100 Tory MPs revolt over Theresa May’s latest Brexit policy shift as they accuse her of 'buckling': Brexit News for Thursday 28 February

100 Tory MPs revolt over Theresa May’s latest Brexit policy shift as they accuse her of 'buckling': Brexit News for Thursday 28 February
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100 Tory MPs revolt over Theresa May’s latest Brexit policy shift as they accuse her of ‘buckling’…

More than 100 Tory MPs have rebelled against the Government as Eurosceptics refused to back Theresa May’s plans to give the Commons a vote on extending Article 50. The Government imposed a three-line whip on an amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper, a Labour MP, which enshrined the Prime Minister’s commitment to give MPs a vote delaying Brexit if a deal cannot be reached. However 20 hardline Eurosceptic Tory MPs voted against the amendment including Esther McVey, former work and pensions secretary. A further 88 predominantly Eurosceptic Tory MPs abstained including Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, Dominic Raab, the former Brexit secretary and Jacob Rees-Mogg, the leading Eurosceptic Tory MP. Others who did not vote included Priti Patel, the former  international development secretary, Iain Duncan Smith, the former Conservative leader and Sir Graham Brady, the head of the 1922 committee of backbench Tory MPs. One of those who abstained said: “It was an indication of our displeasure that she buckled so easily [over Article 50] in the face of pretty reprehensible tactics by certain government ministers.” – Telegraph (£)

…but she avoids a fresh Brexit defeat after a climbdown on citizens’ rights…

The government has bowed to MPs’ pressure over the post-Brexit rights of EU citizens and reaffirmed pledges to give the Commons a veto on a no-deal departure after the latest parliamentary wrangling over Theresa May’s deadlocked plans. A day that had been heralded as the moment when backbenchers would seize control of the Brexit timetable from the prime minister lost some of its drama after May and her ministers gave way in a series of areas where they were likely to lose Commons votes. The concessions meant that the set of votes on the government’s latest Brexit motion, tabled in lieu of a still-elusive revised departure plan, was the first without a defeat for May. In one development that could gain in significance in the coming days, a Labour frontbench amendment proposing their own Brexit plan was defeated by 323 votes to 240, which under the new party policy should mean Labour will now push for a second EU referendum. In a statement afterwards Jeremy Corbyn said Labour would back a public vote while also pushing for “other available options”, including a general election and Labour’s own Brexit plan. – Guardian

…although she gets accused of double standards over ‘sacking’ of Government aide Alberto Costa

Theresa May has been accused of “double standards” by sacking of a Government aide for demanding Mrs May seeks a treaty on citizens’ rights while allowing members of her Cabinet to speak out against her. Alberto Costa, a Parliamentary Private Secretary to Scotland secretary David Mundell, was forced to resign on Tuesday after he published an amendment supporting citizens’ rights regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations. Mrs May’s press spokesman insisted that Mr Costa had “resigned” even though the amendment to a motion on the Brexit talks was later accepted by the Government. However Mr Costa’s friends made clear that he was forced to quit at a meeting with whips before Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday. Mr Costa then met Mrs May afterwards. One source said:  “Yes Alberto was sacked … he was told to resign by the whips just before PMQs. They constantly asked him ‘can we accept your resignation?’. There are secretaries of state that are openly writing in national newspapers, breaching collective responsibility, yet Alberto as a lowly PPS put forward a non-contentious amendment which has been signed by over 140 MPs. It is ridiculous. There are obviously double standards.” – Telegraph (£)

  • Alberto Costa forced to quit government after backing EU citizens’ rights – The Times (£)

Jacob Rees-Mogg says a short postponement of Brexit could be ‘the price we have to pay to get out properly’…

Jacob Rees-Mogg threw the Prime Minister a lifeline yesterday by indicating that Brexiteer Tory MPs could be ready to drop their opposition to her Brexit deal. The senior backbencher suggested that his 80-strong European Research Group (ERG) of MPs might accept an “appendix” to be attached to her Withdrawal Agreement setting out legal guarantees that the UK will not be indefinitely trapped in a customs union with the EU. Mr Rees-Mogg insisted that the appendix must have “equal” legal force to the original 585-page document setting out the agreement. He also indicated is willingness to accept a possible three-month delay to Brexit in the hope of getting a better deal. Postponing the departure day currently set for March 29 could be “the price we have to pay to get out properly”, he said. His remarks marked a significant shift from the ERG’s initial position of demanding that the “backstop” proposals for keeping the Northern Irish border free of customs checks should be ripped out of the document. They raised hopes among ministers that the Prime Minister could win a Commons vote to approve her revamped deal within the next fortnight. – Express

