Theresa May pins hopes on a last-minute EU offer on Brexit to secure support for her deal: Brexit News for Tuesday 08 January

Theresa May pins hopes on a last-minute EU offer on Brexit to secure support for her deal: Brexit News for Tuesday 08 January
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Theresa May pins hopes on a last-minute EU offer on Brexit to secure support for her deal…

Theresa May is pinning her hopes on a last-minute offer from the EU to stop her Brexit deal suffering a heavy defeat in the House of Commons next week, as she prepares a two-vote strategy to salvage her plan. Downing Street confirmed the vote on the deal would take place next week — it is expected on Tuesday — and that Mrs May would be seeking “assurances” relating to the contentious Irish backstop from the EU. Mrs May’s chief Brexit negotiator Olly Robbins is holding talks in Brussels to see if the EU will make a commitment to securing a free trade deal, removing the need for the backstop, by the end of 2021 at the latest. Any such assurances, which could come in an exchange of letters between Mrs May and commission and council presidents Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk, are unlikely to save her deal from defeat next week, but they could help to contain a massive rebellion. Mrs May would then urge the EU to firm up its offer through “political and legal assurances” in a final gambit she hopes could bring Eurosceptic Tory MPs and the Democratic Unionist party on board in a second vote. – FT (£)

  • May hopes for EU assurance before Brexit meaningful vote – Guardian
  • PM ‘continuing to work’ on Brexit deal ahead of vote but EU rules out fresh negotiation – Sky News

…but EU reassurances are likely to be no more than a non-binding letter

Reassurances by the EU to help Theresa May get her Brexit deal through parliament could be limited to a non-binding exchange of letters, under plans being considered by the European Commission. Such a limited move – which would not include any actual changes to the agreement – would be highly unlikely to convince Tory MPs to back the plan, which looks set to be rejected by a large margin when it comes before the Commons next week. Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker are expected to speak on the phone this week to discuss the state of play, as the formal Commons debate kicks off ahead of the vote next week. But the EU has once again ruled out even meeting with UK negotiators to discuss any actual changes to the agreement, with a spokesperson telling reporters in Brussels on Monday: “There won’t be any meeting as such, because negotiations have been completed.” The spokesperson added that Brussels would “follow closely the ratification process in the UK”. – Independent

British officials reportedly ‘putting out feelers’ with the EU for an Article 50 extension…

British and European officials are discussing the possibility of extending Article 50 amid fears a Brexit deal will not be completed by March 29, the Telegraph can reveal. Three separate EU sources confirmed that UK officials had been “putting out feelers” and “testing the waters” on an Article 50 extension, even as the Government said it had no intention of asking to extend the negotiating period. The discreet diplomatic contacts, described by one source as officials “just doing their homework”, emerged as a minister broke ranks for the first time to raise the possibility of extending the talks. Margot James, the digital minister, admitted that “we might have to extend Article 50” if Theresa May loses next week’s Parliamentary vote on her Brexit deal. Downing Street said Ms James was wrong, but her comment sowed suspicion among Brexiteers that ministers were trying to soften up MPs for the possibility that Brexit will have to be delayed. – Telegraph (£)

  • Theresa May holding secret talks with EU to delay Brexit if deal rejected by Parliament – Express

…after one minister says ‘we might have to extend Article 50’ on live TV if May’s deal is defeated…

A minister has said the UK may have to delay Brexit if MPs reject the deal agreed between Theresa May and the European Union. Margot James admitted there could be too “little time” to create an alternative before Brexit day, if the vote now expected on January 15 goes against the prime minister. She urged fellow Conservatives to back Ms May’s proposals as the only way to definitely ensure the UK does not crash out of the EU on March 29 without a deal. It comes as Downing Street prepares to host Conservative MPs on Monday evening as the PM’s drive to persuade her backbenchers to fall into line continues. The European Union is said to be considering offering Ms May a letter giving further reassurances about the temporary nature of the ‘backstop’, which is at the heart of Tory opposition to her plans. Ms James told the BBC’s Politics Live show: “If [passing the deal] proves to be impossible then we have very little time left, we might have to extend Article 50. – Independent

  • Article 50 could be extended if Theresa May’s deal is voted down, admits minister – Telegraph (£)
  • Tory MP says extending Article 50 could be on the table as Commons vote looms – Express

