Jeremy Corbyn U-turns and signals Labour backing for a second Brexit referendum: Brexit News for Tuesday 26 February

Jeremy Corbyn U-turns and signals Labour backing for a second Brexit referendum: Brexit News for Tuesday 26 February
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Jeremy Corbyn U-turns and signals Labour backing for a second Brexit referendum

Jeremy Corbyn has backed another Brexit referendum for the first time, telling Labour MPs a fresh vote might be needed to “prevent a damaging Tory Brexit”. After months of intense lobbying by many of his MPs the Labour leader announced this evening that he was “committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote” once the party’s plans for a permanent customs union are almost certainly defeated later this week. Pro-EU campaigners responded jubilantly although there is little detail yet on what form Mr Corbyn’s proposed referendum would take, and whether an option to remain would definitely be on the ballot paper. David Lammy, the Labour MP for Tottenham who has campaigned for another referendum, said: “Jeremy Corbyn is today taking the first step to reunite our party by showing he is listening to our voters and members on this, the biggest issue of our time.” Earlier EU leaders called on Theresa May today to ask for an extension to the Article 50 process if she cannot get a revised deal passed by parliament. – The Times (£)

  • Jeremy Corbyn backs second referendum to prevent ‘a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on country’ – Telegraph (£)
  • Labour party to back second referendum on Brexit – FT (£)
  • Labour to back moves for second Brexit referendum – Guardian

> Labour Leave’s Brendan Chilton previously on BrexitCentral: The Labour brand is being damaged by all those in my party talking of a second referendum

Theresa May reportedly set to rule out no-deal Brexit after 15 ministers threaten to quit…

Theresa May is ready to rule out a No Deal Brexit after an extraordinary mass revolt by ministers, the Daily Mail can reveal. A group of 23 dissidents met secretly at the Commons last night to discuss how to stop Britain leaving the EU without an agreement on March 29, with as many as 15 said to be ready to resign. In an article for the Mail today, three of the ministers involved say they are prepared to back a Commons move by rebel MPs tomorrow to force the Prime Minister to seek a Brexit delay if her deal is voted down. Industry minister Richard Harrington, digital minister Margot James and energy minister Claire Perry ‘implore’ Mrs May to say that if there is no deal agreed by Parliament by March 13 then she must seek a way to extend Article 50. If she fails to do so they warn bluntly they ‘will have no choice other than to join MPs of all parties and fellow ministers in acting in the national interest to prevent a disaster in less than five weeks that we may regret forever’. And in a dramatic development last night, it appeared the Prime Minister was preparing to bow to their demands and rule out a No Deal Brexit. – Daily Mail

  • Prime Minister warned 15 Remain MPs prepared to quit if no-deal Brexit remains on the table – Telegraph (£)
  • Theresa May poised to open the way for delaying Brexit – FT (£)
  • Tories urge Theresa May not to delay ruling out no-deal Brexit – Guardian

…with the Cabinet due to hear May’s latest proposals this morning

Theresa May will today propose to Cabinet that she formally rules out a No Deal Brexit on March 29, opening the door to a delay. The decision will mean putting off Britain’s EU exit by weeks or months if MPs still haven’t passed a new divorce agreement in two weeks time. On Monday night, three “Remain” Ministers warned as many as 15 could quit if she fails to commit to delaying Brexit. Business Minister Richard Harrington, Energy Minister Claire Perry and Digital Minister Margot James echoed a dire warning from Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark on Friday night. They said they were fully prepared to back a Commons move led by Yvette Cooper. And they called on the PM to commit to extending Article 50 if she loses the next Meaningful Vote on March 12. Mrs May’s highly controversial move will infuriate hardline Tory Leavers. But allies of the PM say she has come to the difficult conclusion that the personal U-turn is the only way to avoid a “catastrophic” defeat by a Remain ministers’ rebellion. – The Sun

