Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker agree 'legally binding' assurances on the backstop before MPs vote on the deal today: Brexit News for Tuesday 12 March

Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker agree 'legally binding' assurances on the backstop before MPs vote on the deal today: Brexit News for Tuesday 12 March
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Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker agree ‘legally binding’ assurances on the backstop before MPs vote on the deal today…

Theresa May last night pleaded with MPs to “come together” and back a revised version of her Brexit deal after claiming to have solved the problem of the Northern Irish backstop. Following last-gasp talks in Strasbourg with Jean-Claude Juncker last night, Mrs May said she had secured “legally binding” changes to the EU Withdrawal Agreement that will prevent the backstop becoming permanent. Mr Juncker made clear it was a take it or leave it offer, saying: “In politics sometimes you get a second chance…there will be no third chance. It is this deal or Brexit might not happen at all.” Mrs May must win the backing of Tory Eurosceptics and the DUP if she is to stand any chance of winning an all-important “meaningful vote” on the deal tonight. But Brexiteers were deeply divided last night over whether the new compromise was enough to tempt them to switch their votes and support the deal. Mrs May and Mr Juncker agreed a “joint interpretive statement” that gives legal weight to a promise that the backstop would be temporary, which was first made by Mr Juncker in a letter to Mrs May in January. In addition, the Government issued a “unilateral declaration” giving Britain’s interpretation of the circumstances in which the UK could leave the backstop. – Telegraph (£)

  • May secures legally binding changes to Brexit deal, government claims – Guardian
  • Theresa May secures ‘legally-binding changes’ to Withdrawal Agreement after last-minute Strasbourg talks – ITV News
  • May agrees revised Brexit deal with Juncker – FT (£)

> On BrexitCentral last night: Theresa May’s Strasbourg statement announcing “legally-binding changes” to the backstop

> WATCH: Theresa May and Jean-Claude Juncker’s press conference

…as attention turns to how the Attorney General and Tory eurosceptics will assess the changes

All eyes will now turn to the attorney general Geoffrey Cox, who will today reveal whether he has changed his previous legal opinion that the backstop could “endure indefinitely” after Brexit. Tory MPs who voted down May’s deal in January gave the latest development a cautious welcome, with many insisting they would need to study the detail of the “joint instrument” to see if it satisfies their concerns. Steve Baker, a senior figure from the pro-Brexit European Research Group, said the new proposals will be analysed by their ‘star chamber’ of lawyers and senior MPs. Announcing the new agreement, May said: “MPs were clear that legal changes were needed to the backstop. Today we have secured legal changes. Now is the time to come together, to back this improved Brexit deal, and to deliver on the instruction of the British people.” The joint instrument confirms that if the backstop protocol comes into force – meaning the UK stays in the EU’s customs union to avoid a hard border with Ireland – it can only be a temporary measure. The UK will be able to exit the arrangement if an arbitration panel agrees the EU has acted in bad faith, by not engaging seriously on future trade talks, for example. The new text will sit alongside the withdrawal deal, and May claimed yesterday it will have the same legal weight as that agreement. A spokesperson for the DUP – whose support is critical if May is to win tonight’s vote – said the party would be “scrutinising the text line by line” before reaching a decision on whether to back the deal. – City A.M.

It is claimed May ‘agreed’ to a Brexit compromise on Sunday but the Cabinet said no

U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May “agreed” to a compromise on the Irish backstop on Sunday “contingent” on the approval of her Cabinet, two senior EU diplomats said, but her ministers rejected the proposal. The package of measures was aimed at providing the U.K. with greater reassurance that the controversial Northern Ireland backstop would not be permanent, so improving the chances of the deal passing muster with Brexiteer Tory MPs. It involved reaffirming the power of an arbitration panel created by the existing deal to suspend the backstop if one side is acting in bad faith, the diplomats said. “She agreed,” one senior EU diplomat said, “providing to have the backing of the Cabinet, which she didn’t get.” The diplomat said the agreement was on “a legal document” designed to provide “guarantees for good faith on both sides.” The Cabinet’s refusal was apparently tied to objections by U.K. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox, the diplomats said. May has tasked Cox with making a legal interpretation aimed at easing fears among British MPs that the U.K. could become permanently trapped in the backstop arrangement. EU officials and diplomats have reacted negatively to Cox’s role in the talks in recent weeks. One official complained that the attorney general has approached the negotiations with the condescending swagger of an English barrister — his profession before becoming an MP. – Politico