…as Tory eurosceptics assemble a panel of eight lawyers to judge whether ‘Cox’s codpiece’ cuts the mustard

Following the passing of the Brady amendment in January, the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox QC, is currently engaged in talks with the EU in search of a legal change that will ensure the Northern Ireland backstop cannot endure indefinitely – what some have termed ‘Cox’s codpiece’. And the fate of the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal – when it is put to another meaningful vote within the next fortnight – is likely to hinge on whether what he brings back from Brussels cuts the mustard with Brexiteers on the government backbenches. So I can reveal today that as they await a breakthrough in the talks, Tory eurosceptics have assembled a panel of eight lawyers – seven of whom are serving MPs – to examine forensically whatever proposal is forthcoming and judge whether it makes the deal acceptable. – BrexitCentral

Emmanuel Macron throws doubt on May’s Brexit delay plan

Emmanuel Macron has warned that France may not agree to a delay to Brexit unless Theresa May makes it clear she needs the extra time to embark on a completely new strategy. The British prime minister announced on Tuesday that if the House of Commons votes down her deal, she will give it the option of halting a no-deal exit and seeking an extension of the Article 50 exit process. But, speaking next to German chancellor Angela Merkel at an Elysée palace press conference, the French president said a delay might not be accepted by France “without a clear understanding of the aim that’s being pursued”, suggesting he would not tolerate another three months of haggling over the same deal. Mr Macron added: “If the British need more time, we will be able to examine a request for an extension if it’s justified by new choices on the part of the British.” Ms Merkel struck a softer tone, saying: “If Britain needs more time we will not say no. “We want an orderly exit of the UK from the EU.” – FT (£)

  • France would block Article 50 extension ‘without a clear objective’, Macron says – Independent
  • Macron: We need a ‘clear’ reason to grant Brexit extension – Politico

Labour Party formally backs new Brexit referendum…

Jeremy Corbyn has said that his opposition Labour party will formally back a new Brexit referendum after its own plan for the UK leaving the EU, including permanent membership of the European customs union, failed in a parliamentary vote. “We will back a public vote in order to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit or a disastrous no-deal outcome,” Mr Corbyn said on Wednesday night. John McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, told ITV that Labour would back a second referendum amendment when Theresa May presents her revised Brexit deal to MPs, which she has promised to do by March 12. Mr Corbyn, however, in a move likely to frustrate Europhile Labour MPs, added that he would “continue to push” for other options, including Labour’s Brexit plan and a general election. Labour’s plan failed by 323 votes to 240 in a House of Commons vote on Wednesday. The party had indicated this was the last step before it moved to supporting a second referendum. Mr Corbyn, a lifelong Eurosceptic, has long been more resistant to the idea than other Labour MPs, including Keir Starmer, the shadow Brexit secretary. He only agreed to the change in policy after eight pro-EU MPs resigned from the party. – FT (£)

  • Jeremy Corbyn confirms Labour will back second referendum as MPs reject his Brexit vision – ITV News

…with John McDonnell explaining the plans for a new vote

Labour will table its second referendum proposal within a fortnight, John McDonnell said last night. The party’s own plan for a softer Brexit including a customs union with the EU was defeated once more in a Commons vote yesterday. Jeremy Corbyn issued an ambiguous statement in response to the defeat, saying that Labour would back a new EU referendum but also that the party would continue to push for other plans to stop Theresa May’s Brexit deal or a no-deal departure. Mr McDonnell, the shadow chancellor, moved to clarify Labour’s plans, telling ITV’s Peston: “When the meaningful vote comes back, and we are told maybe that might be on March 12, there are rumours today that it could be next week, we will see — that’s the time when we will have to put the amendment up.” But he added: “We are still going to argue that we want a general election, we are still going to argue we think our deal that we have put up was the best option. But we realise . . . we have got to break this deadlock.” Mr Corbyn’s proposals for a customs union with the EU and close alignment to the single market were defeated by 323 votes to 240. – The Times (£)

  • Labour to push for second Brexit referendum after meaningful vote, says John McDonnell – ITV News