…and another threatens to resign to stop a no-deal Brexit

Business minister Richard Harrington said on BBC Newsnight he would “definitely” quit to try and stop a no-deal Brexit. However, he emphasised he is confident the UK will leave with the Prime Minister’s deal. Asked if he was prepared to resign to stop the UK leaving the EU without a deal, Mr Harrington said: “Definitely, I would.” When asked if he had made this clear to Theresa May, he said: “The Prime Minister knows everyone’s views and I think my view is not an uncommon one. We fully support the Prime Minister’s deal and I think it will get through.” His comments came after a drinks reception at Downing Street, where Mrs May hoped to win over Tory MPs who plan to vote against her deal. Another reception will be held on Wednesday for these MPs, whilst those who signed a letter urging Mrs May to rule out no-deal are invited to a gathering this evening. – Express

  • MPs try to limit government’s no-deal financial powers – BBC News

Labour backing cross-party amendment to Finance Bill today seeking to block no-deal Brexit…

Theresa May’s Brexit preparations could be thrown into fresh difficulty on Tuesday, with Labour poised to support a backbench amendment tabled by Yvette Cooper that could restrict the government’s tax powers unless a no-deal Brexit is taken off the table. The government may be forced to concede after the Labour frontbench suggested it was likely to whip its MPs to back the cross-party amendment to the finance bill, significantly increasing its chances of success in the Commons. Around a dozen Tory MPs have signalled their intention to back the amendment. Downing Street and Treasury sources suggested on Monday night that the material affect of the amendment on no-deal preparations for tax administration would be inconvenience rather than disaster. – Guardian

  • Labour to back bid for extra parliamentary barrier to no-deal Brexit – Reuters

…as MPs cross party lines in search of allies with no-deal Brexit looming

There are now fewer than 50 parliamentary sitting days before Britain leaves the European Union — and with the prospect of a no-deal Brexit looking less theoretical by the day, MPs are forming new alliances and group across party lines in an attempt to forge at least some consensus in a bitterly divided House of Commons. So how do the groups break down, how significant are they and how likely are they to be able to influence the government and the course of Brexit over the next three months? The no ‘no dealers’ – this loose cross-party grouping has been gathering support since before Christmas and today released a letter to Theresa May backed by 213 MPs calling for her to rule out a no-deal Brexit in any circumstances. The group was formed by the Labour MP Jack Dromey and the Conservative Dame Caroline Spelman, both of whom represent seats with a significant manufacturing presence. Many of the signatories to the letter also represent seats that rely on EU goods trade for jobs. – The Times (£)

Ruling out no-deal Brexit would not mean Article 50 being revoked, says Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay

The Brexit Secretary said taking the no deal option off the table would not result in Article 50 being revoked. Mr Barclay insisted it was made clear when triggering the legislation that any effort to delay or revoke Article 50 could not be used as a “tactical device” to scupper the decision of the British people. During an emergency Brexit debate in the Commons on Monday, Tory MP Chris Philp asked Mr Barclay: “Does the Secretary of State agree that if we were to foolishly rule out no deal then we would be left with one of two invidious choices – either remaining or accepting whatever deal the European Union saw fit to grant us.” Mr Philp warned that by agreeing to the letter the Government would “fatally undermine” its negotiating position and it should “categorically not do it”. In response, the Brexit Secretary warned that ruling out a no deal Brexit would mean the “only other option” if the Prime Minister’s deal is not voted for would be to revoke Article 50. He added: “That is contrary to the manifesto commitments that both of the main parties stood on”. – Express

Play hardball with Brussels by adding Brexit conditions, Theresa May advised

Theresa May will today be urged to “play hardball” with the EU by giving MPs a vote on her deal with the proviso that they would get to decide later on whether to enter the Irish backstop. Cabinet ministers will appeal to the prime minister not to give opponents the chance to reject the divorce deal entirely when the Commons finally votes next week. Instead Mrs May should offer MPs the chance to support the deal subject to the condition that parliament would have to approve the UK entering the backstop, a commitment to mirror EU rules and customs and so ensure no hard border in Ireland in the event of a failure to secure a trade deal. MPs would also be able to make their support dependent on the right to trigger an exit from the whole treaty after 12 months if they believed that the EU was seeking to trap the UK in the arrangement. The prime minister would then be able to confront Brussels with a choice between accepting the conditions or allowing the UK to crash out without a deal, said a cabinet source. “It’s time to play hardball with the EU,” said the senior figure. “If they dislike the backstop as much as they say they do then they shouldn’t have a problem with parliament having the final say on whether we go into it.” – The Times (£)