Theresa May told she faces ‘significant resignations’ if she whips MPs to back No Deal if the deal is voted down

Theresa May has been warned that she faces “significant resignations” from her Cabinet on Wednesday unless she allows ministers free votes on a no-deal Brexit and delaying Britain’s departure from the European Union. Although it would graphically illustrate the deep divisions at all levels of government, including her top team, she is expected not to whip two divisions which will prove crucial to what form Brexit takes. Three ministers have publicly signalled they would resign if they are forced to support keeping a no-deal Brexit on the table following defeat on Tuesday for Mrs May’s meaningful vote on the withdrawal agreement. They are Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd, Justice Secretary David Gauke and Business Secretary Greg Clark, and they could be joined by Chancellor Philip Hammond and Scottish Secretary David Mundell. One Cabinet source said: “The Prime Minister will surely have to allow a free vote. It’s the only way to avoid significant resignations.” He estimated that between 15 and 20 ministers at all levels of government could walk out at that moment if they were denied a free vote. – iNews

> George Eustice MP on BrexitCentral today: If MPs vote down the Brexit deal, the only option for a serious country is to leave without an agreement

A majority of voters do not think May’s deal delivers the type of Brexit people voted for, YouGov poll reveals

More than half of the British public does not think the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal delivers on the referendum result, according to a new poll. The YouGov survey found only 12 per cent of adults think Theresa May’s deal honours the leave vote compared to 58 per cent who claim it does not and 31 per cent who don’t know. Labour voters are even more unhappy with Mrs May’s deal than Tories, with 66 per cent opposed to the withdrawal agreement compared to 58 per cent of Conservatives. Asked what would be their preferred option if a Brexit deal cannot be agreed by March 29, more than a third of adults (37 per cent) said Britain should leave without a deal compared to 33 per cent calling for a second referendum and 17 per cent who would like Brexit to be delayed to allow more time to negotiate with the EU. Sixty three per cent of Conservative voters support leaving on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms compared to 23 per cent of Labour voters and 11 per cent of Lib Dems. Asked if leaving without a deal would honour the referendum result, 41 per cent said yes and 33 said no. Nearly three quarters (72 per cent) of leave voters and 12 per cent of remainers said “the UK’s leaving date should not be delayed and the UK should leave without a deal”. – Telegraph (£)

Labour MPs urged to disregard PM’s ‘half-hearted’ Brexit pledge on workers’ rights ahead of crunch vote…

Labour MPs have been urged to disregard Theresa May‘s “heart-hearted” offer on workers’ rights after a new legal opinion poured cold water over her plans. Ahead of a Commons showdown on Ms May’s Brexit deal, top QC Aidan O’Neill has drafted a damning assessment of the prime minister’s proposals to protect workers’ rights, which were unveiled last week in an attempt to win over Labour MPs. The EU law expert, who was commissioned by the Independent Workers Union of Great Britain (IWGB) and the Transport Salaried Staffs’ Association (TSSA), argued that Ms May’s offer provides no guarantee that future EU standards will be matched when the UK leaves the bloc. In a 47-page dossier sent to all Labour MPs, Mr O’Neill warned that future parliaments could rip up Ms May’s pledges, and even if parliament did implement all new EU standards, workers could still lose out on key protections under EU laws. Workers would also lose access to the European Court of Justice and the charter of fundamental rights, he said. “Brexit involves in effect a wholesale bonfire of the ‘vanities’ which this government evidently regards EU law rights to be,” the legal opinion states. – Independent

