Mr Barnier also indicated that the Commission is preparing to offer the UK a separate legal document that would reiterate a stipulation that the EU would use “best endeavours” to ensure the UK is not trapped in the “backstop” – the controversial insurance plan for the Irish border… Andrea Leadsom, the leader of the Commons, and Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, have issued a joint warning against manoeuvres by colleagues they believe are attempting use a delay to stop Brexit altogether. Writing in The Telegraph, Mrs Leadsom, who campaigned to leave the EU, and Mr Hunt, who previously supported Remain, state: “The active pursuit of a delay to Brexit – with no purpose beyond frustration – is a betrayal of the referendum result. It would lead to an irretrievable breach of trust with those who are already cynical about the will of Westminster to deliver on the result to begin with.” – Sunday Telegraph (£)

  • The active pursuit of a delay to Brexit, with no purpose beyond frustration, is a betrayal of referendum result – Andrea Leadsom MP and Jeremy Hunt MP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)
  • Brexit must be delayed even if Theresa May gets deal through parliament this month, Barnier says – Independent
  • Michel Barnier thinks UK has run out of time to pass Theresa May’s Brexit plan without an extension – iNews
  • Brexit delay is now ‘unavoidable’ even if MPs back a deal next week, warns EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier – MailOnline

…while Taoiseach tells his ministers the Brexit deadline will be ‘extended until June’…

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has privately told ministers he believes the deadline for Britain leaving the EU will be extended to June. The Taoiseach’s private comments follow EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier indicating that he does not believe the UK will have enough time to approve a withdrawal deal by the scheduled exit date of March 29. Prime Minster Theresa May has faced an angry backlash from hard-line Brexiteers over the prospect of extending the deadline. However, the Taoiseach has indicated to his most senior ministers that the most realistic prospect at this point is an extension as Ms May is unlikely to get a withdrawal deal through parliament in time.  A Cabinet minister speaking on the grounds of anonymity yesterday told the Sunday Independent: “The Taoiseach has privately said to us that it is very likely there will be an extension until June.” Extending the deadline beyond June would cause complications for the EU Parliament elections in May. If the extension was any longer, Britain may have to put forward candidates for the election. – Irish Independent

…and the President of Slovenia says the EU could approve a short Brexit delay

Speaking exclusively to Sky News during a three-day visit to the UK, President Borut Pahor added that Britain needs to show “clarity and consensus” and come back to the EU with a plan MPs can approve. His comments came as the bloc’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier said he is ready to give Britain more guarantees that the Irish backstop is only intended to be temporary. The backstop is a customs plan to avoid a “hard” border between Ireland and Northern Ireland if a free trade deal between the UK and EU is not reached. It has become the main point of contention in the proposed Brexit deal. President Pahor said he wanted a compromise on the Irish backstop to be found, but added that Slovenia would not approve a deal that Ireland disagreed with. – Sky News

EU panics as Barnier refuses to put a time limit on the Brexit backstop…

European Union diplomats have revealed they are “very worried” about whether Theresa May will secure the legally binding changes to the controversial backstop demanded by Brexiteers. Mrs May is currently battling with the EU’s top negotiators to get changes to the Withdrawal Agreement that will satisfy enough Brexiteers for it to pass through the House of Commons. However one EU source indicated the Prime Minister’s strategy is not working, raising the likelihood Britain will leave the bloc without a deal. The diplomat said: “I am very worried. What will she put to Parliament? “I have not seen anything in writing at all and there is no drafting going on.” The comments, reported by the Guardian, come as the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator refused key eurosceptic demands of putting a time limit or exit mechanism on the backstop. Michel Barnier said yesterday there had been “no progress” on divorce deal negotiations as the EU is not prepared to “reverse” the backstop. However he opened up to Theresa May’s hopes of securing something to put before Tory eurosceptics at the next meaningful vote. – Sunday Express

…as 1922 Committee Chairman Sir Graham Brady signals he will back May’s deal if ‘the right compromise’ is secured…

