Being 'indefinitely committed' to the Northern Irish backstop is a risk worth taking, says Attorney General Geoffrey Cox: Brexit News for Tuesday 4th December

Being 'indefinitely committed' to the Northern Irish backstop is a risk worth taking, says Attorney General Geoffrey Cox: Brexit News for Tuesday 4th December
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Being ‘indefinitely committed’ to the Northern Irish backstop is a risk worth taking, says Attorney General Geoffrey Cox…

Britain will be “indefinitely committed” to the customs backstop with the EU if it comes into force, the Attorney General has said, as he insisted it is a “calculated risk” worth taking. Geoffrey Cox told the Commons the UK will have no “unilateral” right to break off from a customs union with the EU if an alternative solution to the Irish border issue cannot be found. Mr Cox could also face suspension from the Commons for contempt of Parliament after refusing to publish the full legal advice on the Prime Minister’s Brexit plans. The DUP, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats and Plaid Cymru wrote to John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, demanding the triggering of contempt proceedings. Mr Bercow said he would come to a “rapid” decision over the matter by Tuesday morning at the latest. Mr Cox told his critics in the Commons it was time they “grew up and got real” over the legal advice and said: “There is nothing to see here”. – Telegraph (£)

> Watch on BrexitCentral’s Youtube channel: Attorney General Geoffrey Cox delivers his statement to the House of Commons

…as he faces criticism from all sides over his Brexit deal legal advice…

Theresa May’s Brexit “backstop” would be just as painful for the European Union as the UK, the Attorney General said on Monday as he insisted it would deliver significant advantages for Britain. Geoffrey Cox told the House of Commons the backstop would give the UK many of the benefits of being a member of the bloc without the responsibilities. But he faced attack from both sides of the chamber as he sought to defend the Prime Minister’s deal and criticised MPs for demanding the Government handover its Brexit deal legal advice in full. Such was the ferocity of exchanges that Mr Cox on occasion was forced to raise his voice to a booming crescendo to be heard over the sound of jeering MPs who he claimed needed to “grow up and get real”. The Attorney General admitted the UK would not be able to unilaterally withdraw from the backstop which would see Britain remain tied to the EU customs union indefinitely in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event no deal was reached on future trading arrangements. His admission prompted Sir Desmond Swayne, a Tory former minister, to shout out: “It’s a trap!” – Telegraph (£)

  • Britain cannot pull out of Brexit deal without EU approval, says attorney-general – The Times (£)

…and the Speaker agrees to a contempt debate against the Government over its refusal to publish the advice

Commons Speaker John Bercow has told MPs he believes there is an “arguable case that a contempt has been committed” by the Government over its failure to publish its Brexit legal advice in full. The move came after the DUP, Labour, SNP, Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru wrote to Mr Bercow demanding the triggering of contempt proceedings, which could lead to sanctions against ministers including the Attorney General, Geoffrey Cox, who had earlier told MPs that Britain will be “indefinitely committed” to the customs backstop with the EU if it comes into force. Mr Cox told his critics in the Commons it was time they “grew up and got real” over the legal advice and said: “There is nothing to see here”. However Mr Bercow said later: “The letter that I received from the members mentioned at the start of this statement asks me to give precedence to a motion relating to privilege in relation to the failure of ministers to comply with the terms of the resolution of the House of the 13th November.” – Telegraph (£)

  • ‘Arguable case’ May’s government is in contempt over Brexit legal advice, sparking Commons debate – The Sun
  • Ministers face contempt vote over Brexit legal advice secrecy – The Times (£)
  • Government faces contempt debate over Brexit legal advice – FT (£)

‘Defeated’ Theresa May to beg MPs to back her Brexit deal as top Tories give up hope of victory…

Theresa May will tomorrow implore all MPs to back her Brexit deal even as senior ministers last night gave up any final hope of victory. The PM fires the starting gun to the biggest Parliament showdown in decades when she opens a marathon five day debate in the Commons on the ‘meaningful vote’. She will insist that her controversial EU exit agreement “delivers for the British people” before MPs decide on it a week today, on December 11. But one normally loyal Tory MP who had a private audience with the PM yesterday told The Sun that she “looked defeated”. And ministers were also last night resigned to a crushing government defeat after almost 100 Tory MPs spoke out against the deal. One senior minister told The Sun: “We need to start seeing some momentum really soon if we’re going to be able turn this round.” – The Sun