…as John McDonnell says Labour will ‘fight to the last to prevent May’s deal’

John McDonnell has insisted that Labour remains committed to stopping Theresa May ’s deal amid fears the party leadership could be willing to facilitate a Tory Brexit . The shadow chancellor dismissed as “complete rubbish” claims that he and Jeremy Corbyn were relaxed about the plan passing so they could then focus on domestic issues. In an interview with the Mirror, he declared both Mrs May’s deal and No Deal would be an “absolute disaster” for the country. But he confirmed he would back Brexit if Labour ’s plan was on the table. “May’s deal would be an absolute disaster and no deal would be catastrophic. We will fight to the last to prevent May’s deal and to prevent no deal,” he said. “We have to go back to our constituencies and if May’s deal goes through we will have our constituents losing their jobs and their livelihoods undermined… We want the Labour deal to go through.” Labour said at the weekend it would not push for a vote on a second referendum this week, even if Mrs May’s deal is defeated. Campaigners believe their best chance of success is leaving it as late as possible. Mr McDonnell confirmed that when it does take place, Labour MPs would be whipped to vote in favour. – The Mirror

EU planning for a year-long Article 50 extension, diplomats claim

The EU is preparing for a delay to Brexit of at least a year, senior officials and diplomats have said. Martin Selmayr, the EU’s top civil servant and one of the key figures in recent Brexit talks, backs a delay until March next year or even longer, according to sources. During a briefing to European ambassadors yesterday he said that an extension would have to be a “one-off” and could be short if Theresa May gets the withdrawal agreement through the Commons, or long enough for “UK elections and a new government” if she fails. The ambassadors were sceptical about Mrs May’s chances of getting the deal through. “Leaders have no faith that anything they can give May will hold now or in the future,” one said. Mr Selmayr, the German secretary-general of the European Commission and the power behind Jean-Claude Juncker, its president, has told diplomats that an extension until just before European elections, scheduled in Britain for May 23, would be nonsense because “six weeks won’t fix anything”. He believes that a British election or referendum is the most likely outcome but not until after the summer. “The EU will have to extend to allow time for elections and new government so that means until the end of the year,” he said, according to a diplomatic source. – The Times (£)

You can be better off outside EU, says the man tipped to replace Mark Carney

Britain can benefit from being outside the European Union if the government gets policy right after Brexit, a leading contender to be the next governor of the Bank of England has said. Speaking to The Times, Raghuram Rajan, a former chief economist at the International Monetary Fund, criticised the “profoundly undemocratic” centralisation of power by the EU and sympathised with the many Britons who wanted to break free. Asked if he thought Britain’s future might be brighter beyond Brussels, he said: “It could be, but it does require a lot of things to go right. The big Brexit debate is, can you, in a short span of time, re-engage with the world on equal terms while getting more sovereign powers? I have no doubt that there is a scenario in which that can happen and I have no doubt there are other scenarios where it flops miserably.” – The Times (£)

Protect human rights after Brexit, MPs tell ministers

Human rights must be at the heart of post-Brexit international agreements, MPs have said, claiming that Britain’s present safeguarding system is not working. In a report to be published today, the joint committee on human rights said the government must ensure that human rights standards are upheld in all international agreements made after Brexit, extending the committee’s remit to check and challenge human rights relating to the UK’s international obligations as well as its domestic ones. At present international agreements, such as bilateral free trade deals and extradition agreements, that include specific clauses to protect human rights are negotiated at EU level and scrutinised by the European parliament. The UK’s exit from the EU means that responsibility for examining these agreements will transfer to Westminster. But the committee, chaired by the Labour MP Harriet Harman, said that the present system to ensure parliament had proper information about the human rights implications of proposed agreements was not working. It pointed to the fact that parliament had not received “timely or adequate” information from the government about the potential human rights implications of international agreements being negotiated. – The Times (£)

