Theresa May to tell MPs this afternoon that they must hold their nerv: Brexit News for Tuesday 12 February

Theresa May to tell MPs this afternoon that they must hold their nerv: Brexit News for Tuesday 12 February
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Theresa May to tell MPs this afternoon that they must hold their nerve…

Brexit talks are at a “crucial stage”, Theresa May will tell MPs later when she updates them on the negotiations. The PM will say “we now all need to hold our nerve” to get the changes needed to get her Brexit deal through Parliament by the 29 March deadline. She has been trying to secure changes to the backstop arrangement – the “insurance” policy to avoid a return to border checks on the island of Ireland. The EU has reiterated it will not renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. Mrs May is continuing to seek backing for her deal. She will tell Parliament she still believes it is possible to get a deal that MPs can support. “By getting the changes we need to the backstop; by protecting and enhancing workers’ rights and environmental protections; and by enhancing the role of Parliament in the next phase of negotiations I believe we can reach a deal that this House can support,” she will say. Mrs May is due to make a statement to MPs – a day earlier than had been expected – ahead of a debate on Thursday on the next steps for Brexit. – BBC News

…and ask them for a further fortnight’s grace in the Brexit talks…

Theresa May hopes to convince the House of Commons on Tuesday to give her another fortnight’s grace to keep pushing for changes to the Irish backstop – despite the insistence of Michel Barnier that it is Britain that must compromise. With 45 days to go until Britain is due by law to leave the EU, with or without a deal, the prime minister will address MPs about progress in the Brexit talks, No 10 announced on Monday. She is unlikely to signal any shift towards a closer future relationship with the EU, after writing to Jeremy Corbyn to underline her continued objections to a customs union, and instead she will focus on the backstop. “We are absolutely clear on this: we’re not considering Jeremy Corbyn’s customs proposals, we’re not considering any proposals to remain in the customs union. We must have our own, independent trade policy,” May’s spokesman said on Monday. May will stress her continued focus on the backstop, but the EU’s chief negotiator insisted on Monday there was no question of Brussels giving in to Downing Street’s demands. – Guardian

…as she rules out staying in an EU customs union after backlash by Eurosceptic MPs

Theresa May has said she will not allow Britain to be part of the Customs Union after Brexit following a backlash by Eurosceptic MPs and ministers. Downing Street attempted to defuse the row after the Prime Minister failed to rule out further talks on a customs union in a letter to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader. Liam Fox, the International Trade Secretary, described Labour’s plan as a “dangerous delusion”, while Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, accused Mr Corbyn of trying to trap Mrs May into a “toxic” Brexit. In a boost for the Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, the former foreign secretary, said that Britain will be “at the races” if it can secure legally binding changes to the backstop. Mrs May is on Tuesday expected to rule out membership of a customs union in the Commons in a bid to reassure Tory Eurosceptics and buy herself more time to strike a deal with the European Union. She will also appeal to Remain Tory MPs to give her more time to strike a deal by telling them that the Government will allow amendments to be tabled at the end of the month. – Telegraph (£)

‘No chance’ of Theresa May accepting Labour vision for Brexit, says Andrea Leadsom

A Cabinet minister has insisted there is “no chance” of Theresa May accepting Labour’s vision for Brexit despite speculation the Prime Minister could soften her stance on customs union membership. Andrea Leadsom’s comments came after Mrs May responded to a letter from Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, in which he set out his Party’s terms for backing a Brexit deal, with an offer of further talks. Also on Monday, Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay held “constructive” talks with the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier in which they agreed to further meetings in the coming days, while their teams will continue to work in the meantime to find a way forward. However, Mr Barnier insisted that the controversial backstop – the major sticking point in the current Brexit deal – would not be reopened for further negotiations. In Mrs May’s response to Mr Corbyn, released on Sunday night, the Prime Minister welcomed his agreement that the UK should leave the EU with a deal and his support for finding “alternative arrangements” to the Irish backstop. – ITV News

  • Don’t negotiate with Labour over customs union, senior Tory Brexiteers tell May – The Times (£)

Remainers to demand May hands Parliament power to delay Brexit as their price to support her

