Theresa May won't rule out extension of Brexit transition to the end of 2022: Brexit News for Tuesday 20th November

Theresa May won't rule out extension of Brexit transition to the end of 2022: Brexit News for Tuesday 20th November

Theresa May won’t rule out extension of Brexit transition to the end of 2022…

The transition period after the UK leaves the EU could be extended to 2022, Theresa May has said. The Prime Minister’s comments came after the EU signalled it was open to letting post-Brexit arrangements remain in place for nearly four years. Addressing businesses at the CBI annual conference, Mrs May said extending the transition period is an “alternative to what has become known as the backstop”. “I want the future relationship to be able to be in place in January 2021,” she said. However, if this was not possible, Mrs May said the UK could choose between implementing the backstop and agreeing the transition period. “From my point of view, I think it is important in delivering for the British people that we are out of the implementation period before the next general election,” she said. – Telegraph (£)

…while Business Secretary Greg Clark explicitly backs the idea

The government wants the option of extending the Brexit transition period up to the end of 2022, the business secretary, Greg Clark, has said, a move likely to further enrage the Conservative party plotters who hope to remove Theresa May this week. Amid predictions from hardline Brexit-backing Tories that the crucial mark of 48 MPs seeking to depose May could be reached on Monday, Clark endorsed an idea raised by the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, which could keep the UK tied to Brussels rules for up to two further years. At a meeting of ambassadors from the EU’s 27 member states, Barnier proposed the idea of extending the transition period beyond the agreed 21-month limit, taking it to December 2022, allowing two extra years to negotiate the relationship. Asked about the idea, Clark said the option of extending the transition period at “our discretion” could help businesses having to potentially change working practices twice, but avoiding the chance of the backstop guarantee coming into force if a final trade deal had not been sealed in December 2020.Guardian

DUP MPs refuse to back Government in Budget votes in protest at Brexit Deal…

The Democratic Unionist Party made its unhappiness with the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal clear last night by abstaining from crunch votes on the Budget. It refused to vote on the Finance Bill as a warning to Theresa May over her plans for the Irish backstop. The move put the Government on notice that the DUP is edging closer to ripping up the ‘confidence and supply’ agreement that allows the Conservatives to govern. The party’s ten MPs prop up Mrs May’s minority administration through a formal deal that obliges them to vote for the Budget, the Queen’s Speech and Brexit legislation. But amid increasing rancour after Downing Street unveiled the withdrawal agreement setting out the terms of Britain leaving the EU, co-operation between the parties has come under threat. The DUP has said there is ‘serious trouble’ with the deal, which risks leaving Northern Ireland on a different regulatory footing to the rest of the UK – one of party leader Arlene Foster’s ‘blood red lines’. A source told the BBC: ‘Tory MPs need to realise that their jobs, their majorities, their careers depend on a good working relationship with the DUP and May doesn’t appear to be listening.’ – Daily Mail

  • Unionists fire warning shot in vote against budget – The Times (£)
  • Democratic Unionists refuse to back May in finance bill vote – FT (£)
  • DUP tells Theresa May to ‘keep her side of the bargain’ – BBC News
  • DUP faces pressure over Brexit – Bloomberg

…as Theresa May reportedly draws up plan to replace the Irish border backstop in a bid to win over angry Brexiteers

Theresa May has drawn up a secret plan to scrap the controversial Irish backstop in a bid to win round angry Tory Brexiteers. It has emerged that the PM has quietly won agreement from the EU to abandon the emergency plan if both sides can agree on “alternative arrangements” to keep the border open. Groundbreaking new technology that could be used to keep the border invisible is now being studied afresh in No10 as one option to meet the new aim. A technological solution to the border dilemma, known as ‘maximum facilitation’, was initially proposed by former Brexit Secretary David Davis but rejected by Mrs May last summer. Hardline Tory Brexiteer MPs loathe the current Irish backstop as they fear it could keep the UK within the EU’s customs union for years. But the PM hopes she may yet be able to regain some of their support for her EU deal if she commits to working up the technological solution in time to avoid the need for any backstop. – The Sun

Irish Taoiseach Leo Varadkar says a hard border is ‘not up for discussion’ even if the Brexit deal is voted down…