Nigel Farage met Donald Trump and asked him to back a no-deal Brexit

Donald Trump and Nigel Farage discussed the merits of a no deal Brexit during a face-to-face meeting earlier this month, The Telegraph can reveal. The US president was urged to support walking away from the table if a bad agreement is on offer – just like he had done during North Korea talks in Vietnam.  The conversation took place at the Conservative Political Action Conference [Cpac] in Washington DC, a gathering of right-leaning politicians where both men gave speeches. Mr Trump has been critical of Theresa May’s Brexit deal, warning it will limit the scope of a US-UK free trade deal, but has not gone as far as to publicly call on Britain to leave the European Union without an agreement. If the US president were to announce support for a no deal Brexit it would be politically damaging for Mrs May, who is struggling to convince Brexiteers in her own party to vote for her proposals. The conversation is another sign of the access some hard Brexiteers have to the US president. Key members of Mr Trump’s administration are believed by UK officials to be fiercely Eurosceptic. – Telegraph (£)

EasyJet shores up EU supply chain in case of a no-deal Brexit

Low-cost airline easyJet is stockpiling parts for its aircraft in continental Europe, in case a no-deal Brexit severs its supply chains. Johan Lundgren, chief executive, said easyJet had also been transferring three aircraft a week to its new Austrian subsidiary, which now had a fleet of 130. He said the airline was “stockpiling” spare parts for the Austrian fleet, “so as part of our Brexit preparations we’re making sure we’re not reliant on spare parts . . . only in the UK”. He said easyJet had “pre-purchased a number of spare parts” and allocated them to the right facilities. The transfers represent a significant portion of easyJet’s total fleet, which numbered 315 aircraft last year. Of the airline’s 4,000 pilots, 1,400 now have Austrian registration, along with 3,000 cabin crew. Mr Lundgren said Brexit preparations had cost easyJet £10m as well as lost time. Fellow low-cost carrier Ryanair already has “ample spare parts” around the UK and continental Europe so has not been stockpiling, chief executive Michael O’Leary said. – FT (£)

Leave Means Leave serve legal notice to government over European Parliament elections

With speculation of a Brexit extension growing by the day, there are increasing suspicions that the UK and EU will stitch something up to avoid the hugely embarrassing spectacle of the UK taking part in the next European Parliament Elections, even if Article 50 has been extended past when the elections are due to take place in May. Farage will be the big winner – the Tories will be route. Leave Means Leave have now served legal notice on the Government to notify them that they will be taking legal action to ensure that voters can still take part in the European elections if the UK has failed to leave by that time. LML founder Richard Tice warns that “we cannot be in a situation where we become trapped in the EU without a say.” They have served a ‘pre-action’ notice to David Lidington today, Lidington now has a week to respond. – Guido Fawkes

William Hague: Brexit is there on the table. Take it and run, while there’s still a chance

As human beings, we have a natural tendency to blame others for landing us in a mess. And now, with British politics on the verge of the most complex, intractable, emotional and all-consuming muddle since the Civil War, preparations to blame everybody else are in full swing. If Brexit doesn’t happen on March 29, disappointing or enraging the 17 million people who voted for it, blame will be flung everywhere. Leavers will blame Remainers for undermining negotiations and Remainers will blame Leavers for not taking the deal in front of them. Many will blame the Irish for taking a hard line, and the EU in general for being so intransigent. Tories will blame each other for not uniting, and virtually everyone will blame Theresa May for not finding the genius solution. Unfortunately, there will be some truth in all of this, giving scope for all sides to whip up resentment and stoke division. For anyone who wants to hate the Establishment, or despise the majority, or split a party, or just rubbish their opponents, it will be a field day like no other. There will be more reasons than ever not to listen to each other. Instead we will all revel in the reinforcement of our existing opinions and know that we were totally right but disgracefully let down. – Lord Hague for the Telegraph (£)

Peter Oborne: The stakes could not be higher as MPs prepare for the most fateful vote in their history and decide whether or not to pass Mrs May’s deal

