Remainer Cabinet ministers tell Theresa May to stop using the threat of No Deal as a negotiating tactic: Brexit News for Tuesday 19 February

Remainer Cabinet ministers tell Theresa May to stop using the threat of No Deal as a negotiating tactic: Brexit News for Tuesday 19 February
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Remainer Cabinet ministers tell Theresa May to stop using the threat of No Deal as a negotiating tactic…

Four cabinet ministers have demanded the prime minister stop using the threat of a no-deal Brexit as a negotiating tactic, telling Theresa May that businesses and manufacturers now needed to be given certainty. The demand was made in a meeting with the prime minister on Monday by the justice secretary, David Gauke, the work and pensions secretary, Amber Rudd, the business secretary, Greg Clark, and the Scottish secretary, David Mundell. Cabinet sources suggested it would be a key intervention before May’s expected visit to Brussels on Wednesday and described all four as loyalists who were keen to deliver a Brexit deal. The ministers who requested the meeting with May believe that while no deal had once been a sensible negotiating tactic, a number of alarming announcements by businesses and manufacturers over recent weeks meant it was time for the option to be categorically ruled out. Downing Street described it as a “private meeting” and gave no further details, but the discussions are likely to inform the weekly cabinet meeting on Tuesday. – Guardian

…as splits emerge among pro-EU ministers over ‘spineless’ Philip Hammond

Splits are emerging within the pro-EU faction in Theresa May’s government, with Philip Hammond coming under heavy criticism as chancellor for his “spineless” approach to Brexit. The growing tensions within the ranks of the pro-European Tories highlight their practical difficulties in maintaining a common front as they try to put pressure on Mrs May to rule out a no-deal Brexit in coming days. Some pro-European ministers fault Mr Hammond for not taking advantage of his seniority — and, in particular, for not threatening to resign to avert a no-deal scenario. “He is spineless,” said one person close to a cabinet minister. “He could be doing so much more and he doesn’t seem to have the guts.” Some ministers describe the chancellor as a peripheral figure in an anti no-deal group that includes cabinet members such as David Gauke, Amber Rudd, Greg Clark and David Mundell, as well as other ministers such as Margot James, Richard Harrington, Tobias Ellwood and Alistair Burt. – FT (£)

Brexit Secretary has ‘positive’ talks with Michel Barnier on alternatives to the Irish backstop

Theresa May faces a fresh battle with Brexiteers after it emerged a compromise plan on how to take Britain out of the EU has been sidelined. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay took details of “Plan C”, drawn up by Brexiteers and Remainers, to talks with his counterpart in Brussels. But the call for “alternative arrangements” to a backstop preventing a hard Irish border was sidelined in favour of legal assurances. Mr Barclay and Attorney-General Geoffrey Cox will return to Brussels on Wednesday to present EU officials with a “legal way forward”. Mr Cox will aim to secure a fresh legal text that allows him to reverse his November warning Britain could be locked in the custom union backstop by the EU. After a “positive” two-hour meeting with Brussels negotiator Michel Barnier, Mr Barclay said the Government now wants a document that sets out the temporary nature of the backstop. He said: “The Attorney-General shared his thinking in terms of the legal way forward and how we address the central issue of concern in terms of the indefinite nature of the backstop. – Express

A Brexit breakthrough is in God’s hands, says Jean-Claude Juncker…

Jean-Claude Juncker, the EU’s most senior official, declared that Brexit was “in God’s hands” on Monday, as he said Brussels would be open to delaying Brexit if it avoided a ‘no deal’ scenario. In an interview with German newspaper Stuttgarter Zeitung, the eccentric European Commission president said that Brexit was now being dictated by higher forces. “When it comes to Brexit, it is like being before the courts or on the high seas; we are in God’s hands. And we can never quite be sure when God will take the matter in hand” Mr Juncker said. Britain is due to abruptly leave the EU and all of its institutions on March 29 unless it agrees to the Brexit deal secured by Theresa May. However, to avoid leaving with no deal, the UK could request an extension of the Article 50 process, which would effectively delay Brexit by several months. Mr Juncker said Britain is yet to request an Article 50 extension but added that the EU would not oppose a Brexit delay. – Telegraph (£)

  • ‘We are in God’s hands’ Juncker says of Brexit – FT (£)

…while he suggests a Brexit delay beyond the European election is possible

European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said he could not rule out an extension to Britain’s EU membership beyond the European Parliament elections in May. “That to my mind would be an irony of history. Yet I cannot rule it out,” Juncker told Stuttgarter Zeitung in an interview. “Any decision to ask for more time lies with the UK. If such a request were to be made, no one in Europe would oppose it,” he said. With the Brexit deal agreed between London and Brussels comprehensively rejected by MPs in the U.K. parliament last month and political deadlock in Westminster, speculation has increased that the U.K. government will be forced to seek an extension to the Article 50 negotiating period. Without it, there is widespread fear that the U.K. will be forced into a no-deal Brexit. – Politico

