Theresa May faces mounting pressure from all sides to publish Brexit legal advice: Brexit News for Thursday 8th November

Theresa May faces mounting pressure from all sides to publish Brexit legal advice: Brexit News for Thursday 8th November

Theresa May faces mounting pressure from all sides to publish Brexit legal advice…

Theresa May is facing mounting pressure from Cabinet ministers, Eurosceptic Tory MPs, the DUP and Labour to publish legal advice on her Brexit deal amid fears it will leave the UK permanently tied to the European Union. Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, has led calls in Government for full legal advice on plans for a customs backstop to be shared with ministers so they can make an informed decision about the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal. Cabinet ministers were invited to the Cabinet Office on Wednesday afternoon to view a draft version of a proposed Brexit withdrawal agreement. Downing Street had hoped to call a Cabinet meeting on Thursday or Friday to agree to the proposed deal, but The Telegraph understands that the demands to see the legal advice have forced the Prime Minister to delay the meeting, which is now likely to happen next week. – Telegraph (£)

  • May’s secret legal advice on Brexit should be published before MPs vote on any deal, Labour urges – Huffington Post
  • Conservative Brexiteers in pact with Labour to force Theresa May to print Brexit legal advice on Irish border backstop – The Sun
  • May attacked Blair and Brown for not releasing Iraq War legal advice – Guido Fawkes

…including the Government’s allies in the DUP

The Democratic Unionist Party has demanded Theresa May publish the legal advice she received on her proposed Irish backstop. Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, the DUP’s chief whip in Westminster, said: “It affects the whole of the UK. It’s in the public interest that we understand fully what is happening.” He added the DUP would vote down a Brexit deal by Mrs May which would not be good for the UK or threatened to effectively “annex” Northern Ireland… Sir Jeffrey said the British public should be able to see the legal guidance. “We’ve had that commitment already from the government, that they will tell us what the legal advice they have is in relation to the backstop,” he told BBC Radio 4’s Today Programme. – Telegraph (£)

> LISTEN on BrexitCentral’s YouTube channel: DUP Chief Whip Sir Jeffrey Donaldson on the Today programme

Cabinet invited to inspect proposed Brexit withdrawal agreement…

Theresa May appears to be edging closer to a Brexit deal after she showed Cabinet ministers a draft of a withdrawal agreement she intends to put to Brussels. Mrs May hopes they will rubber-stamp the proposal at a special Cabinet meeting in the next few days, but her plans have been delayed by ministers demanding to see the full legal advice on which it is based. Ministers were invited to the Cabinet Office on Wednesday to read a copy of the proposed withdrawal agreement, though it does not yet contain final details on how the final deal will avoid a hard border in Northern Ireland. – Telegraph (£)

…but the latest crunch Cabinet meeting has been delayed…

A crucial cabinet meeting to agree the UK’s Brexit negotiating position has been pushed back from Thursday to the weekend or early next week amid a row over whether to provide the full legal advice on the backstop to senior ministers. Some ministers had believed the cabinet could have met late on Thursday afternoon to sign off Theresa May’s Brexit plan but No 10 indicated that the crunch meeting would not now take place on Thursday or Friday. Downing Street insisted late on Wednesday that the meeting had not been delayed, although ministers abroad such as Greg Clark, the business secretary who is in Japan, and Sajid Javid, the home secretary who is in Seattle, were ready to fly back at short notice. Brexiters in the cabinet have been keen to see the entire legal advice, particularly if they were to sign up to a customs backstop to avoid a hard border in Ireland that could only be ended by mutual agreement with the European Union at the crunch meeting. – Guardian

…as Cabinet Brexiteers express fear of ‘Single Market by the backdoor’

Cabinet ministers have told Theresa May that her Brexit deal must not mean that Britain remains in the single market “by the backdoor” by signing up to last-minute concessions to the EU. Ministers are increasingly concerned that Mrs May is about to announce that Britain will be forced to stick with EU rules on state aid, workers’ rights and the environment. Whitehall sources said that this was the price the EU was understood to be seeking to allow a customs agreement as part of the Northern Ireland backstop, the insurance policy to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Cabinet ministers are pushing Mrs May to clarify the position after she told the cabinet on Tuesday to expect a “UK-wide level playing field”. Some EU countries are demanding the changes because they want to maintain a “level playing field” with the UK after Brexit to ensure that Britain cannot benefit from a customs union without the obligations the rest of the 27 must follow. – The Times (£)