Tory Remainer ministers are to demand Theresa May gives MPs a chance to enforce a delay to Brexit in two weeks time as their price to support her. The PM will try to convince the Commons on Tuesday to give her another fortnight’s grace for talks with Brussels for changes to the Irish backstop. She faces a fresh vote on Thursday for Parliament to authorise her plan to offer MPs another say on February 27 if there is still no deal. But with just 45 days to go until Brexit day, angry ministers – who met in secret on Monday – will tell No10 that is not enough. Instead, in a new revolt, they want the PM to promise to hand over Parliamentary time to backbenchers at the end of the month if there is no progress then to allow a bill to pass that will enforce an extension to the Article 50 talks. One minister told The Sun: “Just kicking this down the road another two weeks to give us another vote on February 27 is not going to be enough. It’s too late for that.” The latest rebellion has been devised by former Tory minister Sir Oliver Letwin. Under his plan, rebel Remainer Nick Boles will agree not to re-table his amendment with senior Labour MP Yvette Cooper for a Brexit delay to avoid No Deal on Thursday. Their revised plot would see a new law rapidly passed that allows Parliament to order the Government to ask for an Article 50 extension, the length to be determined by the PM but approved by the Commons. – The Sun

Michel Barnier and Steve Barclay break bread, but not the Brexit deadlock…

There was pan-fried North Sea sole with Scottish scallops and Welsh samphire, roast duck breast and pear parfait for dessert, but a concession on the Northern Ireland backstop was most certainly not on the table. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, spent Monday evening dining with his (relatively) new British counterpart, Stephen Barclay, at the British ambassador’s residence in Brussels. Barclay is the U.K.’s third state secretary for exiting the European Union since the Brexit process started. Indeed, Prime Minister Theresa May seems to go through negotiators faster than Barnier and Barclay went through bottles of Sancerre and Saint-Émilion wine at their dinner. But Barclay may have arrived for the best part — with the March 29 deadline fast-approaching and a final, crucial deal on the U.K.’s departure still waiting to be clinched. Barnier, leaving the dinner on Monday, described the discussion with Barclay as positive, but declared yet again that the withdrawal treaty agreed in November would not be reopened or renegotiated. – Politico

…as Barnier suggests Britain needs more ambition to break the Brexit deadlock

The European Union’s chief Brexit negotiator last night warned MPs that “something has to give” on the British side of negotiations if the Brexit impasse is to be broken. Speaking in advance of talks with Steve Barclay, the Brexit secretary, Michel Barnier again said that reopening the withdrawal agreement to solve the Irish border question was impossible. He suggested, though, that if Theresa May moved closer to Labour’s position on close post-Brexit alignment with the EU then further talks could take place. Sabine Weyand, his deputy, went further, saying that Jeremy Corbyn’s letter to Mrs May had triggered an interesting debate and that his proposals deserved to be discussed. Playing down expectations of a breakthrough at a private dinner with Mr Barclay, Mr Barnier said that he was keen to hear the latest thinking in London about how to break the deadlock over the backstop but that he intended to “repeat the EU’s positions”. – The Times (£)

Labour MPs demand Jeremy Corbyn answer claim he cut line about second referendum from letter to May…

Jeremy Corbyn is under pressure over an explosive claim that he broke a pledge to support a new Brexit referendum if Theresa May rejected his compromise plan. A letter from the Labour leader to the prime minister – setting out five legally binding demands as his price for backing a deal – angered many Labour MPs by making no mention of a fresh public vote. Now it has been alleged that Mr Corbyn’s office agreed the letter should set out clear support for the referendum, if Ms May turned down his offer, only to omit the sentence at the last minute. Mr Corbyn’s office declined to comment on the claim, although a Labour source told The Independent the allegation was “false”. Labour MPs backing a Final Say people’s vote urged Mr Corbyn to come clean about what commitments were given about the contents, before it was sent last Wednesday. – Independent

…as the EU’s deputy chief negotiator admits there is no chance of a second referendum