May woos Labour MPs to back her deal with cash and easier strikes

Greg Clark is poised to make it easier for unions to strike as he steps up efforts to woo Labour MPs to back Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Ministers have long resisted a union demand to allow ballots on industrial action by email or text, claiming that they risk being hacked. Unions complain that requirements on postal ballots together with higher turnout thresholds introduced two years ago unfairly limit their capacity to win enough backing to call workers out on strike. Labour MPs in talks with the government over their possible support for the Brexit deal say that Mr Clark, the business secretary, has promised he will introduce electronic balloting. Last night, the department for business, energy and industrial strategy (BEIS) confirmed that it was preparing to hold a long-delayed consultation on the issue. However, the concession does not appear to have been sanctioned by Downing Street. Mrs May’s allies insisted that it did not form part of a package of measures she was preparing to roll out aimed at persuading Labour MPs to vote for her Brexit deal. – The Times (£)

WTO agrees to keep Britain in government procurement deal

British companies will retain access to auctions for public contracts worth £1.3 trillion each year post-Brexit after the country’s future within an international accord was approved. Ministers welcomed “an important win” in Geneva this morning as nations backed the UK’s formal accession to the government procurement agreement (GPA) once it has left the European Union. It means that British businesses looking to bid for government contracts in nations from the United States to Ukraine will not be locked out of auctions if there is a no-deal Brexit. The UK’s Department for International Trade warned that it could take up to a month for access to the GPA to take legal effect but it insisted that disruption would likely be minimal for companies. The GPA, which dates back to 1981, is a World Trade Organisation (WTO) pact designed to regulate procurement of contracts for public projects and ensure that they are open to foreign competition. Its 47 members include Japan, South Korea, Canada and EU states. – The Times (£)

World’s biggest wealth fund piles billions of pounds into Britain after taking 30-year bet that UK economy will be stronger after Brexit

Norway’s £740 billion sovereign wealth fund announced it will continue to invest in Britain despite uncertainty over the country’s departure from the EU.  The fund – which is the world’s biggest – takes a percentage of oil and has revenues and invests it around the world. Last year, 8.5 per cent of the fund was invested in Britain – spread across equities, bonds and real estate. The fund’s CEO Yngve Slyngstad said: ‘We will continue to be significant’ investors in Britain. He added: ‘And we foresee that over time that our investments in the UK will increase.’ However, the fund’s British investments declined in value over the past 12 months. He said: ‘With our time horizon, which is 30 years plus, current political discussions do not change our view of the situation.’ Even so, Britain’s share of the fund’s portfolio slipped below Japan’s to third from its usual spot in second behind the United States. Slyngstad said the dip was caused by a strengthening of the yen against the pound. – Daily Mail

  • World’s top wealth fund puts billions into Britain – The Times (£)

Jailed MP Fiona Onasanya failed to show up for Brexit votes on first day of freedom

Disgraced MP Fiona Onasanya risked infuriating her constituents by skipping a string of Brexit votes on her first full day of freedom. She was released from prison on Tuesday after spending just 28 days behind bars for lying to dodge a speeding ticket. The Peterborough MP had been expected to show up at Parliament to vote with her electronic ankle tag on in order to delay Brexit. But she risked the fury of her local voters by not showing up for any of the votes – leaving her nearly 73,000 constituents voiceless. Onasanya, 35, was sentenced to three months behind bars at the Old Bailey after being convicted of perverting the course of justice by lying to avoid a speeding charge. But she was set free after just four weeks. She was booted out of Labour after her conviction, but has refused to quit her parliamentary seat and its lucrative £76,000-a-year salary. She has stubbornly refused to stand down – despite demands from her constituents and ex party. Writing for her local paper after she was found guilty, she said: “While it has been a successful year fighting back against these injustices, there is still much more to be done, and you can rest assured that I will continue to do so as your representative in the corridors of power.” – The Sun

Duke of Cambridge joins Queen in appealing for unity

The Duke of Cambridge has praised community workers in Northern Ireland as a role model for a Britain at a time of deep divisions over Brexit. In a speech at the Empire Music Hall in Belfast, he said that the example of those who “come together in times of trouble” was “a lesson I hope many of us can learn from”. While the duke did not mention Brexit by name and was at pains not to make a political intervention, his words were seen as following on from the Queen’s pleas to find “common ground” in a speech at the Women’s Institute in Sandringham last month. The duke’s speech also resonated in Northern Ireland, which has been without an assembly or power-sharing executive since 2017 because of divisions between Sinn Fein and the DUP. He said: “From using sport to encourage people to talk openly about mental health to delivering services to children and young people who are at risk of entering care or custody, the work you do transcends community divisions and is helping deliver a brighter future for everybody in Northern Ireland.” – The Times (£)

Richard Tice and John Longworth: Now is not the time for Brexiteers to go soft on the PM’s shoddy deal