Irish Foreign Minister rejects calls for ‘keyhole surgery’ on the Brexit deal…

Ireland’s deputy prime minister has flatly ruled out any “keyhole surgery” on Theresa May’s Brexit deal, as he warned that Brexiteers who support untested alternatives to the Irish backstop were indulging in “wishful thinking”. Last week it was reported that EU officials had considered carrying out “keyhole surgery” on the Withdrawal Agreement, with small tweaks made to the text which would reassure British MPs that the backstop was only a temporary measure. But on Monday afternoon, Simon Coveney said Ireland could not allow any changes to be made to the Irish backstop as it was the only way to guarantee that there would not be a hard border in Ireland immediately after Brexit.  Asked by reporters whether the “keyhole surgery” proposal would work, Mr Coveney replied: “I don’t think there’s any appetite across the EU to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and change the text. –Telegraph (£)

…and insists Dublin will not be ‘steamrolled’ by the UK

Jeremy Hunt was confronted over alleged British attempts to isolate Ireland from its EU partners by the country’s deputy prime minister during a meeting in Brussels on Monday, as tensions over the continuing Brexit impasse bubbled to the surface. Ireland’s tánaiste, Simon Coveney raised “negative briefings” in a private meeting with the foreign secretary before later publicly expressing his frustration over a lack of progress, with fewer than 40 days to go until Brexit. Warning that Ireland would not be “steamrolled” in the last weeks of the Brexit talks, Coveney told reporters: “Yes, there is frustration in Ireland. We have less than 40 days to go to until the United Kingdom is formally leaving the European Union and we still don’t know what the British government is actually asking for to actually get this deal ratified. So, yes, there is frustration.” When asked by reporters about the clash with the British cabinet minister, Coveney said there had been a “good and honest” discussion but that he would not publicly “start slinging accusations around the place”. Ireland has become concerned by perceived attempts by the British government to depict Irish intransigence over the backstop as the only stumbling block to ratification of the Brexit deal by parliament. – Guardian

Honda to close Swindon plant in 2021 with 3,500 job losses…

The Japanese car giant Honda is to shut its only British factory, leading to the loss of thousands of jobs in an industry already struggling with Brexit-related uncertainty. The company is expected to announce tomorrow [Tuesday] that its plant in Swindon will shut in 2022, affecting 3,500 people directly employed by the company and many others in the carmaker’s supply chain. The closure, first reported by Sky News, will be the biggest blow to car manufacturing in the UK since the collapse of Rover 14 years ago. It follows thousands of job losses at Jaguar Land Rover, Vauxhall, Ford and Michelin and the decision by Nissan to build its new models in Japan rather than Sunderland. The industry has been under pressure from the collapse in sales of diesel vehicles plus the fears and uncertainties for carmakers over what will happen with rising costs and delays following Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union. The company is expected to move production back to Japan, partly because the new trade deal between Japan and the EU signed at the start of this month will eventually guarantee tariff-free car exports to the EU. – The Times (£)

…but it’s not because of Brexit

A Honda factory in Turkey is also set to close, Swindon MPs have revealed. In a joint statement, Robert Buckland and Justin Tomlinson said the Swindon facility was a victim of global trends rather than Brexit. They said: “Honda have been very clear – this decision has been made because of global trends and is not related to Brexit. The Turkey factory will also close as all European market production is being consolidated to Japan where the company is based. This consolidation is made easier by the new EU-Japan trade deal which will allow Honda to produce their cars in Japan and import them into the EU, rather than produce the cars in Europe.” – Swindon Advertiser

  • Swindon factory ‘to close’ – but MP declares it’s ‘not because of Brexit’ – Express

Britain and Israel sign trade continuity agreement to take effect after Brexit

The UK and Israel have signed a trade continuity agreement to take effect after Brexit, with the Department for International Trade saying the move would “deliver significant savings and help to safeguard British jobs”. Liam Fox, the UK’s International Trade Secretary, and Eli Cohen, Israel’s Minister of Economy and Industry, signed the agreement in Jerusalem on Monday. According to the Department for International Trade, the agreement “allows businesses to trade as freely as they do now, without any additional barriers or tariffs.” The department also noted that the agreement could mean “the British vehicles sector could avoid up to £9 million a year in tariff charges on their exports that would apply if the agreement wasn’t in place, while machinery and mechanical appliance exporters could avoid up to £5 million a year.” It also said that UK consumers would “continue to benefit from more choice and lower prices on goods imported from Israel, such as pharmaceutical products”. Israeli companies currently act as major suppliers of pharmaceuticals to the NHS; Teva Pharmaceuticals, an Israeli company, is the largest manufacturer of generic medicines in the world. – The Jewish Chronicle