The Irish government will not consider a hard border on the island regardless of whether the House of Commons votes down the British government’s draft Brexit deal, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar has said. Mr Varadkar said that his government had “always had an open ear, open door to requests” from their British counterparts, but said the question of a hard border was not on the table. British Prime Minister Theresa May is facing an uphill battle to get her draft agreement with the EU approved by Parliament, with opposition from members of her own party, Labour, the DUP and the SNP. Objections to the ‘backstop’, which would avoid a hard border in Ireland, have been at the centre of much of the criticism directed towards Mrs May. The Taoiseach told RTÉ that while he acknowledged that further conversations would have to take place with the EU if the plan fails to get through the House of Commons, the 585-page withdrawal agreement had been “agreed already by the UK government and by negotiators”. – The Irish News

…but Northern Ireland Secretary Karen Bradley warns that a no-deal Brexit will mean border checks in Ireland

Secretary of State Karen Bradley has made clear a no-deal Brexit will deliver customs and regulatory checks on the island of Ireland. She stressed that, while the British government is committed to working to avoid a hard border, World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules are “very clear” and checks would need to be carried out on consignments passing between two customs territories on a contemporaneous basis. The Conservative MP also suggested that UK and EU commitments outlined in last December’s joint report on maintaining the Common Travel Area – an agreement which allows free movement for UK and Irish citizens in Britain and Ireland – would also be thrown into doubt in a no-deal scenario. Ms Bradley, who pitched the merits of the draft Brexit deal to business leaders in Belfast on Monday, said the report’s undertakings to protect the Single Electricity Market (SEM) and ensure certain citizens’ rights are upheld post-Brexit would also fall by the wayside if the UK crashes out. – The Irish News

Spain threatens to reject Brexit divorce deal over Gibraltar as EU infighting erupts

Spain has threatened to withdraw support for the draft Brexit divorce deal if its Gibraltar “veto” does not apply to a future trade deal between the UK and the EU. Josep Borrell, Spain’s foreign minister, warned that both sides should prepare for “last-minute surprises” as splits appeared among EU member states over the in-principle deal agreed with the UK last week by Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator. “We want to make sure the interpretation of this text is clear and shows that what’s being negotiated between the EU and the UK does not apply to Gibraltar,” said Mr Borrell. “The future negotiations over Gibraltar are separate,” he added. “Until that’s clear in the exit text and the political declaration over the future relationship, we won’t be able to agree to it.” Earlier, Mr Borrell told Onda Cero radio that EU consensus around the draft Withdrawal Agreement may “not be as peaceful as it seems”. Spain has what has been described as a “veto” over the Brexit withdrawal agreement applying to Gibraltar and has been holding bilateral talks with Britain over the territory. – Telegraph (£)

  • Spain rocks the boat with demand for Brexit veto over Gibraltar – The Times (£)
  • Defiant May refuses to cave in to Spain in Gibraltar Brexit clash – Express
  • Spain demands Gibraltar veto in Brexit deal – BBC News

A no-deal Brexit would be catastrophic for Scotland, says David Mundell…

David Mundell has warned that a no-deal Brexit would be “catastrophic” for Scotland and threaten the break-up of Britain. The Scottish Secretary said that although Theresa May’s deal was “not perfect” it was not as bad as had been suggested, and much better than the alternative of crashing out of Europe. He said it included the “hugely important” prospect of Scottish businesses being able to trade in the EU without tariffs and quotas, which was what business leaders wanted. He also accused Nicola Sturgeon, whose MPs will oppose the deal in the Commons, of pursuing a no-deal outcome in order to further her independence ambitions. The SNP claimed Mr Mundell sounded “more ridiculous with every day that passes” after he previously threatened to resign if Northern Ireland was given special treatment. He told BBC Scotland: “I’m supporting the deal because I believe a no-deal outcome would be catastrophic for Scotland.” – Telegraph (£)

…but threatens mutiny if the UK remains bound to Common Fisheries Policy…

David Mundell and the other 12 Scottish Conservative MPs wrote to Theresa May threatening mutiny if fishermen and women remain tied to the Common Fisheries Policy (CFP) past December 2020. With the EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier suggesting the transition deal could be extended by two more years, Mr Mundell put his foot down. “I’m very clear we can’t extend the period and include the Common Fisheries Policy in that extension,” he said. “I could not support that. I’m not playing into the resignation soap opera – what I’m focused on is outcomes.” Mr Mundell insisted he was trying to get the best deal possible for Scotland and attacked the SNP for “backing no deal”, which he said was the worst possible outcome, at the latest joint ministerial council (JMC) meeting today. – The Scotsman