More than ever, our MPs must be brave and hold out for what is right. This is no time for Brexiteers to go soft. What is right is what the majority of people voted for – that is the essence of democracy. What is right is what is in the long term economic and business interests of the UK. There is no question that an extension of Article 50, engineered by the government or Parliament, will be seen as a betrayal of Brexit, a betrayal of one of the largest democratic plebiscites and one in which two thirds of UK constituencies (nearly three quarters of those in England and Wales) voted to leave the EU. Note that when they voted to leave, no mention was made of a deal, let alone “a close and special relationship”. There is also no doubt that MPs voting for a very bad deal indeed will be seen to be supporting Brexit in name only (BRINO) and recognised as betraying the country. As is so often the case, the British people are streets ahead of their Parliamentary overlords. Up and down the country, people are saying “let’s get on with it”, “just leave” – Leavers and former Remainers alike. They have no fear of a so called “no deal Brexit”. They know that Project Fear is nonsense, promulgated by those in whose narrow, vested interests it is to maintain the status quo. People want change and are prepared to take the risk. So do business owners, as exemplified by the more than 250 entrepreneurs who signed the recent statement from the Alliance of British Entrepreneurs and Leave Means Leave calling for a managed no deal exit. – Richard Tice and John Longworth for the Telegraph (£)

Robert Halfon: Why, despite all its imperfections, I’m voting for Theresa May’s Brexit deal

A couple of weeks ago, I was enjoying a coffee when a waitress came over and asked for my advice. She and her husband had just bought a house and were worried the uncertainty of Brexit would mean they couldn’t pay their mortgage. I realised that these kinds of conversations are going on up and down the country. People are now facing genuine anxiety about how Brexit will affect them, their families and their country. Small and medium-sized businesses from my constituency have been getting in touch as well. All of them have expressed concern about the impact that uncertainty and the possibility of a no-deal Brexit is having on the future of their investment, workforce and trade. Bigger businesses may be able to weather the storm but smaller ones do not have the same margins and buffers. For these reasons, I have come to the conclusion that, whatever the imperfections of the Prime Minister’s deal, I have to vote for it. I did vote against it the first time because of reservations about Britain drowning in EU bureaucracy without a vote, a voice or a veto. I was also wary about Northern Ireland being in a different regulatory regime, which, to me, seemed to weaken our Union. – Robert Halfon MP for the Telegraph (£)

Henry Newman: The Prime Minister must use Brexit deal to give Britain a new start… then she May go

Brexit is at risk. It’s under attack from all sides. Jeremy Corbyn is offering Parliament a path to overturn the referendum through a so-called People’s Vote. A cross-party group of MPs are desperate to postpone Brexit. And passionate Eurosceptics risk ­letting the perfect be the enemy of the good. Ever since the Prime Minister lost the Conservative majority in June 2017, it has been squeaky bum time for Brexiteers. If we are not careful we could lose Brexit altogether, with a long extension leading to eventual reversal. That would be a democratic disaster. Yes, this Government has made a catalogue of errors from triggering Article 50 with no plan, to letting Brussels decide the sequencing of Brexit talks. But at this stage, with the clock ticking towards midnight, there is no time for “coulda woulda shoulda” about what went wrong when. Sun readers knew all along that in a negotiation there’s always give and take. You can’t get everything you want. And although the Prime Minister’s deal has flaws, it’s actually far better than many critics will admit. Those same critics can also be wildly unrealistic about the actual alternatives on offer now. The most likely alternative is in fact a far softer Brexit, which leaves Britain with less not more control. – Henry Newman for The Sun

John Redwood: Delay and the European Parliamentary elections

I see no point in delaying our exit from the EU. I have never understood why we would be able to strike a good deal after March 29 if we were unable to strike a good deal in the 2 years 9 months of delay so far in implementing the decision of UK voters. Leave voters expect Parliament to implement the decision, not to seek out ways to undermine , delay or cancel it. Yesterday the President of France and the Prime Minister of Spain both seemed opposed to the idea of delay in Brexit. France might consider it if the UK had changed her mind about leaving and now wanted a second referendum. Mrs May rightly continues to rule that out. Neither favoured a delay or further negotiations about the draft Withdrawal Agreement.  Spain like Ireland strongly believes the Irish backstop has to stay in place unless and until both the EU and the UK agree it can be removed. There is a general briefing line coming out of Brussels that any delay could not be longer than two to three months anyway. They argue that the UK will cease to be represented in the European Parliament from 2 July when the newly elected Parliament takes over. The UK is not planning to field candidates, and the EU has decided to redistribute some of the UK seats to other countries and to abolish the remainder. If the UK is not in the Parliament it cannot legally be a member of the EU as it is no longer represented in the body that is an important co legislator with the Council, responding to the agenda and draft laws of the Commission. – John Redwood’s Diary