EU is not using backstop to trap Britain, insists Taoiseach

The European Union is not trying to “trap” the UK and prevent Brexit, Leo Varadkar has said. The taoiseach said he believed that there was a misunderstanding among hardline Brexiteers that the backstop had been put in place to delay future trade talks. Theresa May, the British prime minister, came under pressure yesterday to explain what further assurances she could secure from the EU before MPs vote on the Brexit withdrawal agreement next week. Speaking from Mali in west Africa yesterday, Mr Varadkar said that written assurances had been given at the EU council meeting last month. Talks between Britain and EU institutions were continuing on whether further written “guarantees, explanations and assurances” could be given. He said: “A lot of the opposition to the withdrawal agreement and the backstop might be based on suppositions and misunderstandings about our intent as a European Union. Our intent, once the withdrawal agreement has been ratified by Westminster and the European parliament, is to get into the talks on the future relationship on the new economic and trade treaty with Britain and on the new security partnership with Britain.” – The Times (£)

Ministers will have access to emergency cash to prevent ‘loss of human life’ under a no-deal Brexit

Cabinet Ministers will today be sent a letter outlining how departments can access money at short notice to respond to “acute pressures”. Officials will be able to access the emergency cash in “events or situations” that threaten serious damage to human health such as “disruption of a supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel”. The guidance from Treasury Secretary Liz Truss and de-facto deputy PM David Lidington insists ‘urgent requirement’ funds will be released within a maximum of six days. It threatens a new ‘Project Fear’ with arch Eurosceptics who have accused Downing Street of trying to scare MPs into backing Theresa May’s Brexit deal. The move comes as the Government launches a radio advertising blitz with advice for Brits and EU citizens alike about travel arrangements and settlement rights after Brexit. The first go live on commercial stations at 6am today. – The Sun

No-deal dry run for lorries at 4,000-capacity airfield branded a fiasco as only 89 trucks turn up

A high-profile £50,000 dry run of no-deal preparations for lorries coming across the Channel was branded a fiasco on Monday after barely half the planned 150 trucks turned up. The Government wants to use an airfield near Ramsgate in Kent as a giant HGV holding bay to prevent traffic jams around Channel ports if there is UK border disruption in the event of a no-deal Brexit when the UK leaves.  Authorities had hoped up to 150 lorries would be involved, according to letters which emerged last week, but 89 arrived on the morning at the disused airfield which has a capacity of just under 4,000. At one stage one haulier involved in the trial run tweeted photographs of himself with his feet on his cab dashboard, sipping a cup of coffee. The news came as the Government will on Tuesday launch an internet and radio campaign advising members of the public on what action they need to take to prepare for leaving the EU in March with a deal with Brussels. The practice run of so-called Operation Brock saw lorries gather at Manston Airport. A queue of lorries travelled the 20-mile route along the A256 to the Eastern Docks roundabout in Dover before returning. – Telegraph (£)

  • Six-day queues into Dover feared under no-deal Brexit scenario – FT (£)

Nicola Sturgeon will demand a veto for Scotland in any second EU referendum…

Nicola Sturgeon will demand a Scottish veto on leaving the European Union if the Brexit deadlock leads to a second referendum. The SNP will resurrect its proposal to keep Britain in the EU unless all four nations vote to leave, a plan that was comprehensively rejected by the Westminster parties in 2016. She urged Jeremy Corbyn to “stop prevaricating” and back the so-called People’s Vote, before attaching her own caveat. It would effectively give four million Scottish voters equal weight to 38 million English voters, with similar vetos for Wales and Northern Ireland. She warned unionist MPs that rejecting her demand would demonstrate that “Scotland’s interests cannot be protected in the current setup in the UK” after two years of constitutional wrangling that had “materially strengthened” the case for Scottish independence. Ian Murray, a Scottish Labour MP and People’s Vote campaigner, yesterday described the first minister’s position as “ludicrous”. – The Times (£)