The chances of a second referendum to stop Brexit are non-existent, the EU’s deputy chief negotiator has said. Sabine Weyand, the brains behind the withdrawal agreement who deputises for Michel Barnier, told an audience in Berlin that an orderly withdrawal was the best Britain could hope for. “I see no majority for a referendum in the House of Commons,” she confirmed after the event. Ms Weyand reportedly accused some Remainers of “Cakeism” – a popular expression in Brussels referring to magical thinking whose usage was triggered by Boris Johnson claiming Britain could “have its cake and eat it” after Brexit. She however clarified that she was not talking about the level of support in the country for another vote, but instead the mathematics in the Commons and political leadership for one. The intervention, at a security conference, comes days after European Council president Donald Tusk said there was “no political force and no effective leadership” for another vote with the two main opposition parties committed to respecting the result of the 2016 referendum. – Independent

Boris Johnson says he could back Theresa May’s deal if she secures a time limit or exit mechanism on Irish backstop

Boris Johnson has suggested he could back the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal if she manages to secure a time limit or exit mechanism to the Irish backstop. In comments that will encourage Downing Street, the former foreign secretary said the main barrier to a deal is finding a way to “get out of the backstop” and ensure that the UK is not “locked in that prison of the customs union.” His intervention suggests that Theresa May is now close to breaking the Brexit deadlock, providing she can deliver on her pledge to secure legally-binding changes to the withdrawal agreement. Mr Johnson has previously called for the Prime Minister to “junk” the backstop, warning that it threatens to trap Britain in a permanent customs union and reduce the country to the status of a “colony” of the European Union. However, writing in The Telegraph recently, he suggested the Prime Minister was fighting for a “freedom clause” which could command the “full-throated” support of her party and the nation. – Telegraph (£)

Boris Johnson gives Theresa May a lift by saying he could back her Brexit deal if Irish backstop is limited to 18 months – The Sun

> LISTEN: Boris Johnson’s interview on yesterday’s Today programme

Liam Fox decries ‘numbers game’ over bid to roll over EU trade deals

Efforts to preserve dozens of European Union trade agreement for British companies before Brexit do not amount to “a numbers game,” Liam Fox has insisted, as officials shored up the fourth such deal. Switzerland formally agreed to replicate its agreement with the EU for the UK yesterday, allowing Britain to carry over preferential tariffs and terms after leaving the bloc. Speaking in Bern, the trade secretary maintained that “the best way” to ensure continuity was to depart the EU with an agreement next month. A transition period would ensure Britain’s continued access to the bloc’s 40 or so free trade agreements until December 2020. Without a deal with Brussels, the UK must individually “roll over” each of the deals, for 70 markets, from South Korea and Canada to Japan and Chile. In autumn 2017, Dr Fox, 57, said that Britain would transfer such EU trade pacts “one second after midnight in March 2019”. Four have been confirmed. – The Times (£)

Break the deadlock on Brexit, Ireland’s Simon Coveney urges UK politicians

Simon Coveney has called for British politicians to reach a “consensus” on how to break the Brexit deadlock. The tánaiste and foreign affairs minister met Sir Keir Starmer, Britain’s shadow Brexit secretary, in Dublin last night but said he would not choose sides between Labour and the Conservative Party. “With 46 days to go before Britain leaves the European Union, what we want to see are the two large parties in Westminster working together to find a way of getting a consensus and a strong majority to provide certainty,” Mr Coveney said. Michel Barnier warned Britain that “time is short” to reach a breakthrough in the impasse before its official exit from the European Union next month. Speaking in Luxembourg, the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator urged Theresa May to negotiate with Britain’s Labour Party, describing Jeremy Corbyn’s ideas as “interesting”. Mr Corbyn, the Labour leader, set out five conditions he wanted to see met before he would consider supporting the prime minister’s Brexit plan, which was resoundingly voted down by the House of Commons last month. – The Times (£)

Italy explores its own bilateral Brexit deal with Britain as its economic crisis nears danger level

Italy is drawing up emergency plans to safeguard financial stability and keep trade with the UK flowing even if there is a no-deal Brexit, if necessary through a bilateral deal between Rome and London. The country’s insurgent Lega-Five Star coalition is increasingly worried that a mishandling of the EU’s Brexit crisis could push Italy’s fragile economy into a dangerous downward slide and risk a funding crisis for its sovereign debt at a treacherous moment. Premier Giuseppe Conte has told his Brexit Task Force to focus urgently on ports, airports, customs, and the handling of food trade, as well as the status of Italians living in the UK. Palazzo Chigi, the prime minister’s inner machine, is exploring what Italy can do under its own authority to defuse the stand-off with Britain.  While this is relatively straightforward for issues such as citizens’ rights, it is unclear how it would work in trade and finance where the EU sets the rules. Both the Lega and Five Star movement have Eurosceptic roots and are irked by the Brexit strategy of the European Commission, seen as rigid, ideological, and potentially explosive. – Telegraph (£)