Theresa May has received a major Brexit boost ahead of key Commons votes with an endorsement of her deal from the Tories’ backbench leader. Sir Graham Brady, the powerful chairman of the 1922 Committee, has said he is ready to drop his opposition to the prime minister’s contentious deal. In a hard-hitting article in the Mail on Sunday, Sir Graham denounces the government’s handling of the Brexit negotiations as “lions led by donkeys”. But, signalling that he is now ready to back the PM’s deal, he concludes: “The whole country is tired of vacillation and delay. When the right compromise is offered, we should pull together behind the Prime Minister and help her to deliver our exit from the European Union on March 29.” – Sky News

  • I voted against Mrs May’s deal. Now I’m ready to back it – Sir Graham Brady MP for the Mail on Sunday

…while Tory Brexiteers in the ERG also offer ‘peace terms’ to Theresa May

Tory Brexiteers have delivered peace terms to Theresa May, outlining the price she must pay to secure their support for her Brexit deal in the crunch Commons showdown within days. The European Research Group (ERG) of hardliners, led by Jacob Rees-Mogg, have drawn up “three tests” the government must meet if the prime minister hopes to win the vote due as early as this week. In a significant intervention, eight ERG lawyers, chaired by veteran Eurosceptic Sir Bill Cash, have drawn up a document spelling out their demands, the clearest sign yet that they are prepared to fall into line. Geoffrey Cox, the attorney-general, is seeking a new deal that would make clear that the Northern Ireland backstop, which locks the UK into a customs union with the EU, is only temporary. In private talks with Cox the Brexiteers demanded a legally binding “mechanism” to escape the backstop, with a clear “exit route” and an unambiguous rewrite of the “language” in the government’s legal advice. Crucially, the ERG’s new red lines are not prescriptive about how this is to be achieved and give Cox considerable leeway to thrash out a deal. By outlining the price of their support, they hope to give him greater ammunition to win concessions from the EU. – Sunday Times (£)

> Last Thursday on BrexitCentral: Meet the eight lawyers who will judge whether ‘Cox’s codpiece’ cuts the mustard

Geoffrey Cox warns EU chiefs ‘the future of Europe is in both our hands’ as most voters blame bickering MPs for Brexit chaos

Brexit broker Geoffrey Cox has cranked up the pressure on EU chiefs by warning them: “The future of Europe is in both our hands.” The dogged law chief has held nothing back in his bid to clinch a last-gasp deal that will win the backing of MPs. He bluntly told chief Brussels negotiator Michel Barnier failure to deliver a clean departure would have devastating consequences for the whole continent. His straight-talking seemed to be paying off as Brussels gave the clearest sign yet of a willingness to break the deadlock. He signalled Brussels is ready to give Britain further “guarantees, assurances and clarifications” the hated Irish backstop will only be temporary. With 26 days to go to Brexit, it raised a glimmer of hope Mr Cox could return with a deal in time to avoid a damaging delay to our departure date. The revelation came as an exclusive Sun on Sunday poll revealed two in five voters would find any postponement unacceptable. Three in four blame bickering MPs for the Brexit chaos and many say MPs trying to thwart the process are a “complete and utter disgrace”. Brexiteer Mr Cox, dubbed Mufasa after the Lion King character by fellow ministers because of his booming voice, spent most of last week locked in talks with Mr Barnier. – The Sun

Revealed: The scale of Labour opposition to a second referendum from Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench

Up to 17 members of Jeremy Corbyn’s front bench have indicated they could rebel against an attempt to call a second referendum. An audit of remarks by shadow ministers reveals the scale of opposition to another poll, and the number of those who have issued warnings about the effects it could have on the country. Some 13 Labour frontbenchers have made public comments signalling their opposition to a second referendum in the last six months alone, despite the party’s formal adoption of the move as an option at its conference in October. The remarks suggest Mr Corbyn could face mass resignations if he pursues a plan to seek another referendum with a Commons vote. Many of the MPs represent northern areas containing high proportions of voters who backed Brexit in the 2016 referendum. Those who have spoken out include David Drew, a shadow environment minister, who told constituents at a public meeting that he would “never support a referendum on anything again”, Jonathan Reynolds, the shadow economic secretary, who said in a posting on his personal website that another poll was “not my personal position”, and Julie Cooper, a shadow health minister, who told constituents last week: “I have no intention of voting for a second referendum.” – Sunday Telegraph (£)