Donald Tusk says the UK faces a chaotic Brexit or an extension of Article 50…

Theresa May will not get her Brexit deal through the Commons, Donald Tusk has warned, leaving the UK with the option of “a chaotic Brexit” or an extension of its membership of the EU beyond 29 March. The European council president, to quell “speculation”, disclosed that, during private talks with the prime minister at a summit in Sharm el-Sheikh, he had walked through the legal process that would need to be followed to delay Brexit. Tusk said it was not the EU’s “plan” to extend the two-year negotiation but that it was now evident to him that it was the “rational solution” in light of the prime minister’s failure to corral a majority behind the deal. Shortly after Tusk spoke at a press conference together with the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, at the end of the first EU-League of Arab states summit, May said they had had a good meeting but insisted that she remained opposed to any delay. “An extension to article 50, a delay in this process, doesn’t deliver a decision in parliament, it doesn’t deliver a deal,” she said at a separate press conference. “All it does is precisely what the word ‘delay’ says. Any extension of article 50 isn’t addressing the issues. – Guardian

  • EU president Donald Tusk says extending Article 50 would be ‘rational’ solution – Independent

> WATCH: ‘No majority’ for any Brexit route and an extension of Article 50 would be ‘rational’ says Donald Tusk

> Steven Woolfe MEP on BrexitCentral today: Delaying Brexit with an extension to Article 50 means Remaining in the EU

…although May insists a delay ‘doesn’t deliver a deal or a decision’

Prime Minister Theresa May has pushed back over her resistance to delaying Brexit by saying any extension isn’t “addressing the issues”. At a summit in Egypt ITV News Political Editor Robert Peston asked Mrs May why she was resisting a delay to Brexit beyond March 29. She said: “An extension to Article 50, a delay in this process, doesn’t deliver a decision in Parliament, it doesn’t deliver a deal. All it does is precisely what the word ‘delay’ says. Any extension of Article 50 isn’t addressing the issues. We have it within our grasp. I’ve had a real sense from the meetings I’ve had here and the conversations I’ve had in recent days that we can achieve that deal. It’s within our grasp to leave with a deal on March 29 and that’s where all of my energies are going to be focused.” It comes as Labour announced it would formally back a second referendum. Speaking in Sharm el Sheikh, Mrs May said she had had “good” meetings with EU leaders including European Council president Donald Tusk, Jean-Claude Juncker, Mrs Merkel, Mark Rutte, Leo Varadkar and Guiseppe Conte. – ITV News

  • I won’t delay Brexit, May tells Angela Merkel – The Times (£)
  • No new proposals in Varadkar talks with May – FT (£)

> WATCH: Theresa May’s statement on Brexit at Sharm el-Sheikh

Government said to be planning to pay billions to Brussels – even in the event of No Deal

The government is making plans to pay billions of euros to Brussels to settle large parts of the £39bn Brexit divorce bill even in the event of a ‘no deal’, the Telegraph can reveal. Ministers signed off the in-principle decision on Monday at a meeting of the Brexit ‘no deal’ preparedness cabinet committee, according to senior Whitehall sources. Under a plan agreed on Monday, the Government will table an executive order, or Statutory Instrument, in the final days of the Brexit negotiations to create the legal foundations for future payments to Brussels. The move flies in the face of expectations of leading Brexiteers that a ‘no deal’ Brexit will save the country from paying the £39 billion EU divorce settlement. Last month the European Union put the UK on notice that it still expected the British government to “honour the obligations” from its EU membership in the event of a ‘no deal’, starting with payments for the remainder of 2019, estimated at €7.1bn (£6.1bn). It added that it wanted written confirmation of Britain’s intention to pay by April 18 2019, with monies transferred to the EU’s account by April 30. – Telegraph (£)

Sixty Conservative MPs plan to force May to recognise legal rights of EU nationals in UK