Little hope of reaching Brexit deal this month, warns Leo Varadkar…

Leo Varadkar has warned that the chances of sealing a deal this month on Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union are fading. The Taoiseach, speaking in Helsinki yesterday, where he was attending a two-day congress of the European People’s Party, said slippage into next year would be unhelpful. EU leaders had pencilled in a summit for the middle of this month to sign off on the withdrawal deal but talks remain deadlocked over the backstop, the mechanism which guarantees there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland in the period after Brexit but before any final trade deal is settled. “I do think that, with every day that passes, the possibility of having a special summit in November becomes less likely,” Mr Varadkar said after meeting Juha Sipila, Finland’s prime minister. However, he said that a summit was scheduled for December 13 and 14 “so not getting it done in November doesn’t mean we can’t get it done in the first two weeks of December. But I think beyond that you’re into the new year, which I think wouldn’t be a good thing.” – The Times (£)

…while Theresa May appeals to Angela Merkel in final push for a deal

Theresa May has appealed for Angela Merkel’s help to seal a Brexit divorce deal. The prime minister called the German chancellor last night as negotiations over how to avoid a hard border in Ireland intensified. As Downing Street works to beat a deadline of next Monday to trigger a deal-making summit later this month, cabinet ministers were called in this afternoon to view parts of the withdrawal agreement. Mrs May has put her cabinet on standby as she seeks approval for another round of concessions that she hopes will seal the divorce deal this weekend. She has spoken to Mrs Merkel and Donald Tusk, president of the European council, as negotiators seek to clear the last sticking points. Mrs May will see President Macron of France on Friday. Although their lunch in Albert, Normandy, is part of the Armistice centenary commemorations the meeting will enable a discussion on Brexit. – The Times (£)

  • May calls Merkel to help seal Brexit deal by Christmas – Express

Jacob Rees-Mogg slams PM’s customs union plan amid claims it could spark a backbench rebellion

Senior Brexiteers have claimed Theresa May’s plan to farm out a decision on when Britain can leave the customs union is swelling a backbench rebellion against her. A joint arbitration mechanism on how to end the UK’s participation in the Irish backstop is being drawn up by No10 and EU officials in Brussels to break a talks deadlock. Ireland and the EU refused the PM’s initial demand that the UK be allowed to walk out of the arrangement to keep the border open after a set period of time if no trade deal is done. But Jacob Rees-Mogg branded the compromise mechanism – that is likely to involve a joint committee – “a betrayal of the Brexit vote”. And as word of it spreads among backbench Tory MPs, the boss of the hardline European Research Group said it was acting as a recruiting tool to bolster his 40-strong alliance of backbenchers who have vowed to vote down Mrs May’s softer Brexit deal. Mr Rees Mogg told The Sun: “It is completely absurd. Brexit means we can already leave the Customs Union when we want to, why should we give that up? It is a breach of faith with the electorate to stay in it under the authority of a third party.” – The Sun

Jeremy Hunt to tell the French (in French) why Brexit will not destroy Anglo-French relations

Jeremy Hunt will attempt to overcome the awkward coincidence of Brexit and the centenary of the Armistice marking the Anglo-French victory in the first world war by claiming relations between the two countries are bigger than Brexit. Speaking in French on a visit to Paris on Thursday, the British foreign secretary will say the UK and France will remain “tied by bonds of friendship and commerce for decades to come”. The first world war marked the moment the fate of the British and the French became yoked together, Hunt will say. But his speech on Thursday and the Armistice Day commemorations in Paris and London on Sunday come days before the UK cabinet is expected to finally meet to agree on the terms of the British withdrawal from the EU. The French president, Emmanuel Macron, has been drawing sharply different lessons from the first world war, arguing it reveals the importance of fighting narrow-minded nationalist solutions to contemporary problems, a theme he is making central to his European parliament election campaign next year. He has likened the period to the 1920s when populist demagogues started to seize power. – Guardian