Whitehall Brexit exodus revealed as a quarter of civil servants working on the deal quit in six months

A chaotic ‘Brexodus’ of civil servants is fleeing the department running Brexit , we can reveal. Nearly a quarter – 159 – have quit in the last six months alone as the country teeters toward a no-deal exit. Last night one worker told us: “To say it’s a revolving door is an under-statement. It’s almost pointless learning people’s names because they’re out of here so quickly.” The Department for Exiting the EU should have 700 staff. But a total of 516 staff left from its creation in July 2016 to last December. That’s up from 357 gone by June 2018 and 124 at August 2017, Freedom of Information figures show. The average age of workers is now just 29 – in the department meant to negotiate with experienced EU rivals. Another civil servant said: “Morale’s been low. Obviously, it’s stressful and as the deadline has got closer things have got worse. “Things have picked up now because the end is in sight. But it won’t magically stop after Brexit. There’ll be lots of work to do make sure the transition is smooth.” – Sunday Mirror

Andrea Leadsom and Jeremy Hunt: The active pursuit of a delay to Brexit, with no purpose beyond frustration, is a betrayal of referendum result

In 2016, we both found ourselves on either side of the Brexit debate. Today, however, we are united by a single desire to do right by this country, and stay true to our democratic principles. We are working in lock-step, to make sure the Government can get our Brexit deal through parliament – a deal which has always deserved recognition for not only delivering on the will of 17.4 million people, but respecting the wishes of those who voted remain, too. This week, it became clearer than ever that bringing people along on this journey is crucial. As we progress towards exit day on ‪March 29th‬, two other options have emerged to cast a shadow over the process – in the shape of No Deal, or extending Article 50. These are precisely the outcomes that would only serve to deepen the division not only in Westminster, but more importantly, across the United Kingdom. That’s why the Prime Minister’s focus is on getting the deal over the line by March 12th and leaving on time. The merit of the deal is that it’s true to a referendum that produced a close but decisive result. Nobody has a claim on the right way to do things, and a result like 52/48 in such a profoundly important decision always meant respecting the result, but also accommodating views on both sides. And throughout the last two and a half years, the Prime Minister has never wavered in her steadfast commitment to leaving the EU. Whilst the Prime Minister has found a careful compromise that means we leave the EU on terms of close and friendly cooperation, the Labour party have instead opted to betray the people and pursue a second referendum. They have no strategy, and no sense of duty. All of our hard work will be lost if we fail to keep our nerve at such a critical point – and if Members of Parliament fail to back this, the best and most realistic option for taking us out of the European Union. – Leader of the House Andrea Leadsom MP and Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt MP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Sir Graham Brady: I voted against Mrs May’s deal. Now I’m ready to back it

Lions led by donkeys: nearly three years after the British people voted to take back control of our democracy, it is painfully obvious that the political class at Westminster doesn’t share the belief in our country that is shown by the people. All too often it has looked as if the Establishment has wanted to negotiate a Brexit that looks shockingly like not leaving at all, even though the European Union has made it clear that a deep and open free trade agreement is there for the asking. This is why the Prime Minister’s EU Withdrawal Agreement came so close to sinking back in January. The agreement has some good points: it gives certainty to EU citizens in the United Kingdom and ours living on the continent; it tells businesses that contracts will continue to be honoured, and it gives a transition period during which a future free trade agreement could be negotiated. But the agreement also contains a monumental bear trap. We know what is needed to shift the log-jam. The Attorney General needs to give a legally binding guarantee that the backstop is temporary. Once we have that, my colleagues in Parliament need to recognise the strength of feeling. The whole country is tired of vacillation and delay. When the right compromise is offered, we should pull together behind the Prime Minister and help her to deliver our exit from the European Union on March 29. – Sir Graham Brady MP for the Mail on Sunday