At lunchtime yesterday Theresa May looked finished. Negotiations with Brussels had failed. It appeared that Britain’s last days in the European Union had turned into a fiasco, and the Prime Minister’s heroic three-year quest to deliver Brexit was doomed. Around the time after-lunch coffee was being served, though, rumours started to circulate. A breakthrough! Like a greyhound out of the traps, Mrs May was en route to the airport to catch a flight to Strasbourg. This last-minute dash meant only one thing. The Prime Minister smelt a deal in the offing. One that could help her muster enough support in the House of Commons. But is she right? Has Mrs May extracted enough from Brussels to satisfy the 118 Tory Brexiteers who voted down her deal in January – in the process inflicting the largest defeat on a sitting prime minister in living memory? We won’t know the answer to that question till later today, but the problem is simple to explain. Mrs May cannot hope to get the support of Tory rebels if her withdrawal arrangement leaves Britain stuck forever in the Irish backstop – meaning that Northern Ireland must stay in the customs union, subject to European rules but with no decision making capacity. – Daily Mail

Owen Paterson: The PM’s deal would betray Leavers, divide the Conservative Party and shatter parliamentary democracy

Given that the political situation in Westminster remains so fluid, it is worth taking stock of why we are where we are. In 2015, the Conservatives promised that, if elected, we would hold a decisive in/out referendum on the UK’s EU membership. The party was returned to Government with more votes and MPs. The EU Referendum Act was subsequently passed by a ratio of six to one in the Commons, with Parliament deliberately and voluntarily giving responsibility for the final decision on our membership of the EU to the British people. A Government leaflet (costing the taxpayer over £9 million) confirmed that this “once in a generation decision” was “…your decision. The Government will implement what you decide.” 17.4 million people then voted to leave the EU – more than have ever voted for any issue or party in British history. In 2017, the Conservatives stood on a Manifesto pledge that “we will no longer be members of the single market or customs union.” At the top of page 36 – and since repeated by the Prime Minister over 100 times – it said, “no deal is better than a bad deal”. The Conservatives won more votes than any party for 25 years. Labour gave the same message, so that 85 per cent of the votes cast in the election were for parties which defined Brexit as leaving the Single Market, the Customs Union and the remit of the ECJ. – Owen Paterson MP for the Telegraph (£)

Sebastian Payne: Tory sceptics reserve judgment on May’s revised Brexit deal

Eurosceptic MPs are keeping an open, if sceptical, mind on whether to reverse their opposition to Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Following the British prime minister’s dash to Strasbourg on Monday evening to agree tweaks to the Irish border backstop, Brexiters in the House of Commons are holding back before passing judgment. Jacob Rees-Mogg, leader of the European Research Group of Brexit-supporting MPs, said that although it was “too early to tell definitively”, the changes Mrs May had secured were a “step in the right direction”. He told Sky News that the decision of the Democratic Unionist party would be crucial in changing his mind. If Mrs May has any hope of seeing through her revamped withdrawal package, she will first have to convince the 10 DUP MPs from Northern Ireland who prop up her minority government. Only then will hardline Brexit supporters in the Conservative parliamentary party look at rallying behind the prime minister. – Sebastian Payne for the FT (£)

Rachel Sylvester: EU waits to see winner of this power struggle

A duarchy is a government in which power is divided equally between two rulers. That is the unprecedented constitutional arrangement we have now arrived at in Britain as the country careers towards the Brexit cliff edge. Yesterday, even as the prime minister raced to Strasbourg to try to secure last-minute concessions from the EU, Michel Barnier, its chief negotiator, declared that the only talks that mattered were “between the government in London and the parliament in London”. With the country 17 days away from the scheduled date of departure from the EU, the legislature and the executive are locked in an extraordinary battle of wills. The two democratic institutions that normally work together to shape the laws of the land are struggling for supremacy in its moment of crisis. MPs have so far refused to endorse the prime minister’s approach on the most important issue of the day and are instead drawing up their own plans. Theresa May has failed to accept the sovereignty of the House of Commons, attempting to avoid or ignore votes that don’t suit her purpose. – Rachel Sylvester for The Times (£)