  • May launches high-stakes parliamentary debate on Brexit plan – Reuters

…as the Prime Minister steps up the small talk to woo Tory rebels

Theresa May has begun seeing Conservative MPs in small groups to try to save her job, knowing that she will face calls from Labour to resign if she loses the Brexit vote a week today. She saw groups of two to five Tory MPs selected by the whips in her Commons office in an attempt to underline the seriousness of opposing her deal. There is despair in government’s top ranks that MPs are treating the vote as a “moment of purity” when they could vote against her deal with impunity, thinking that there would be further opportunities to vote again within days. However, Jeremy Corbyn is likely to call for the prime minister to step down immediately if the vote is lost. Labour wants to build pressure behind calls for her to quit before they submit a formal motion of no confidence, beginning the process towards a general election being called. Labour is likely to argue that next Tuesday’s vote is a de-facto issue of no confidence in the government, since it would mark the defeat of the central policy the prime minister has pursued for two years. It will claim that she should resign, having lost a vote she knew she had no chance of winning. A Labour source said that at that point, “it is incumbent on her to act in accordance with the British system of parliamentary government and resign or hold a vote of confidence in her as PM”. – The Times (£)

May’s Brexit backstop is ‘barrier’ to new trade deals, says leaked legal note

Theresa May’s Brexit deal could prevent the UK from entering trade agreements with countries such as America, leaked House of Commons legal advice reveals. A 27-page legal note prepared by the House of Commons EU legislation team reveals that if the UK entered the customs union backstop then its ability to strike new free trade agreements will be severely restricted. The comments would appear to back up claims by President Trump that the deal Mrs May has struck with Brussels could jeopardise a deal with the United States. The legal advice – marked “not for general distribution” — was written late last month and analyses the effect of the withdrawal agreement on UK law. “The customs union would be a practical barrier to the UK entering separate trade agreements on goods with third countries,” it states. Under the withdrawal agreement the UK will enter into a full customs union with the EU at the end of the transition period if no final trade deal has been struck that prevents a hard border in Northern Ireland. – The Times (£)

  • Brexit backstop would be ‘practical barrier’ to trade deal, leaked paper says – The Guardian
  • PM’s own Brexit negotiator warned her deal risks ‘bad outcome’ – Sky News

> Yesterday’s exclusive on BrexitCentral: Leaked Commons legal analysis of Brexit deal vindicates Trump, contradicts May and adds to Brexiteers’ concerns

Oliver Robbins clashes with Jacob Rees-Mogg as he defends ‘uncomfortable’ Brexit backstop

Theresa May’s top Brexit adviser clashed with Jacob Rees-Mogg as he admitted the backstop provision in the Prime Minister’s withdrawal agreement would be “uncomfortable”. Oliver Robbins, the Prime Minister’s Europe adviser, told the Brexit Select Committee that ending up in the backstop would be less than desirable “for both sides”. But Mr Rees-Mogg, the chairman of the European Research Group of Tory Eurosceptic MPs, said the backstop would only be bad for the UK and that the EU had “got us exactly where they want us”. It came as Stephen Barclay, the Brexit Secretary, risked ridicule as he got the date of the UK’s departure from the European Union wrong. Mr Barclay, who took the role after Dominic Raab quit over the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal and Michael Gove, the Environment Secretary, turned it down, said the UK would leave the bloc on March 31 – but the actual divorce date is March 29. – Telegraph (£)

> Watch on BrexitCentral’s Youtube channel: Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay, and the PM’s Europe Adviser Oliver Robbins at the Brexit Committee

Immigration policy ‘very unlikely’ to be revealed before Brexit vote, says Sajid Javid

The Government’s future immigration policy will not be published before MPs vote on the Brexit deal, Sajid Javid has indicated. The Home Secretary told the Commons that the reforms would amount to the “biggest change in 45 years” in immigration rules, but could not confirm when they would be shared with the public. It prompted fresh accusations from those who oppose Mrs May’s deal that Parliament will be asked to agree to a so-called “blindfolded Brexit” when it votes on December 11. Mr Javid, speaking at Home Office questions, said the Government’s immigration White Paper would be announced “soon”, telling MPs the UK would move to a more “skills-based system”. The immigration white paper was originally supposed to be published in late 2017, but a series of rows in Cabinet over what should be in it have led to successive delays. – Telegraph (£)

  • Javid rules out immigration white paper before Brexit vote – FT (£)

EU workers will be offered visas to combat shortage

Theresa May will offer EU migrants under the age of 30 two-year working visas to help to plug a shortage of low-skilled workers after Brexit. The prime minister is committed to making EU citizens subject to the same controls as those from outside the bloc when freedom of movement ends. She is resisting pressure from business leaders, backed by Philip Hammond, the chancellor, and Greg Clark, the business secretary, to delay the rules beyond 2020 to allow time to adjust. Mrs May’s allies say she believes that unless businesses are forced to adapt by increasing wages and training more Britons, they will continue to rely on low-skilled migration from the EU. In a concession, however, Mrs May will offer EU countries two-year employment visas for younger workers as long as they offer Britons the same. A youth mobility visa scheme is already available to Australia, New Zealand, Canada, Japan, Monaco, Taiwan, South Korea and Hong Kong. The numbers from Australia are capped at 34,000, with the other nations subjected to a cap of 1,000 each. The migration advisory committee (Mac) recommended in October that the scheme be expanded to all other EU nations as part of a new skills-based system. – The Times (£)