…as France urges Brussels to take tougher line on fishing rights

France is leading a push for the EU to issue uncompromising official statements alongside any Brexit deal setting out the bloc’s red lines on issues such as fishing and regulatory alignment. The EU statements, known as side declarations, are often used by Brussels in negotiations to clarify the EU’s internal interpretation of any deal. However, Michel Barnier, the EU’s chief negotiator, has warned that the move could make it more difficult for Theresa May to sell any Brexit compromise to her already mutinous party. Yesterday the prime minister was warned by David Mundell, her Scottish secretary, that he could resign from the government if she signed up to an extended transition period that included EU fishing rights. During talks this week in Brussels European countries have pushed for guarantees that Britain will have to align with EU regulations after Brexit and give access to British fishing waters in return for zero-tariff trade on goods. France, Spain, Belgium, Denmark and Portugal are among countries unhappy that the withdrawal agreement did not include a promise on fishing rights. – The Times (£)

  • France pushes for extra EU demands on Brexit – FT (£)

David Davis calls for Commons vote on the Brexit deal before May meets EU leaders

David Davis has called on Theresa May to delay meeting EU leaders and hold the “meaningful” vote on her draft Withdrawal Agreement “straight away” instead. The former Brexit Secretary said “time was running out” and argued it would be embarrassing for the Prime Minister to return from Brussels only for the deal to be thwarted by her own MPs. Describing the likelihood of her tweaking the deal as “pretty small”, he said: “If I was giving her advice, I’d say put this proposal to the House of Commons straight away – you‘ve got 500 odd pages of it.” Asked during an interview with Bloomberg if the deal needed to go back to Brussels first, he replied: “Not really. It’s been agreed with the Commission agreed with her negotiators, and with her. Why do you need to go to Brussels first? Why not come straight to the House of Commons?” – Telegraph (£)

Brexit rebels admit their attempt to unseat Theresa May has stalled

Tory Eurosceptics have admitted an attempt to unseat Theresa May had stalled as bitter in-fighting broke out among Brexiteers. Despite confident predictions from Tory rebels that a no confidence vote would be held as soon as Tuesday, the extra letters from Conservative MPs needed to trigger a ballot failed to materialise on Monday. The confidence vote now appears to be on hold until after Parliament votes next month on Mrs May’s Brexit deal, which will itself be seen as a referendum on her leadership… One senior Brexiteer source told The Telegraph: “Today was supposed to be the day we finally got the 48 letters needed to force a no confidence vote but some people didn’t turn up to be counted. There is a lot of frustration, especially with some of the big names who haven’t yet put letters in.” – Telegraph (£)

  • Tory MPs are lying about sending letters calling for Theresa May to go, says committee boss in charge of vote – The Sun

Labour open to tabling no-confidence vote if the Brexit deal voted down…

Labour will consider calling for a vote of no confidence in Theresa May’s government if her Brexit deal is voted down and it appears the UK is at risk of crashing out of the EU without a deal, the party’s Brexit spokesman has said. Sir Keir Starmer told members of Labour’s parliamentary party on Monday night he was confident parliament would be able to prevent a no-deal scenario, and if necessary the opposition would stage a vote to call for an early election. “It would be politically unsustainable for any government to deliver a no deal without the consent of parliament,” Starmer told MPs. “There will be opportunities to make the majority against no deal heard. Motions will be tabled, amendments will be pressed and a no-confidence vote can be triggered.” A vote of no confidence requires a simple majority of the Commons to pass, although under the Fixed-term Parliaments Act, a 14-day period is allowed for a new government to be formed with the approval of MPs. – Guardian

  • Labour could bring down the government to block a no-deal Brexit – The Mirror

…while the party insists the EU would renegotiate the Brexit withdrawal agreement if it formed a government

The business secretary of Britain’s opposition Labour Party said the EU would be willing to renegotiate the proposed withdrawal agreement with her party. “The EU have renegotiated many deals in the past and I think to suggest they wouldn’t renegotiate would be wrong. I mean, the Lisbon Treaty and CETA are just two examples,” Rebecca Long-Bailey told BBC Radio’s Today program Monday. Her comments come after German Chancellor Angela Merkel said there is “no question” of making big changes to the agreement, and chief EU Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told EU27 ambassadors the bloc has a “duty” to stand firm on its key Brexit red lines. Long-Bailey said businesses are “certainly not getting the permanent customs union that [they] have been demanding,” adding that Labour would not support the deal as it stands. – Politico