Asa Bennett: The fate of Theresa May’s deal – and Brexit itself – is now in the hands of Geoffrey Cox

Theresa May deflated today’s potential for Brexit drama (notwithstanding the Government’s flap over an amendment protecting EU citizens’ rights in the event of a no-deal Brexit) with a promise to hold votes on whether to proceed to no deal or delay Brexit in the event her own deal is defeated. That leaves the Prime Minister with just under a fortnight to improve her deal to enough of an extent that it can be passed by Parliament. Jacob Rees-Mogg, tribune of the Tory backbench Brexiteers, has been garnering a lot of attention for the softer tone he has been striking about how much needs to change over the backstop to make the deal acceptable. After declaring last month that he would not vote for the deal “as long as that backstop is there”, the ERG chairman is now arguing that he would be “quite happy with an appendix”. Usefully for the Government, he has indicated that they do not necessarily have to reopen the withdrawal treaty text for him to be happy. However, Mr Rees-Mogg and his fellow Brexiteers are adamant that whatever the Attorney General hammers out needs to be just as legally robust. The DUP has stuck to this line, as shown by Nigel Dodds popping up at PMQs today to demand “legally-binding changes” to the backstop (rather than it being binned altogether). – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Tom Tugendhat: British values will still have global appeal after Brexit

As the chair of the Foreign Affairs Committee, I’ve been doing something a bit differently. We’ve been taking the committee around the country – not just around the world. We’ve been listening to find out what people want from a global Britain. We’ve been hearing what people say about our place in the world and trying to understand different perspectives. And seeing what we can do to deliver them. Unless Britain’s policies can be viewed through the eyes of those who have asked us to deliver, how can we know if they’re working? As Conservatives, we’re not afraid of government. We know government has its place. We know it builds on the essential building blocks of society: on families; on communities; on businesses. So that’s exactly who we listen to on these trips. And we hear from them their perspectives. On travel, on trade and on engagement. We’re not afraid of international organisations either. We know they have a place and a role. But just as the country is built on associations and on families, international organisations are accountable to nation states. The nation is the accountable unit. Not the multinational body. And that’s why even though we are leaving the EU we are not leaving the community of Europe and our values and aspirations will continue to be shared across Europe. Working together, we will make sure that we contribute to each other’s prosperity. – Tom Tugendhat MP for the Yorkshire Post

Rod Liddle: Remainers warn of kebab shortages and incurable STDs after a No Deal but it’s all lies – they just want to stop Brexit

So – with every long day that passes the UK is shunted closer and closer to a Brexit deal which is a travesty of what we meant by “Leave”. Or towards a second referendum. Or a delay in leaving altogether. You can tell what side the House of Commons is on, can’t you? The one thing slipping away from our grasp is “No Deal”. They won’t let it happen. The Commons would vote against that by a majority of two to one. And yet that is what we meant when we voted Leave. For months now the Remainer politicians and the BBC have been telling us about all sorts of disasters that will befall us if we leave with no deal. The Beeb even managed to dig up a kebab shop owner in Gloucester who reckons people aren’t buying his kebabs because they fear a No Deal Brexit. Yeah, I can just imagine. You’re walking along and think: “Oooh, I really fancy a nice doner kebab. Bit of chilli sauce and a crisp salad. But hang on a minute, what about Brexit? Oh well, better have a cheeseburger instead, then.” I mean, WTF? We’ve been told we’ll all have incurable venereal disease if we leave the EU with no deal. Nope, not kidding. That report came from the Evening Standard. There will be no Mars bars. Planes will fail to take off. Perhaps they will drop out of the sky too because the laws of physics will no longer work. – Rod Liddle for The Sun

Brexit in Brief

  • The voluntary party must now save us from ourselves – Mark Francois MP for ConservativeHome
  • The Guardian’s anti-Brexit fake news – Matt Kilcoyne for Spiked
  • The PM must now break free from the enemies of Brexit – Tim Newark for the Express
  • May and Corbyn have failed us on Brexit again. MPs must back a people’s vote – Anna Soubry MP for the Guardian
  • Dalata ready to take challenge of Brexit in its stride – The Times (£)