Nick Timothy: Theresa May’s deal is grotesquely flawed but is our only hope for any kind of Brexit

Amid the negotiating and politicking one thing seems forgotten. And that is why we voted to leave the European Union nearly three years ago. I voted to leave because I believe the EU is simply incompatible with national democracy. Free trade across borders creates prosperity, but the EU is a political project that resembles not a single market but an empire. National democracy is the only tried and tested way to govern fairly. It allows us to run the economy in our national interest, fund services, and show solidarity with one another, by creating good, well paid jobs for everyone, taxing people fairly and providing welfare for those who need it. The EU cannot do these things. Just ask the young unemployed workers of Spain. Or almost anybody in Greece. Or the people of places like Boston, Lincolnshire, who experienced their communities change almost overnight thanks to the unlimited free movement of people. And just ask any minister or diplomat whether the EU is capable of heeding public concern and changing direction. Or save yourself the time and listen to last week’s grandstanding by the French President, Emmanuel Macron. – The Sun

Telegraph: It’s the day of reckoning for Theresa May’s Brexit deal

The imagery of a British prime minister heading to the Continent in a last-ditch bid to avert a crisis is an unfortunate one that is etched on the national consciousness. When Neville Chamberlain went to Munich it was with the hopes of a nation on his shoulders. Last night, Theresa May flew to Strasbourg for eleventh hour Brexit talks against a backdrop of exasperation. When will this farrago ever end? Theoretically, it could be all over today if the Prime Minister has managed to change the Withdrawal Agreement in a significant way from the deal defeated in January by a record 230-vote margin. There is to be another vote in the Commons later today but she is only likely to win it if her colleagues can be persuaded that the treaty text now leaves no doubt that the so-called Irish backstop is temporary and that there is a clear exit route should the UK want one. Is this, then, the moment of truth or yet another staging post on a road to who knows where? The Prime Minister spent the weekend ringing around a dozen EU leaders in an effort to get their support for concessions that might get her Brexit deal over the line. The European Commission has obdurately refused to budge from the mandate given to it by the Council of Ministers, so Mrs May was right to go to the political leaders to break the impasse. – Telegraph (£) editorial

The Sun: Voting down Theresa May’s deal doesn’t lead to No Deal — it leads to No Brexit, no democracy, no power in the world

The definition of optimism is the Leave-backing MP who believes he can defeat Theresa May’s deal tomorrow and Brexit will still turn out fine. Because it doesn’t matter now how much the majority of voters want Brexit in full, with No Deal if necessary. Parliament’s Remainer majority no longer cares what Leavers want. If they did, we wouldn’t be in this mess. Some Remainer MPs will back Mrs May’s deal, knowing it’s doomed. It will be their last remotely pro-Brexit act. Once they see Leave MPs pass up perhaps their last chance to secure our exit they will pretend they have done their best by the 17.4million majority and set about defying their will more openly. We wish it were otherwise, but voting down the deal doesn’t lead to No Deal. It leads to Mrs May begging the EU for help which it will not supply because it wants Brexit reversed at any cost. It leads to the panicked postponement of Article 50, then the softest possible Brexit — unrecognisable to Leavers — or a second referendum the Establishment will do its utmost to skew for Remain. – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • Will EU backstop promises help Theresa May to win her Brexit vote? – Robert Peston for ITV News
  • There is no such thing as “No Deal” – and impartial broadcasters should recognise this – Brian Monteith for Think Scotland
  • What will it take to pass the Brexit deal? – Aarti Shanker for CapX
  • Post-Brexit, we will need people with low-skill jobs – George Eustice MP for the Evening Standard
  • Leaving the EU was supposed to remove overbearing regulations. So why is the government piling more silly laws on us? – Ross Clark for the Telegraph (£)
  • Varakdar holds emergency meeting as May secures ‘legally binding changes’ in Strasbourg – Express
  • Blair’s ‘collusion’ with Macron over Brexit could spark devastating results warns Carswell – Express