…as she promises a new independence referendum timetable ‘very soon’

Nicola Sturgeon has said she plans to announce her preferred timetable for a second independence referendum “very soon” as she started 2019 by ramping up her separation threats. The First Minister said she would make public her proposals for another vote on breaking up the UK “when we get to the end of this phase of the Brexit process.” She suggested this would happen shortly after the Commons decides how to proceed and insisted she retained a mandate for another referendum, despite a huge voter backlash in the 2017 general election. Her intervention, in which she repeatedly claimed Brexit strengthens the case for independence, comes amid increasing impatience within SNP ranks over the lack of progress towards another vote. But the Tories said people across Scotland have had “enough of Sturgeon’s stuck record on independence” and would be thinking “there she goes again.” – Telegraph (£)

Jacob Rees-Mogg: No matter how many times the Prime Minister puts her deal to the Commons, the result will be the same

One of my children was given a very pretty miniature carousel for Christmas, with lights and fairground tunes. It happily goes round and round but nothing ever really changes – rather like the Withdrawal Agreement. Mrs May’s deal was not going to pass through the House of Commons in December, and it is difficult to see why it would in January. It seems as likely as a horse riding off from the carousel, which may have happened in Mary Poppins but otherwise is an unusual occurrence. The problems with the Agreement have not changed one iota. The potentially endless Customs Union, the separation between Northern Ireland and Great Britain, and the risk of paying £39 billion for nothing are all still there. Over Christmas, the view of the country and especially Conservative Members seems to have hardened against the proposal. Certainly, the hope that members of the public would tell MPs to back Mrs May has proved forlorn. Those who came up to me urged me to back Brexit and the Referendum result. Likewise, the fear of reverting to World Trade Organisation rules has dissipated as no deal preparations speed up. Against this background there appears to be no engagement from the European Union and no willingness to change the text of the Withdrawal Agreement. – Jacob Rees-Mogg MP for the Telegraph (£)

Greg Hands: The two EU officials who want to punish Britain crafted the deal – and claim they are winning

The Commission’s top German Brexit officials are clear: the Withdrawal Agreement hugely favours the EU, and was always meant to be so. The word from these top EU officials is that: “Northern Ireland is the price that Britain must pay for Brexit;” that the Withdrawal Agreement shows Brexit “doesn’t work”; that “the power is with the EU” and that “the EU has the best negotiating position for the future relationship”. Much attention has focused on Jean-Claude Juncker, the Luxemburger EU Commission President, and Michel Barnier, the Commission’s French chief Brexit negotiator. But most Brussels commentators maintain that Brexit details are determined by their respective number twos: Martin Selmayr (Chief of Staff to Juncker since 2014, and – controversially – General Secretary of the European Commission since March 2018) and Sabine Weyand, deputy to Barnier. Both happen to be German. Indeed, Die Welt, the leading German daily, early on in the negotiations did a feature titled ‘The top German players in the Brexit poker game’, with a certain pride, on their central role in the coming talks. – Greg Hands MP for ConservativeHome

William Hague: No deal might sound tempting, but MPs will never let it happen

To pass her Brexit deal through the House of Commons, Theresa May needs a balance of terror among those who favour rival outcomes. She needs hardline Brexiteers to worry that if they don’t vote with her, Brexit won’t happen at all, and some ardent Remainers to think that unless they support her, Britain will “crash out” of the EU without a deal. Her problem is that, far from such a balance of terror existing, the very opposite prevails – a kind of equilibrium of complacency. Each set of opponents is smugly confident that, once her deal is voted down, their own view will prevail. The new year has been marked by all of them claiming fresh support and optimism. Advocates of a second referendum have released a poll showing ever more people demanding one. Those who want the “Norway option” claim momentum behind them. And some who are relaxed about a no-deal outcome say the support for it is growing. With all groups, except the 
Cabinet, believing they are in a stronger position, it is no wonder that the parliamentary numbers have shown little sign so far of shifting. – Lord Hague for the Telegraph (£)

Tom Harris: Virtue-signalling MPs pretending they can block a no-deal Brexit are a disgrace to their office