Daniel Hannan: No self-respecting country would accept this deal. MPs must vote it down

The deal that will come before Parliament next week represents a devastating failure of British statecraft. It would keep most of the costs of EU membership while junking most of the benefits. It would require Britain to cede part of its territory to foreign jurisdiction. It would allow Brussels to control our commerce with non-EU states even after we leave. MPs who believe in parliamentary sovereignty should vote against it. MPs who believe in the Union should vote against it. MPs who believe in free trade should vote against it. MPs who believe that there is such a thing as national honour, and who recognise that we are being treated in a calculatedly vindictive way, should toss it out with especial force. They should do so even if the alternative is a delay to Brexit. They should do so, indeed, even though such a delay might allow the Mandelsons and Blairs to step up their campaign for a second referendum. A postponement, undesirable as it is, is less damaging than accepting permanently disadvantageous terms. – Daniel hannan MEP for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Janet Daley: We promised the voters we would leave – if that means backing Theresa May’s Brexit deal for now, so be it

You can’t say I didn’t warn you. This column has been pretty much consistent in its prediction of what was to come – if not particularly consistent in its recommendation of a remedy. And here we are at last, faced with the two ghastly choices: a bad deal or No Brexit. Theresa May’s terrible Withdrawal Agreement looms out of the miasma of confusion and incoherence as the only possible way of avoiding the trap laid long, long ago by the invincibly arrogant Remain forces. Forget about No Deal: that has been definitively eliminated from the realm of possibility by Mrs May’s decision to let the Commons vote to rule it out. And in the absence of the possibility of leaving without a deal, there is no more scope for serious negotiation. So that’s it – game over. The only question now is how the MPs who will have to vote on these equally horrendous alternatives judge their moral obligations. (I say “moral” because those who are most exercised by this see the question as one of ethical and social significance.) Paradoxically, the Never Leave option – sometimes known as “an extension of Article 50” – could seem, to those who regard their commitment to Brexit as necessitating a purity that can brook no compromise, less wicked than the prime minister’s botched Withdrawal Agreement. Better to give up altogether, or even to precipitate an incalculable breakdown of our political functions, than to accept a messy, self-cancelling mongrel arrangement which delivers so few of the original objectives and which reneges on the true intention of the country’s decision.  – Janet Daley for the Sunday Telegraph (£)

Sunday Telegraph: Britain doesn’t need a new Remain party. Remainers already run the country

Brexit is undeniably in trouble and Parliament is in gridlock. But the Independent Group is an answer that only politicians could dream up: a big dose of elite politics to cure a politics brought low by the elites. Only a politician would say that the solution to a tricky Brexit is to reverse it, or react to Labour’s extremism by jettisoning philosophy altogether. And only a politician would conclude that Britain was happiest under New Labour. Britain has been led for three years by an arch “centrist” who has herself chased the progressive consensus, promoted politically correct causes and tried her best to please everyone at once. In fact, if it wasn’t for Brexit, one could imagine the eight ex-Labour MPs making themselves perfectly at home in Mrs May’s Conservative Party, while the three ex-Tories would never have left. – Sunday Telegraph (£) editorial

Charles Moore: Ministers have been sanctioned to condemn No Deal

One could smell a rat in the fact that so many ministers have recently been allowed publicly to break with government policy and condemn ‘no deal’ flat-out, and even threaten resignation. Three ministers co-wrote an article in Tuesday’s Daily Mail (over the undead body of Paul Dacre) in this sense. They would never have dared to do so unless they had been sure that they would go unpunished by the government. If you follow the sequence of how a variety of ministers emerged on this subject, you will see orchestration. Mrs May’s spin doctor, Robbie Gibb, ex-BBC, briefs programmes like Newsnight all the time: the official line was to say how ‘troubling’ the behaviour of the ministers was. But you do not get three ministers to co-author an attack on stated government policy without government acquiescence. Gibb’s subliminal message was not ‘So they’ve got to come in line or go’ but ‘So we’ve got to give in to them’. – Charles Moore for The Spectator