  • Jeremy Hunt to hail ‘bond of friendship’ with France – BBC News
  • Security warning over fragile ties with France – The Times (£)

Sir Keir Starmer claims Theresa May is ‘bluffing’ about no-deal Brexit and would not go through with it

Theresa May is “bluffing” about a no deal and would not take Britain over the cliff edge if her agreement with Brussels was rejected by MPs, Labour’s Brexit chief has said. Speaking to The Independent on a visit to Brussels Keir Starmer said no-deal was simply not a “viable” option for any British prime minister and that he simply did not believe Ms May would lead the UK into such a catastrophe. “I have never accepted that no deal is a viable option. The consequences of no deal would be catastrophic for jobs, the economy and for the border in Northern Ireland,” he said while visiting EU officials in the Belgian capital. “I honestly don’t believe any prime minister would seriously consider taking the decision to crash the UK out of the EU without an agreement. The no-deal rhetoric from the government is a bluff and we shouldn’t fall for it.” Under the Withdrawal Act the prime minister will have to face a vote in parliament about what to do if her deal is rejected; Labour sources indicated that they are confident there would be no majority in the Commons for a no deal. – Independent

  • Labour will vote down any ‘blind Brexit’ deal, Starmer warns – Politico
  • Labour’s Keir Starmer heads to Brussels with threat to vote down Brexit deal – Express

> LISTEN on BrexitCentral’s YouTube channel: Sir Keir Starmer on the Today programme

Britain boycotts EU aid spending in protest at Brussels bullying over Brexit

Britain has boycotted an EU aid spending plan vote over Brussels’ Brexit bullying. It accused the European Commission of discriminating against UK based organisations over Brexit, and refused to endorse the billions of pounds of spending. The UK declined to give support for the first time in a vote among the 28 member states on the £25.6billion fund, The Guardian revealed. In a statement it said that it was “still waiting for a response” to concerns over how projects will be funded after we leave. Earlier this year the Commission said they would terminate clauses with aid providers if there were to be a No Deal Brexit. Several British organisations and charities have already been warned that unless they can commit to securing the gaps in funding if we leave unexpectedly with no arrangement, they shouldn’t even apply for funds at all. – The Sun

Scottish Parliament backs second EU referendum in vote exposing SNP and Labour divisions

The Scottish Parliament has backed a second EU referendum in a symbolic vote that exposed divisions in Labour and the SNP on the issue. Holyrood voted by a margin of 65 to 30 in favour of an amendment backing another referendum on the final Brexit deal, making it the first parliament in the UK to support the move. The majority of Nationalist MSPs supported the plan, along with the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and two rebel Labour members. But Kenny Gibson, a senior SNP backbencher, voted with the Tories to oppose a second referendum. Linda Fabiani, another long-serving Nationalist, abstained. Fourteen MSPs failed to vote including Alex Neil, the former Health Minister, who is the only Nationalist member to publicly admit he voted for Brexit. Most Scottish Labour MSPs abstained but Kezia Dugdale, the party’s former leader, and Daniel Johnson both defied the whip to back another referendum. – Telegraph (£)

  • Scottish Parliament backs People’s Vote on final Brexit deal in ‘momentous’ decision – Evening Standard
  • Holyrood backs second referendum over Brexit – The Times (£)

Theresa May’s national security meetings repeatedly cancelled after Government became ‘consumed’ by Brexit

Theresa May’s government has been forced to cancel crucial meetings of its National Security Council because it has become “consumed” by Brexit, her former national security adviser has told Business Insider. Sir Mark Lyall Grant, who was the national security advisor to the prime minister until April last year, told Business Insider that meetings of the National Security Council were repeatedly put on hold due to Britain’s exit from the EU. “Theresa May was very clear that she wanted to continue meetings of the National Security Council on a regular basis [after the EU referendum] but there began to be more disruption,” he said. “Meetings were cancelled at the last minute because there had to be another meeting on Brexit,” he said. The National Security Council, which is chaired by the prime minister, meets in order to discuss how to deliver the government’s national security objectives, including its response to terrorist attacks and other external threats. – Business Insider