Chris Grayling insists he is not to blame for no-deal Brexit ferry fiasco

Chris Grayling has insisted he is not to blame for a fiasco over a no-deal Brexit ferry contract awarded to a company with no ships as Whitehall’s spending watchdog revealed the Department for Transport knew the deal was “high risk”. The Transport Secretary has faced demands for his resignation after he terminated the £13.8 million contract with Seaborne Freight because Irish company Arklow Shipping, which had backed the bid, stepped away from the deal. But the National Audit Office has revealed the Department had “identified that the bid from Seaborne was a high-risk proposition” which had “material risks” attached. An NAO memo prepared for the Public Accounts Committee said the Department recognised the potential for a new operation like Seaborne to “face teething troubles”. Concerns were also expressed that while Seaborne had identified ships to run services between Ramsgate and Ostend, contracts had not been finalised and “we cannot be comfortable until they are chartered”. – Telegraph (£)

> WATCH: Chris Grayling makes a statement to the House of Commons

Second Brexit party to push for EU exit

Just days after Nigel Farage unveiled his new Brexit Party, vowing to put up candidates in future European elections in the event of any delays to Article 50, a campaign group bankrolled by multimillionaire financier Jeremy Hosking is planning to launch a separate political party of its own in a bid to ensure Britain’s smooth departure from the bloc. Mr Hosking confirmed his intentions as Brexit Express launched a nationwide billboard advertising campaign urging the public and politicians to back no deal as the only way to get a good deal from the EU. He said: “I am happy to confirm papers were submitted to the Electoral Commission on behalf of ‘Brexit Express BE’ last week (February 4, 2019) and comments from the Electoral Commission are awaited. The strategies of the new party will be greatly influenced by political events of the next few months, as well as by the actions of others.” Mr Hosking, who founded Brexit Express in 2016, said the party would be committed to backing Britain’s timely departure from the EU, as well as ensuring subsequent trade negotiations honour the proposition voted for in 2016, taking back control of money, borders and laws. – Express

Douglas Carswell: The Brexit wake-up call

A generation ago, as various nationalised industries were privatised, it quickly became apparent that they had been badly run for years. Once British Telecom was publicly-listed, it came to light that a large number of those old-style public pay phones didn’t work. Thames Water’s accounts showed that a large volume of the water in their network of pipes leaked away. A new system of corporate governance, in other words, exposed a number of previous inadequacies. Brexit is having a similar effect, not on businesses in Britain, but on the way our country is run. Already, the mere process of getting us out of the EU has exposed the most extraordinary deficiencies of those at the top. Look at the serially poor judgement shown by May and many of her ministers over the past two years; agreeing to a sequencing of the negotiations and then a backstop they should never have accepted. This basic failure to think through the implications of what was in front of them has been matched by their willingness to defer to civil servants, many of whom clearly aren’t up to the task of making such decisions either. – Douglas Carswell for CapX

Steven Woolfe: Big business is reluctant to admit it, but Brexit will deliver for the poor by pushing up their wages

One of the ‘mic drop’ moments of the EU referendum campaign was when Lord Rose, then the leader of the Remain campaign, spoke to the Treasury select committee and conceded that if there are fewer workers available then businesses will be prepared to pay higher wages, “If you are short of labour, the price of labour will go up, so yes, but that is not necessarily a good thing.” he said. The cat had been let out of the bag. In simple terms, if the number of low-skilled workers arriving into the country dropped, then relative scarcity in the labour market would, as sure as night follows day, result in wages increasing. This is, of course, good for big business and for the parties that big business supports. The lower the wages for the staff, the bigger the profits for their shareholders. Lord Rose was subsequently locked into a box, and like Schrodinger’s cat, as we couldn’t see him, we were unable to tell whether he was alive or dead during the remainder of the campaign. – Steven Woolfe MEP for the Telegraph (£)

Chris White: Time is getting extremely tight to pass all the required withdrawal legislation