Robert Halfon: It’s our duty as MPs to vote for Theresa May’s Brexit deal — it’s the only reasonable option

OK, I hold my hands up. I voted Remain in 2016. But once the votes were cast and the clear result was Leave, I knew it was my duty as an MP to follow the people’s instruction. It was Parliament’s duty to do that. I voted against Theresa May’s Withdrawal Agreement in January as it seemed designed to keep Britain in a dark treacle of EU bureaucracy, but this time it seems to be the only reasonable option The Conservative manifesto on which we were elected in 2017 contained a commitment to leave the EU and I have followed that commitment, voting for Article 50 and opposing a second referendum. Remaining true to that democratic commitment is also the reason I voted against Mrs May’s Withdrawal Agreement in January. That deal seemed designed to keep Britain in a dark treacle of EU bureaucracy. It established a separation between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. And it presented hard-pressed taxpayers with a £39billion bill — for the privilege of this divisive and never-ending backstop. Now, with the Brexit clock ticking perilously close to midnight, I have decided to vote FOR the deal Theresa May will soon bring back to Parliament. I do not believe there is any betrayal in my decision. It is one, I believe, that will be shared by many of the MPs who also voted down the deal just weeks ago. Of course, most reasonable people will accept a postponement of a few weeks to the March 29 Brexit date. But it seems far more likely that any delay to Article 50 would be much longer. This would give time for the Remainers to force through a Second Referendum — based on a fudged question denying voters the clear-cut choice on which they voted in 2016. So I believe a vote for the Prime Minister’s deal is now the only responsible option. – Robert Halfon MP for The Sun

John Rentoul: The outcome of Brexit now depends on Geoffrey Cox, Arlene Foster and Nigel Dodds

We are now 10 days from the decisive vote on leaving the EU. On Tuesday 12 March the House of Commons will vote again on Theresa May’s Brexit deal – this time with a legally binding explanatory document attached. If MPs approve the deal, Britain could still leave the EU on 29 March, as planned. Parliament would have to pass a bill to put the terms of the withdrawal agreement into law, but that can be done in double quick time if there is a majority for it. If they don’t, Brexit is likely to be delayed. This week the prime minister bowed to reality and accepted that the House of Commons would decide what would happen next. First, they would vote on a proposal to leave without agreement. That would be defeated by a large majority. Then they would vote on whether May should ask the EU to postpone Brexit. Cox had a meeting with DUP leaders on Wednesday night, and a source told James Forsyth of The Spectator that the government is “not there yet” on persuading the DUP to come on board. But they would say that, wouldn’t they? I don’t see how Cox could come up with a form of words on the Irish border that would bridge the gap between the EU27 and the DUP. But, and I have no inside information on this, it would be astonishing if the DUP were not also engaged in negotiations with the prime minister over the next stage of their supply and confidence agreement. The two-year commitment to extra public spending in Northern Ireland, which was signed after the 2017 election, expires in the summer. There is one part of the country, at least, that can expect a Brexit dividend. – John Rentoul for the Independent

James Forsyth: 10 days to save Brexit

MPs have 10 days to pass Theresa May’s Brexit deal or calamity strikes, I say in The Sun this morning. May’s deal is far from perfect. But what will happen if it doesn’t pass is truly appalling. If May’s deal hasn’t won a Commons vote by March 12th, the Commons will vote on whether to proceed with no deal. The parliamentary arithmetic is such that no deal will almost certainly be defeated. The next day, parliament will then vote on whether to request an extension from the EU. This vote will almost certainly pass. At this point, the United Kingdom would be in the weakest position it has ever been in this negotiation. Whether to grant an extension or not would be up to the EU and would require all 27 member states to agree. It would also be up to the EU to decide how long an extension to offer. At the moment, there’s little optimism in Number 10 about being able to hold a meaningful vote next week. That means that the government will only have one chance to turn round a 230 vote defeat. – James Forsyth for The Spectator