Theresa May is facing a major rebellion after dozens of Conservative MPs backed an amendment demanding she guarantee the rights of European Union nationals in the UK after Brexit day. More than 130 MPs – including 60 Tory MPs – are backing an amendment to a Government motion on the Brexit talks, which demands the commitment in writing in the event of a no deal Brexit. The amendment is signed by Jacob Rees-Mogg, Sir Edward Leigh, Steve Baker and Sir Graham Brady from the Eurosceptic wing of the party, and Sir Oliver Letwin, Dominic Grieve and Jonathan Djanogly from the pro-EU side of the party. The amendment would force the Prime Minister formally to accept in writing a unilateral guarantee for EU nationals in the UK in the event of a no deal Brexit after the UK leaves the EU. The amendment is expected to be tabled on Tuesday by Alberto Costa, a member of her own Government immediately after Mrs May tables her motion on the progress on the talks. He is expected to have to resign as a Parliamentary Private Secretary in the Scotland Office if his amendment is selected by John Bercow, the Speaker. – Telegraph (£)

Independent Group to bring contempt proceedings if government fails to publish no-deal Brexit papers within 48 hours

Independent Group MPs will bring contempt proceedings if the government fails to publish cabinet papers on the damage from a no-deal Brexit within 48 hours. Both Chuka Umunna, a former Labour MP, and Anna Soubry, an-ex Conservative, warned Theresa May that the deadline – agreed in parliament two weeks ago – had to be met. “If they don’t do so, we will immediately move to institute contempt proceedings against them in the Commons for going back on their promises,” Mr Umunna said. Ms Soubry added: “This minister, with the agreement of the government, said, ‘We will give you these papers.’ These papers are really, really important.” The threat follows Ms Soubry’s decision to delay a showdown on extracting the papers when the prime minister suffered her last Brexit defeat a fortnight ago, but only because of the promise that they would be published. They are expected to show a huge economic hit from crashing out of the EU without an agreement, which some economists believe could match the recession after the 2008 financial crash. – Independent

Switzerland and UK agree to keep status quo for residents after Brexit

Switzerland and the United Kingdom have signed an agreement to help their citizens living in the respective countries keep their existing rights, including being able to move and change jobs, after the UK leaves the European Union. “Both Swiss and British citizens will retain the rights obtained under the Agreement on the Free Movement of Persons (AFMP) between Switzerland and the EU after Brexit,” the Swiss government said in a statement on Monday. The agreement will apply to Swiss citizens living in the UK — and vice versa — and the rights granted will be valid for life, the government said. Switzerland and the UK have already signed agreements on trade, road transport, air transport and insurance to ensure continuity after the UK leaves the EU. Switzerland has also created a temporary quota system that would allow 3,500 British citizens to come and work in Switzerland in the event of a disorderly Brexit. – Reuters

Michael Deacon: Will Theresa May ever give us a straight answer on Brexit?

Before Theresa May’s press conference in Sharm el Sheikh, a rumour went round that the Egyptian authorities would not permit any questions about Brexit. I don’t know who started it. But it was very cruel of them to get our hopes up like that. As it turned out, journalists were free to ask Mrs May whatever they liked. Not that it mattered. I’ve said this so many times now that I’m in danger of becoming as repetitive as she is. But watching the Prime Minister field questions about Brexit is extraordinary. No matter what you ask her, she point-blank refuses to give a straight answer. This afternoon, at the close of the EU-Arab League summit, she was asked again and again whether she would be willing to delay Brexit, if MPs didn’t vote for her deal. But every time she just repeated that she wanted MPs to vote for her deal. “There’s a really simple question here, which your party and the public would love to hear you answer,” said the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg, pleadingly. – Michael Deacon for the Telegraph (£)

Marcus Fysh: The Brexit Ghostbusters are at work. I ain’t afraid of no ghosts — and nor should you be