  • Theresa May cancelled crucial national security meetings because her government became ‘consumed’ by Brexit – The Sun

Tony Blair still thinks Brexit can be stopped

The former leader of the United Kingdom, Tony Blair, has told an audience in Lisbon that there is still time to stop a Brexit that will only either be “pointless or painful.” Britain is due to leave the European Union in less than five months, although negotiators representing Britain and the EU have so far failed to agree the terms of withdrawal. Blair has long opposed Britain’s departure from the economic and political bloc and told a Web Summit 2018 audience on Wednesday “up to the very end, I am going to do everything I possibly can to stop it.” The former leader, who led the Labour party which is now in opposition, then outlined how he saw Brexit failing. First, Blair claimed that U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May’s deal is going to lead to a parliamentary defeat and that then would trigger either a General Election, a fresh Brexit referendum, or a “no deal” where the U.K. crashes out of the EU and reverts to WTO rules for trade. Dismissing the last option, Blair then claimed the ruling Conservative Party would be “suicidal” to go the polls. – CNBC

  • Tony Blair promises to stop Brexit – ‘I will do everything to end it’ – Express
  • Tony Blair says he’s 100% committed to bringing down Brexit and vows to fight ‘to the very end’ – The Sun

Asa Bennett: Staying in her bunker and ignoring Boris will not save Mrs May from the Brexiteer threat

Boris Johnson is keeping up his fight against the constant concessions coming from Theresa May in pursuit of her Brexit deal. That “appalling deal”, he warned in his latest fusillade over the weekend, is set to be an “absolute stinker” Parliament should promptly reject. Mrs May could have stuck up for how she has handled the negotiations in a robust response to her former foreign secretary’s critique. Instead, she has opted for her favoured response of staying in her bunker. Her spokesman made clear to reporters that they would not comment, while Matt Hancock was sent out to insist that “it doesn’t matter what rhetoric you use” because “there isn’t another deal on the table”. Downing Street is still trying to woo Tory Brexiteers, with officials keen to show how seriously Mrs May takes their concerns, so they are not helping themselves by blithely dismissing one of the most vociferous Leavers. – Asa Bennett for Telegraph (£)

James Forsyth: Brexit is served – and neither option is palatable

When the Lisbon Treaty was signed in 2007, the inclusion of Article 50 was hailed as a concession to British Eurosceptics. For the first time there was an exit clause: a clear, legal way for a country to leave the European Union. Whatever concerns Britain had about the federalist direction of the EU, it was now at least enshrined in treaty that this country had a right to get out should MPs vote for it to do so. It was intended as a reassurance that the United Kingdom had the sovereign right to leave the EU if it wanted to. What worries cabinet members about the current Brexit plan is there is no clear exit clause. – James Forsyth for The Spectator

Rebecca Ryan: Brexiteers are being betrayed by No 10’s strategy

Brexiteers are up in arms. After a hard-fought referendum in 2016, not to mention a gruelling and unnecessary general election the following year, many of us believed that, finally, Brexit would be happening. The past 18 months, therefore, have been deeply disappointing. It feels like a betrayal. Not just of tens of thousands of dedicated and passionate Conservative activists, but of the 17.4 million voters who put their trust in our democracy — and my party. The nation spoke. It expected its voice to be heard, its instructions to be heeded. Now, all of us who believe so strongly in Brexit — a full, proper Brexit, which takes back control of our laws, our money and our borders — are finding ourselves ignored. Red line after red line has been blurred and obfuscated; buffed and washed away. We’ve lost many of our most talented Brexit-backing ministers. The government has been hollowed out — Theresa May’s Chequers plan, devised by a small coterie of advisers and civil servants in Number 10, saw to that. – Rebecca Ryan for The Times (£)

Graham Gudgin: Are we inching nearer to an escape from the Northern Ireland backstop?