Lords warn ministers off using ‘Henry VIII’ powers

Ministerial enthusiasm for so-called Henry VIII powers is constitutionally “objectionable”, peers said yesterday in the latest attack on the government’s approach to Brexit. The powers allow ministers to change laws through a process known as secondary legislation – but the House of Lords constitution committee said yesterday that they are “a departure from constitutional principle”. A report from the committee said that secondary legislation “has been used inappropriately to give effect to significant policy decisions”. Its view is potentially incendiary as ministers are expected to use Henry VIII provisions to fast track legislative amendments throughout the process of the UK leaving the EU. In the report, the Lords warned that scrutiny of statutory instruments “is an essential part of parliament’s work, and the government must take more account of parliamentarians’ concerns when deficiencies are identified”. – The Times (£)

David Davis: There has long been an alternative to this discredited deal – it’s the Canada-style plan that Tusk and Barnier offered us

The Spice Girls had it right when they said: ‘stop right now thank you very much’. Yes, last week was another frenzied one in British politics. The Prime Minister’s proposed agreement with the EU has gone down like a lead balloon. I’m afraid it is a failure of nerve by the establishment. Their antics have led to the resignation of two Brexit Secretaries – myself and now Dominic Raab. MPs, Party members and the British public are rightly dismayed. The consequence is that now there is speculation about the leadership of the Conservative Party. This is not the Brexit they voted for. This proposal would keep the UK permanently trapped in EU institutions and under EU domination. This is not taking back control of borders, laws and money, which 17.4 million people voted for. It breaks our commitment to leave the Customs Union in the 2017 Conservative Manifesto. This proposed deal will never get through the Commons. – David Davis MP for ConservativeHome

Peter Lilley: WTO terms are just normal business between countries, not a fate worse than death

Pity the poor British businesses who trade with America. Imagine the impossible challenges they face – because they already suffer the fate that we are told is in store for British companies trading with the EU if we leave without a deal. Exporters to the US have already “fallen off a cliff”, “crashed out”, suffered “catastrophe”. That is to say they trade on the same World Trade Organisation terms businesses will face when selling goods to Europe if we leave without a trade deal. Yet the odd thing is they are doing rather well. The US is our biggest national export market. We run a surplus on our trade with America but a huge deficit on our trade with the EU. And it’s not just with America. Our exports to all the countries we trade with on WTO terms have grown three times as fast as our trade with the Single Market since it began in the 1990s. – Lord Lilley for the Telegraph (£)

William Hague: Toppling Theresa May risks a bitter second Brexit referendum and a Corbyn government

The Conservative Party has a history of being ruthless in deposing leaders, and of usually benefitting from that. Whatever we all thought of Margaret Thatcher’s ejection from Downing Street in 1990, the Tories went on to win the next election against the odds. Her own overthrow of Ted Heath in 1975 was necessary and vastly beneficial, and the replacement of Iain Duncan Smith in 2003 resulted in a more unified party under Michael Howard. On all of these occasions, however, there was a clear and viable alternative plan. Whether they wanted an end to the poll tax in 1990, a more radical economic policy in 1975 or just a fresh leader with similar policies in 2003, the MPs who voted for a change at the top knew they could get what they wanted if enough of them voted for it. A realistic, alternative plan was available to them, and the risks of accidentally bringing complete disaster on themselves and their country was relatively low. – Lord Hague for the Telegraph (£)

Ian Birrell: Theresa May has proved she can’t be trusted over immigration

Theresa May has been clear about one thing from the start on Brexit: she saw the referendum result as an endorsement for her tough stance on immigration and would stop free movement between Britain and Europe regardless of the consequences. So the beleaguered prime minister, desperate to sell her battered deal, yesterday promised “an immigration system for the future everyone can have confidence in”. She told the Confederation of British Industry it would no longer be the case that Europeans could “jump the queue ahead of engineers from Sydney or software developers from Delhi” and she would deliver “a system that works for business”. Great stuff. If only it was true. Forget offensive talk of queue-jumping: free movement has been good for business just as it has been a boost for public services and tourism. May’s pose as the person to deliver a fairer system is unconvincing given her woeful history. During six years as home secretary she unleashed a hostile environment that corroded Britain’s reputation for fairness. The most obvious example was the Windrush scandal, such a callous catastrophe for thousands of families. – Ian Birrell for The Times (£)