The clock is ticking. We’re running out of runway.  Whatever metaphor you wish to use, Parliament has an awful lot of legislating to do before 29th March if it wishes to complete the passage of the seven Brexit Bills, along with a large amount of secondary legislation. Today, the Prime Minister will update the Commons, setting out the Government’s progress in negotiating with the EU following the passage of the two advisory amendments last month. They instructed, though not mandated, the Government to seek to both remove the backstop (Brady) and avoid a No Deal scenario (Spelman/Dromey). Since then, the negotiations have been less than productive, revealed in striking language in the Prime Minister’s letter to the Leader of the Opposition over the weekend.  In it, she stated that she was still seeking alternative arrangements to the backstop without specifying in detail what they were, and that negotiating a free trade deal as a third party outside of the Single Market was a “negotiating challenge”, which is somewhat of an understatement. – Chris White for ConservativeHome

Paul Waugh: Why a no-deal Brexit is now Theresa May’s fallback plan to save her party – and herself

Almost exactly two years ago, Theresa May was sitting in her office in Downing Street, baffled by the stance of her pro-Remain rebel Tory MPs. “Dominic Grieve and these people need to calm down,” an exasperated Prime Minister told her colleagues. “I’m not going to do anything crazy. I’m not going to just jump off a cliff.” According to one of the people present, May was particularly indignant that Grieve and his small band of like-minded backbenchers were terrified by the prospect of a “hard” exit, or worse, a no-deal exit. As she tried to navigate the tricky obstacles within and without her own party, “pragmatism” had been her watchword, she told the private meeting. But fast forward to today, and there is a growing fear among some MPs that May is now indeed preparing to do “something crazy”, and allow the UK to crash out of the European Union without a Brexit agreement. And with the clock ticking down to the planned exit day of March 29, some of those who know her best have told HuffPost UK that the PM is “thinking the unthinkable” of a no-deal departure. – Paul Waugh for the Huffington Post

Shanker Singham: Here’s what a UK-EU trade deal could look like

There are many things in short supply as the UK negotiates its exit from the EU, time and expertise in negotiation chief among them. What we do not lack are plans. In September, we launched Plan A Plus to set out a holistic UK trade policy, including what should be done about the famous Irish backstop and support for a comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the UK and the EU. Our discussion about the backstop became the Better Deal, an alternative Withdrawal Agreement with new provisions for the backstop. These ideas have been taken up in the Malthouse Compromise, and are being engaged with by government now. Without prejudice to the current talks, we recently published what that comprehensive and advanced FTA with the EU could look like – some 350 pages of legal text which is drawn from and builds on existing EU commitments to its trading partners, bilaterally, multilaterally and in international forums like the OECD. We did this so that people could understand what a modern FTA can accomplish. The Customs Union and Single Market arrangements are well known to us because we have lived with them. What is less well understood is how business can engage with and benefit from an advanced FTA. – Shanker Singham for CapX

Steve Bevington: Will the EU give enough ground on Brexit? History suggests we shouldn’t hold our breath

The EU has a track record of making last-minute changes to get deals approved. This has led some to assume that the same will be the case with Brexit. Is this a reasonable assumption? To find out, it’s worth considering three notable occasions when the EU has attempted to assuage concerns expressed by or within member states in order to secure approval for a deal: the Maastricht Treaty, the Lisbon Treaty and the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) with Canada. Each case suggests that there’s no automatic reason to think the EU wouldn’t be open to revisiting the Withdrawal Agreement to help get it through the House of Commons. What they also suggest, however, is that any such changes will adhere to certain principles: the existing text will not be reopened and any additions must be compatible with it. – Steve Bevington for the Telegraph (£)

Brexit in Brief

  • Why Europe can’t cope – Helen Thompson for UnHerd
  • Britain needs a blast of investment stimulus to fight the global slump – regardless of Brexit – Ambrose Evans-Pritchard for the Telegraph (£)
  • Why a no-deal Brexit is likely – Robert Peston for ITV News
  • Eurosceptic parties could paralyse Brussels, report warns, with big gains expected at May election – Telegraph (£)
  • As far as the City is concerned, Brexit has happened, and it has taken place on no-deal terms – Telegraph (£)
  • Will there be a ‘Brexit bounce’ for business investment? – Telegraph (£)