As predicted in Policy Exchange’s recent research note, The Irish Border and the Principle of Consent, the Government seems largely to be getting its way in proposing to use a pan-UK customs union to provide the backstop demanded by Irish Government and the EU. It was reported earlier this week that a 50 page paper would be shown to the Cabinet yesterday, part of which would propose a customs union between the UK and EU. It contains a get-out clause, we are told, and legal certainty would be provided by including these proposals in the EU Withdrawal Agreement. Elements might remain from the dramatic backstop described in this year’s Draft Withdrawal Agreement, but these may be too mild to frighten the DUP horses. – Graham Gudgin for ConservativeHome

Becky Boumelha: A vote with May on Brexit is a vote for the few – and four more Tory years

It’s crunch time. After two years of backroom deals, faux Tory rebellions, pizza plotting and dull political theatre that turns most of the country off, Theresa May is finally on the edge of agreeing a Brexit deal she can present to parliament. Whenever it comes, we know her hands are tied. Whether she goes for a hard Brexit that gives up full access to the single market and the customs union, or instead opts for some form of customs union and no hard border in Ireland, her precarious DUP-enabled majority can’t deliver either. Between her irrevocably split backbenchers and the hardline DUP she cannot get a majority for any kind of Brexit deal. This means she needs the votes of at least some Labour MPs. We already saw this dynamic play out in July when May successfully wooed four – Frank Field, Kate Hoey, John Mann and Graham Stringer – to scrape through her customs bills. Without them the government would have faced a major crisis with a vote of no confidence and a general election on the cards. Such an opportunity cannot be missed again. The vote on the Brexit deal in parliament will be seismic. That’s why Momentum consulted our members to get a steer on what they thought. Our findings? Ninety-two per cent of members want every single Labour MP to vote down a Tory Brexit deal if it fails the party’s six tests. – Becky Boumelha of Momentum for the Guardian

Andrew Grice: Now we know how Theresa May plans to sell her Brexit deal, we’re closer than ever to an agreement

Stand by for the hard sell of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. True, there isn’t an agreement yet. Sources in Brussels tell me that the EU will not be bounced into accepting May’s latest proposal on how to avoid a hard border in Ireland. But the prime minister made significant progress on Tuesday in persuading her cabinet to swallow its doubts about her plan. She is using the rising prospect of a chaotic no-deal scenario next March to pressurise her ministers and the EU to support her blueprint. May will do the same when she faces her biggest Brexit hurdle: selling her deal to parliament, which has to approve it. A leaked document provides an insight into the government’s thinking. “Historic moment, put your own interests aside, put the country’s interest first and back this deal,” it said, in a section on the critical Commons vote. Downing Street dismissed the leak, insisting this is not the government’s communications plan – but it didn’t do a Donald Trump and claim that it was fake. – Andrew Grice for the Independent

Dominic Walsh: The backstop must be temporary. It can’t just be a bridge to… itself

The negotiations on the Brexit Withdrawal Agreement are now entering a critical stage. The overwhelming focus of the negotiators is the Northern Ireland backstop, which has effectively been the sole obstacle to a deal for months. If a compromise cannot be reached, a No Deal Brexit – with all the attendant negative consequences for both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland – is the most likely outcome. Open Europe’s new paper, Resetting the Backstop, explores how the impasse over the backstop came about, and considers the possible ways ahead to a deal. We argue that while a strict time-limit would be neither negotiable nor desirable, any backstop arrangement must be temporary – a position recently backed by Charlie Falconer, Labour’s former Lord Chancellor. Recent news reports have also hinted at movement in this direction from the negotiators. While the UK appears to have conceded that the backstop cannot have a strict time-limit, there have also been welcome signs of acceptance from the EU that, in principle at least, the backstop cannot apply in perpetuity. – Dominic Walsh for ConservativeHome

Brexit in Brief

  • David Cameron breaks silence on Theresa May’s Brexit plan as he’s spotted outside No10 – Express
  • Councils warn of ‘economic shocks’ from no-deal Brexit – Politico
  • France takes steps to prepare for Brexit with new checks at the Channel Tunnel – ITV News
  • Macron’s grand plan for EU army will focus on ‘climate crises’ claims minister – Express
  • The Pound’s pain may finally be coming to an end – Bloomberg
  • Health groups warn Brexit drugs supply risk at code ‘red’ – Politico
  • Scotland’s plot to reverse Brexit heard in top European court – Express
  • EU migrants aged between 18 and 30 will be able to come to Britain under post-Brexit visa scheme – Telegraph (£)