Opponents of leaving the EU have been ever more shrill in their attempts to portray the consequences of not signing the Government’s proposed Withdrawal Agreement as a terrifying disaster, even as “Ghostbuster” contingency plans of the EU and UK have been systematically addressing each concern. Even ministers whose job it should be to reassure, and to plan, have been determined it seems, either by design or on account of misunderstanding, to tell ghost stories rather than focus on the practicalities. So the three horsepeople of the Apocalypse so far to break cover from the Cabinet, Amber Rudd, David Gauke and Greg Clark, seem more interested in calling disaster than communicating the practical progress the Government and EU have been making to prepare for all eventualities, which would help confidence and guide business as to what needs to be done. This followed business minister Richard Harrington, who apparently has responsibility for No Deal planning in the Business Department, seemingly attempt to spook the nation with his apparition of automotive trade hell on Radio 4’s Week in Westminster on the 16th February – a less than accurate picture. – Marcus Fysh MP for the Telegraph (£)

John Redwood: Why the Withdrawal Agreement is bad for the UK

I have been asked to spell out more details on the features of the WA other than the Irish backstop which make it a bad deal. The first point is it contradicts the Conservative Manifesto and 2017 government policy of negotiating the Withdrawal issues and the future partnership together. You must stick to this to get leverage from concessions made on Withdrawal to benefits in the future partnership. Nothing should be agreed until everything is agreed. It is why we have got a bad Withdrawal Agreement, and are being set up to get a bad future partnership as well. The second is the provision to pay them very large sums of money, stretching for many years into the future. No sensible person would sign an agreement which allows one side to send bill after bill for years after we have left, claiming we owe them money under many general heads set out in the Withdrawal Agreement. The Treasury estimate of £39bn is likely to be far too low. Some of the future liabilities stretch forward a hundred years, relating to payments to people not yet born who might come here before the end of the transition period. Paying to belong until 2020 opens up more future commitments under the 2019-20 budget, with liabilities until 2028. The settlement on the European Investment Bank is mean to the UK. Every conceivable future liability for the EU is recorded with as much liability as possible attaching to the UK under various clauses. – John Redwood’s Diary

Yanis Varoufakis: Britain needs to stop playing the EU’s game and take a harder line on Brexit

Imagine that we knew the day of our death. Our lives would change drastically. Though we know we shall surely die, not knowing precisely when the mortal coil will be shuffled off makes all the difference, allowing us to live life productively on a day-by-day basis. For exactly the same reason, the fixed deadline embedded in Article 50 of the Lisbon Treaty guaranteed that nothing good would come out of the Brexit negotiations. A bad Brexit deal, and even more so a no-deal Brexit, will be detrimental to the UK and to the EU. Mrs Merkel, Mr Macron and Mr Juncker are just as aware of this as Mrs May. If Article 50 had not stipulated a fixed deadline, the EU’s leadership would have no option but to negotiate in good faith until they struck a mutually advantageous deal with the British government. – Yanis Varoufakis for the Telegraph (£)

Alan Wager: A Brexit delay could put Parliament in control – and signal the death knell for Theresa May’s premiership

So Heidi Allen thinks it’s a ‘done deal’. But is it a big deal? The draft plan for extending Article 50 – the ‘Cooper-Letwin plan’ – was not voted upon last time MPs had a say on Brexit. Its proponents now think the numbers stack up for an extension of Article 50 in Parliament. Such an extension, which would be forced on the Prime Minister by MPs, is often dismissed as a political cul-de-sac. An extension of the Article 50 path leading to another brick wall. Certainly, its practical effect would be to create a new no-deal cliff-edge and a new date to panic about, most likely at the end of June rather than the end of March. However, the finer details of the plan mean it would be likely to shake the politics of Brexit out of their current stupor. The delay would serve two clear, and overlooked, political purposes. Theresa May wants the House of Commons to face a simple binary question. So you don’t want my deal: do you want to frustrate Brexit, or to leave with no deal at all? The strategy of those advocating an extension is to reverse this question, and return it to Mrs May. OK so, you can’t get your deal Prime Minister: do you want to change course to an extension and a new deal, or plough on towards no deal? – Alan Wager for the Telegraph (£)

Tom Harris: Backing a second referendum would definitively end Jeremy Corbyn’s chances of becoming PM