Jeremy Corbyn’s Brexit stance among the reasons for seven MPs quitting the party

Seven MPs have resigned from the Labour Party in protest at Jeremy Corbyn’s approach to Brexit and anti-Semitism. They are: Chuka Umunna, Luciana Berger, Chris Leslie, Angela Smith, Mike Gapes, Gavin Shuker and Ann Coffey. Ms Berger said Labour had become institutionally anti-Semitic and she was “embarrassed and ashamed” to stay… Chris Leslie said Labour under Mr Corbyn had been “hijacked by the machine politics of the hard left”. Mike Gapes said he was “sickened that Labour is now perceived by many as a racist, anti-Semitic party” and “furious that the Labour leadership is complicit in facilitating Brexit”. – BBC News

  • Labour MPs quit party in disgust at antisemitism, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership and Brexit stance – Independent
  • Tory minister and four Conservative backbench MPs poised to join Labour splinter group – Telegraph (£)

Michael Gove vows to uphold food standards after Brexit

The environment secretary, Michael Gove, is to pledge that British food standards will not be lowered “in pursuit of trade deals”. In an address to the National Farmers’ Union annual conference on Tuesday he is expected to also vow to minimise the risk that food producers will be left at “competitive disadvantage” in the face of cheaper imports that are below EU standards. His words follow a recent warning from senior figures in the US that if the UK chooses after Brexit to adhere to EU regulations, which ban chlorinated chicken and hormone-fed beef, then trade talks will be difficult. There have also been warnings that high tariffs on beef and lamb imposed after the UK’s departure could wipe out some farmers who rely on exports to the EU. Gove will tell farmers: “We have been clear that we will not lower our standards in pursuit of trade deals, and that we will use the tools we have at our disposal – tariffs, quotas and legislation – to make sure standards are protected and you are not left at a competitive disadvantage.” – Guardian

Sajid Javid warns EU counterparts of joint policing ‘disruption’ in no-deal scenario

The home secretary, Sajid Javid, has urged his EU counterparts to prepare for the eventuality that current joint policing systems could discontinue on 30 March because of a no-deal Brexit. The EU and the UK have produced similar contingency plans for no-deal arrangements but Javid has now written to member states appealing for them to “minimise operational disruption” by ensuring measures are in place on time. He also warns that there is, as yet, no deal in place for sharing of airline passenger data, critical in the fight against criminals and terrorists who flee to another country to escape the law. “I wanted to write to you now to ensure readiness for the alternative contingency arrangements should that become necessary,” writes Javid. “We must do all we can to minimise operational disruption in this vital area.” – Guardian

City relief as EU gives no-deal green light for clearing houses

Europe stepped up preparations for a no-deal Brexit on Monday after giving key parts of the City of London temporary access to EU customers in the event of a cliff-edge departure.  The European Securities and Markets Authority, the EU financial regulator, has granted three UK-based clearing houses — LCH, ICE Clear Europe and LME Clear — licences to carry on doing business with European-based customers over the next 12 months even if politicians fail to strike an agreement. London dominates clearing for derivatives traded by European customers and clears nearly all over-the-counter derivatives, mainly interest-rates swaps, traded in euros. Clearing houses are a vital part of the financial infrastructure and ensure stability by acting as the buyer or seller of last resort in the event of a customer default. LCH, owned by the London Stock Exchange, dominates the trade but American-owned ICE Clear Europe and the London Metal Exchange’s clearing system LME Clear also form a key part of the plumbing in the EU financial system. – Evening Standard

James Attwood: Why Honda is set to shut its Swindon factory

The news that Honda is set to close its Swindon manufacturing plant by 2022 is a major shock, and a huge blow. To the UK car industry. To Swindon. And, most importantly, to the 3500 workers set to lose their jobs – and the thousands of others who work at firms that supply and service it. The Japanese firm has been building cars and engines at the plant since 1989, and as recently as last autumn the firm said it was committed to production there, regardless of the outcome of Brexit negotiations. It’s hard not to consider Honda’s decision in the context of other bad news to hit the car industry in the UK, such as Jaguar Land Rover’s job cuts, or Nissan reversing its decision to build the next-generation X-Trail in Sunderland. It’s natural, then, to try and connect the dots, to try and identify some single ill that has befallen the industry. And, of course, in the current political climate it’s inevitable some will suggest that single ill is Brexit. Is Brexit uncertainty a factor? Almost certainly. As Jim Holder wrote following Nissan’s X-Trail decision recently, such uncertainty makes it difficult for companies to plan long-term. And car companies need to plan long-term. But it’s not the only reason – or the key reason, in this case. – James Attwood for Autocar

  • Don’t blame Brexit – Honda’s problems run far deeper than that – Andrew English for the Telegraph (£)