We’ve all read the headlines and the snippy comment pieces (guilty!) about the chaos and constitutional anarchy likely to be unleashed in the next three months. Amid all the speculation and sneering, however, criticism of our parliamentarians has been oddly restrained. MPs, after all, are merely victims of populist prejudice, struggling to interpret the will of the people as represented in a binary answer to a straightforward (some would say simplistic) question in a referendum. Who’d be an MP, eh? Such difficult decisions, such complicated issues. As we know, for a significant minority of those MPs – elected, let us not forget, to analyse complicated issues and take difficult decisions on our behalf – Brexit is just too difficult for them. So difficult, in fact, that 650 educated, politically-aware people with a publicly-funded budget to employ researchers in order to explain those complicated things to their employers, feel the need to ask us what to do. Again. – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)

Marcus Fysh: Let’s not be frightened into staying on the wrong path, tied to an out-of-control EU

Recently, I met two businessmen living just outside London who voted Remain. One, a business strategist by training, regretted the Government’s lack of clear commitment to leaving the EU and embracing the opportunities of being a global rather than regional trade player. His clients choose his company’s products primarily because they are the right products. For him persistent uncertainty and distraction are the risk factors, and certainty does not look like being delivered by the Prime Minister’s plan, nor an appropriate, independent status for the UK. The other, a German national happy here in the UK, told me he had come to relish the opportunities that setting up a UK based distribution hub, rather than relying on product fulfilment from headquarters in Austria, would allow him, to serve his British customers on a one day rather than three day fulfilment basis and with product differentiated to suit the UK market better. He also thought if the UK had a trade deal with the US it would make it likely his UK unit could handle fulfilment for the US market, providing a big avenue for local growth. – Marcus Fysh MP for the Telegraph (£)

Nicky Morgan: Norway-style Brexit would allow UK to shape rules on finance

The next two weeks will be a defining moment for Brexit and for the UK’s future. The parliamentary debates, and subsequent votes, will rank among some of the most important of the past century. Perhaps the last time MPs faced such a momentous decision was during the Norway Debate of 1940— when war in Europe was the sole issue on the minds of MPs. Political crisis and gridlock was only resolved by a cross-party consensus which brought both parliament and the nation back together under the auspices of a coalition government. Nearly 80 years later, with parliament and the country at large once again divided, we are not debating a literal war in Europe but a metaphorical war over the issue of Europe. Once again it is Norway that we look to as a way to resolve the impasse. “Norway Plus” is a Brexit model that combines a customs union, with the UK remaining in the European Economic Area by becoming a member of the European Free Trade Association. – Nicky Morgan MP for the FT (£)

Tim Stanley: Mrs May’s idea of a risky future actually sounds rather enticing

I’m fascinated by one particular photograph of Theresa May. In it, she sits behind her desk, pen in hand, ready to govern us with both strength and stability. In front of her is an enormous black hole puncher with some words taped to it: “PLEASE DO NOT REMOVE FROM OFFICE”. As others have asked, does this refer to the hole puncher or to the PM? Now I think about it, who in this paperless age still uses a hole puncher? If it’s on the PM’s desk, does this mean she does her own filing? And has someone been stealing her office equipment? Clearly we have a PM who isn’t taking any chances. The picture accompanied an article in which she talked about the risks of voting down her Withdrawal Agreement next week, and the risks that rebel MPs pose to jobs and security. – Tim Stanley for the Telegraph (£)

Brexit in Brief

  • As a former UK negotiator, here’s how we could improve Theresa May’s Brexit deal – David Henig for the Telegraph (£)
  • An end to free movement and forced payments to Brussels. Is the backstop really so bad? – Henry Newman for ConservativeHome
  • The case for not paying the EU a £39bn exit bill – Lord Lilley for Reaction
  • HSBC defends ‘anti-Brexit’ advert that claims ‘UK is not an island’ – Telegraph (£)
  • ‘The way the EU treated the UK opened my eyes’: Bolsover’s Brexit – Guardian
  • The 22 Conservative MPs who have signed Spelman’s letter opposing No Deal – ConservativeHome
  • Central London office space take-up soars to highest level since 2014 (despite Brexit) – City A.M.