Dominic Lawson: Brexit demands a queen sacrifice. Your move, PM

Theresa May’s repeated warnings to the EU 27 that “no deal is better [for us] than a bad deal” became ineffective once the other side grasped that the British prime minister was far too cautious a player to abandon the negotiating table. And in any case it was clear after the fiasco of the 2017 general election that she would lack the parliamentary numbers for such a radical policy. A cast-iron pledge by the PM to resign before the next Conservative Party conference (in September) may well be the necessary sacrifice that will save her deal. But who knows? Politics is a much murkier business than chess, for all the latter’s near-infinite permutations. As the longest-reigning of all chess world champions, Emanuel Lasker, observed: “On the chessboard, lies and hypocrisy do not survive long. The creative combination lays bare the presumption of a lie; the merciless fact, culminating in a checkmate, contradicts the hypocrite.” In short, the denouement of the next few weeks will resemble poker much more than chess, four-dimensional or otherwise. This business will be settled by bluff and sheer nerve, not the pristine logic of the chessboard. – Dominic Lawson for the Sunday Times (£)

Sunday Times: Mrs May’s bluff has been called once again

Even before Friday’s news that the government will be required to pay £33m in compensation to Eurotunnel because of its botched no-deal preparations, this had not been a good week for Brexit. Theresa May, forced by a rebellion in her own cabinet to breach another of her red lines and accept that Brexit might be delayed beyond March 29, has provided another large dose of uncertainty. It is becoming a habit. The Eurotunnel compensation, in that respect, was a pretty good analogy. Though it is easy to blame it all on Chris Grayling, the transport secretary, a serial offender who would surely have not survived so long in the cabinet in a different period, it also spoke of an incompetence that reached deep into his department and into the permanent civil service. We seem to have lost the ability to do things well, as the Brexit negotiations demonstrate. Sir Ivan Rogers, Britain’s former EU ambassador, said in an interview with the German magazine Der Spiegel last week that he had always expected it to be difficult but “the extent of the mess” had surprised even him. America has set out its terms for a future trade deal with Britain, which shows that it is willing to talk. But, if Brexit is anything to go by, Britain will need to up its game before bargaining with Washington’s old hands. Voters are viewing with bemusement the fact that, nearly three years after the referendum, Britain does not seem to be ready to leave. The rest of the EU, meanwhile, which has viewed the prime minister’s negotiating tactics with a mixture of bewilderment and incomprehension, is tired of Westminster’s games. – Sunday Times (£) editorial

The Sun: Dithering Remainer MPs must unite over Brexit for the sake of our country – anything else is a shameful betrayal

Public fury with meddling Brexit blockers has reached boiling point. Our new poll shows that a staggering three quarters of Britons blame self-serving, hapless Parliamentary representatives for the shambles we are in. Nearly half brand the behaviour of MPs “a complete and utter disgrace” and 40 per cent say any delay in the UK leaving the EU would be “unacceptable”. So, The Sun on Sunday names and shames some of those politicians who claim to support democracy but flatly fail to represent the views of their constituents. Dozens who serve the constituencies where voters backed Brexit are betraying the trust of those people by deliberately dithering or pushing back on the March leaving date agreed in Article 50. Prominent among them is Cabinet rebel and leading Remoaner Amber Rudd. Almost 56 per cent of her Hastings constituency voted to leave. Regardless, she broke ranks to push the Prime Minister into abandoning No Deal, undermining the Government’s negotiating position. Such shenanigans must end. If Theresa May can win sufficient concessions from Brussels to allay genuine fears over the Northern Ireland backstop, MPs must unite behind her. As the Attorney General Geoffrey Cox has said, the future of the next generation is at stake, and further delay will resolve nothing. Remainer MPs must put their trust in the people and their faith in the ability of this great country to prosper once we are outside the EU. Anything else is a shameful betrayal. – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • Thanks to Amber Rudd, the selfish Ayatollah of Remain, the EU will get their way – Tony Parsons for The Sun
  • Dithering MPs are the problem not solution to Brexit – Tim Newark for the Sunday Express