Robert Peston: Why the exit of the Labour Seven may lessen Corbyn’s scepticism about a people’s vote

What a day. Seven anti-Corbyn Labour MPs quit Labour because…they’ve lost all hope of reclaiming their party, ever. And Honda prepares to rip the heart out of manufacturing in the south west with the imminent announcement it will be closing its car plant in Swindon. Both events will have a profound impact on what kind of Brexit, if any, we will get. Against my initial assessment, the departure of Luciana Berger, Chuka Ummuna, Chris Leslie, Mike Gapes, Angela Smith, Ann Coffey and Gavin Shuker may actually lessen the hostility to a people’s vote from Jeremy Corbyn and his anti-referendum aides and allies, the four “Ms” Murphy, Milne, Murray and McCluskey. How so? Well those who remain in Labour pushing for a referendum, like Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, should presumably be less vulnerable to the Corbynista charge that they are using the push for a people’s vote as a fiendish Blairite cover to usurp the Great Leader Corbyn. So just maybe there will be a more open and less mistrustful debate in the shadow cabinet about how to honour Labour’s notorious conference motion that retains the option of a referendum as a last resort. – Robert Peston for ITV News

Tim Stanley: This isn’t a new centre party – it’s a club for old-fashioned Remainers and Blairites

I have tremendous admiration and respect for the seven MPs who quit Labour yesterday: it took real courage and they’re right about the danger posed to democracy by mob politics and anti-Semitism. But aside from hating Jeremy Corbyn, what unites the new Independent Group? Brexit. What explains their timing? Brexit. What do they want to do? Stop Brexit. This is a Remainer party. Worse, it’s a party that confuses its outdated Europhilia for moderation. No one is 100 per cent sure where the centre ground is, but it’s probably closer to Sunderland than Brussels. If the overriding motivation for leaving Labour was anti-Semitism, the magnificent seven could have ridden off into the sunset months ago. No, what’s forced their hand is that it’s not long until Brexit and Mr Corbyn won’t endorse a second referendum, and the lack of Labour Leaver MPs such as Kate Hoey shows that this probably won’t be a “big tent” project. The Independent Group is pitched at a very specific demographic that fancies itself as the salvation of an untapped silent majority. – Tim Stanley for the Telegraph (£)

John Redwood: An Independent group

UK politics has been substantially changed by the Brexit vote. It led to the two main parties defying the trend in the UK from 2010, and the trend on the continent, of  declining vote shares for the two traditional left of centre and right of centre parties. Labour and Conservative together leapt up to 82% of the vote at a time when on the continent the two traditional parties in most countries is  now well below 50% together and in some cases as in France down to under 20%. Labour gained votes by moving leftwards whilst saying they would implement Brexit, Conservatives gained votes by pledging we will leave the EU. The election did not show a large demand for a new party pro the EU along Lib Dem or Blairite lines. UK politics this year will be about Brexit. Both main parties have to assist it or suffer electorally if they do not. Both promised voters they would implement the referendum, and both said they wanted an independent trade policy for the UK which means leaving the customs union. The Independent Group wisely avoided making Brexit the main point of their break from Labour, as they would be putting themselves in a difficult and unpopular position if that is their main grudge. They were after all  willing to stand for election on a pro Brexit ticket in 2017. They also need differences that will last longer than the time to our departing the EU. So far they struggle to define them, but doubtless will do more to set them out in the weeks ahead. The biggest point of difference they highlighted is one of tone and approach to people, with their plea for a kinder more inclusive type of politics than they find in the modern Labour party. – John Redwood’s Diary

The Sun: Congratulations to the Independents, but you can’t build the foundation of a party on trying to reverse Brexit

Our congratulations to the Gang of Seven for finally mustering the courage to drag themselves out of the sewer that is ­Corbyn’s Labour. But there is a fatal flaw in the Remainers’ pitch to the nation. You cannot “build a new politics” when your foundation stone is an attempt to reverse the biggest democratic mandate in our history. That is not a respectable position. And it immediately repels 17.4million Leavers, plus many Remainers who know the referendum result must be fulfilled. Nor can you credibly demand a ­second Brexit vote while refusing to call by-elections in your own seats. In 2017 these MPs won majorities for Labour on Corbyn’s pro-Brexit manifesto. They have dumped both. They cannot argue Britain needs another referendum without accepting that their own constituencies have a far more urgent claim for a second vote on them. All that said, we did not disagree with a word as they tore apart Corbyn, his Communist acolytes and the vicious hard-Left sycophants whose sanctimonious hatred pollutes public debate. Labour is now a racist party. Its deranged economics would reduce us to hardship beyond Britain’s experience. – The Sun

Brexit in Brief

  • Jeremy Hunt’s Brexit test — it won’t be as bad as Remainers fear – Politico
  • Businesses could face new barrier to trade with EU after Brexit – The Times (£)