If Jeremy Corbyn is about to win lots of new friends as a result of his announcement that he could, after all, back another referendum on Brexit, he also risks making a lot of his core voters very unhappy indeed. In the time-honoured traditions of Labour’s public statements, no one is yet quite sure what this new policy means. But there’s no doubt that Corbyn’s announcement – made to a meeting of his MPs at their weekly meeting at the Commons tonight – will have Remainers putting a skip into their step for the first time in weeks. Inevitably Corbyn has fallen just a bit short of saying he supports a new referendum where Remain will be an option. And neither has he committed his party to campaigning for that particular option. The only thing that’s clear so far is that this dramatic change of approach comes as a consequence of the crisis in the Labour Party, following the defection by nine of its MPs to sit as independents in the last week. – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)

Asa Bennett: Jeremy Corbyn could still leave second referendum supporters hanging

Jeremy Corbyn is fighting back after eight MPs quit Labour last week accusing him of “enabling” Brexit. The Labour leader declared that the Opposition will “do everything in our power to prevent No Deal and oppose a damaging Tory Brexit. That’s why, in line with our conference policy, we are committed to also putting forward or supporting an amendment in favour of a public vote to prevent a damaging Tory Brexit being forced on the country,” he added. Second referendum campaigners are thrilled by this declaration, with Labour MP David Lammy expressing delight that “at long last” the party accepts “the principle of giving the public the final say on Brexit”. But is it actually really behind a second referendum? Not yet. The Labour leader has indicated his frontbench will on Tuesday put forward their own version of a Brexit deal for Parliament to call on. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Camilla Tominey: Backing a second referendum is the ultimate ‘dead cat’ strategy for Labour

It had been billed as the nightmare meeting that threatened to tear the Labour Party even further apart after the resignation of nine MPs. With a string of female Labour politicians lining up to confront Jeremy Corbyn over anti-Semitism, the leader’s office was bracing itself for Monday night’s Parliamentary Labour Party meeting to turn into what one source described as “a bloodbath”. Which perhaps goes some way to explaining why – of all people, Corbyn’s top team appeared to take inspiration from Conservative campaign strategist Lynton Crosby by deploying what is known in political parlance as the “dead cat manoeuvre”. Boris Johnson (who had previously employed Crosby as his campaign manager during the 2008 and 2012 London mayoral elections) once described the strategy as a way of getting everyone to talk about something “other than the issue that has been causing you so much grief”. – Camilla Tominey for the Telegraph (£)

The Sun: Jeremy Corbyn backing a second Brexit referendum is sickening betrayal of Leave voters and reversal of his manifesto pledges

So that’s that. Labour will betray 17.4million Leave voters, as The Sun long ago predicted. Corbyn has already committed to trying to postpone Brexit on March 29. His conditional agreement to back a second referendum is a sickening reversal of his manifesto pledges to honour the first. Imagine how Labour’s millions of duped Leavers will feel if his duplicity ends up negating their Brexit vote — after they helped him to a half-decent election performance in 2017. Most of Labour’s at-risk marginal seats, and those they need to win, voted Leave. But Labour’s more paralysing fear is more Remainer MPs abandoning the party. They have clearly decided to throw their Leavers under the bus. The party is now in desperate straits. It’s not just Brexit. For years it has rubbished claims that it has been over-run by racist anti-Semites and rabidly hard-Left conspiracy lunatics. Now ­Corbyn’s ally Jon Lansman, founder of Momentum, admits that it’s all true. “We have a major problem,” he says. “It is obvious we have a much larger number of people with hardcore anti-Semitic opinions… polluting the atmosphere in constituency parties and online.” – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • The EU27 are far less prepared for no-deal Brexit than you’d think – Pieter Cleppe for The Spectator
  • Can Labour out-Europhile The Independent Group with this second referendum pledge? – Mark Wallace for ConservativeHome
  • May is marching on but doesn’t have a map – Rachel Sylvester for The Times (£)
  • Seize control for a clean Brexit – Communist Party of Britain
  • Another Tory MP signals she could leave the party over Theresa May’s Brexit stance – Independent
  • Institute of Directors hits out at fresh Brexit vote delay – The Times (£)