Laura Kuenssberg: The DUP’s Brexit message to Theresa May

Unless and until the head honcho of the Tories’ backbench committee receives 48 letters there won’t be a vote of no confidence in the prime minister. As far as we know tonight the total has not yet been reached. One of those who has submitted their letter told me in no uncertain terms “where are the others?” – frustrated that many of his colleagues seem to have promised to be part of the action, but reinforcements are yet to arrive. If and when that threat can more clearly be seen to have retreated, there’s a lot to be said about the true power of backbench Brexiteers. But as of the time of writing we are not there yet and who knows, in a matter of hours, the putsch could suddenly be back on. Something very worrying however for Number 10 has just happened for real, more important in this moment than the potential threat from their own backbenches. The DUP, crucial to Theresa May holding on to power, has just abstained in votes on the finance bill. In other words, they decided not to back the prime minister on the Budget. – Laura Kuenssberg for BBC News

Melanie Phillips: No-deal is better than trashing democracy

We can now see that when Theresa May said “no deal is better than a bad deal”, what she really meant was that no deal was not just worse than a bad deal but was in fact her personal red line. This was singularly unfortunate, since it was obvious from the start that the EU would never agree to anything that would enable Britain to do what the Brexit vote intended it to do: become competitive and prosper. Since the EU is a protectionist cartel designed to stifle competition and freedom from its diktats, no-deal Brexit was always the only show in town. The EU understood, though, that May wouldn’t countenance leaving without a deal. With the assistance of Britain’s Sir Humphreys, it deployed this pre-emptive surrender as the weapon to force Britain to choose between a deal that effectively keeps it attached to the EU and no deal. – Melanie Phillips for The Times (£)

Telegraph: If the EU tweaks the withdrawal agreement over Gibraltar, why can’t it scrap the backstop too?

As if the Irish border question was not a big enough barrier to securing a Brexit agreement, a new obstacle has emerged in the form of Gibraltar. Spain is threatening to veto the UK/EU deal unless there is greater “clarity” over the future of the Rock. Spain disputes the UK’s sovereignty, granted by the Treaty of Utrecht in 1713 to end the War of Spanish Succession. However, when the people of Gibraltar were asked in a referendum in 2002 whether sovereignty should be shared between the two countries they rejected the idea by a landslide majority. Just one per cent of those who voted was in favour and they have a right of self-determination that Spain cannot unilaterally undo. But the Brexit agreement has to be ratified by the other 27 EU member states and when their foreign ministers met in Brussels yesterday it was evident that it is not yet a done deal. Spain wants Gibraltar to continue to be a bilateral matter sorted out between Madrid and London and not wrapped into future UK/EU trade arrangements. – Telegraph (£) editorial

The Sun says: So much for Theresa May’s Brexit deal is set in stone – Spain wants a rethink

So much for Theresa May’s claim that her Brexit deal is now set in stone. Spain wants a rethink. They’re not happy about including Gibraltar in it. Nor about possibly extending our transition period. Nor are the French. And unless those concerns are allayed, Spain “won’t be able to agree to it”, says foreign minister Josep Borrell. How can EU members tear up parts of the deal, yet our Prime Minister insists she can’t? She hasn’t signed away all our sovereign rights quite yet. The Sun is mildly encouraged by her now trying to convince Brussels to agree a tech solution to resolve the Irish border issue without the toxic “backstop” arrangement. It should have been central to our negotiations months ago. But who trusts Brussels not simply to find fault with it in perpetuity to stop us escaping their clutches? The PM must secure our power to leave the customs union — the European Union’s foundation stone — without ­needing their consent. – The Sun

Brexit in Brief

  • David Davis on Brexit Deal – Bloomberg video
  • Each chaotic day brings a People’s Vote closer – Rachel Sylvester for The Times (£)
  • The Pizza 5 – John Redwood’s Diary
  • The EU’s a band of losers, so why join? – Nick Ferrari for the Express
  • Never mind Brexit, Theresa May is a terrible Prime Minister – that is why she must go  – Tim Stanley for the Telegraph (£)
  • Senior City figures call for second Brexit vote – FT (£)
  • Sarah Wollaston pushes for MPs’ vote on second Brexit referendum – Guardian