Jeremy Corbyn under growing pressure over second Brexit referendum

Ever since the UK voted to leave the EU in 2016, a hard core of campaigners has pushed for a second referendum to overturn the result, including the former Labour prime minister Tony Blair. By contrast, Jeremy Corbyn, the party’s leader today, has long resisted a rerun of the vote. “That ship has sailed,” he told the BBC in January. “We’re not asking for a second referendum.” But Mr Corbyn now finds himself being forced to change his position. As long as it seemed possible prime minister Theresa May would get her EU withdrawal agreement through parliament, as it did a couple of weeks ago, Labour’s leadership did not have to worry much about the internal tensions of its own policy: to back Brexit but in a different form to Mrs May’s deal with Brussels. Now, with scores of Conservative MPs saying they are ready to vote against the prime minister’s deal, Labour faces growing scrutiny of its stance. Mr Corbyn himself is steeped in the Eurosceptic sentiment of the hard left and probably would have backed Leave had he still been a backbencher in June 2016. Only a few days ago he said he did not know if he would vote In or Out if given a second chance. – FT (£)

Northern Ireland could still have MEPs after Brexit, claims Sinn Fein

Sinn Fein has hit back at the Irish Government after an internal government note claimed major electoral law changes would be needed to give people in Northern Ireland a vote in the European elections next year. After Brexit, Ireland’s total representation will rise from 11 to 13, while Northern Ireland will lose its three seats in the European Parliament. Sinn Fein has called for the new MEP seats to be given to Northern Ireland and says independent legal advice contradicts what the Irish government is saying after it identified a series of obstacles. A Sinn Fein spokesperson said: “GUE/NGL (European United Left – Nordic Green Left) European Parliamentary Group the group Sinn Fein sits with in the European Parliament, recently commissioned independent legal advice on this proposal which proved there is no legal or constitutional barrier to the Irish government allocating the seats to the north. – Belfast Telegraph

Nearly two-thirds of voters want Britain to aim to be the most low-tax, business-friendly country in Europe after Brexit

Sixty-five per cent of people quizzed in the survey backed a vision of a dynamic economy “focused on building strong international trade links” following next year’s departure from the EU. And nearly half of voters (45%) would be prepared to sacrifice some economic growth “in order to complete Brexit properly”, the poll found. Polling firm ComRes interviewed just over 2,000 UK adults online over the weekend in the survey on current attitudes to Brexit commissioned by the Daily Express. Its findings are likely to be seized upon by MPs arguing that Brexit should signal a radical break with the past rather than leaving the country permanently tied to EU rules and regulations. Senior Tory Jacob Rees-Mogg, who has been leading calls at Westminster for a decisive break with Brussels, said: “The politicians ought to listen more to the wisdom of electors rather than thinking the establishment knows best.” Only 13% of voters disagreed with the idea that after Brexit the UK “should try to become the lowest tax, business-friendliest country in Europe, focused on building strong international trade links”. More than half of Labour voters (54%) backed the aspiration. – Express

Suella Braverman: Let’s not be cowed by fear into accepting there is no alternative to this defeatist, fake Brexit

My parents emigrated to the United Kingdom from Kenya and Mauritius in the 1960s. They were born during the British Empire and admired this country. The UK that inspired them was one that was confident in the world, pioneering in statecraft and fearless in the face of adversity. A Britain that led the way for others and contributed so much good to the world. That is the vision of Britain which I have inherited and in which I profoundly believe. Yet, at this cross-roads in our history, the British people are being fed a diet of fear, pessimism and doom. A choice between surrender or catastrophe. Where is that fighting spirit that made our country so great? All I see is defeatism and appeasement. The truth is that the choice on offer is a false one. In fact, there are two clear alternatives to the fake Brexit that we are being offered. – Suella Braverman MP for the Telegraph (£)

Andrea Leadsom: We must support the PM or we betray the will of the British people

Since the referendum, the Prime Minister has negotiated a deal that takes back control of our borders, money and laws and gets us out of the agricultural and fisheries policies, while protecting jobs and security. That’s why I pay tribute to our Prime Minister for her determination to seek the best deal for the UK. She deserves our support. Backing this deal means no longer sending the EU vast sums, so we can spend more on UK priorities, like the NHS. It means striking free trade deals around the world while protecting the integrity of the UK. Rejecting the deal will mean going back to square one, leading to uncertainty which could threaten jobs, investment and the economy. Crucially, rejecting it means we risk failing to deliver on the clear will of the people. A second referendum would be a gross betrayal of our democracy and damage the trust between people and Parliament. – Andrea Leadsom MP for the Express

Asa Bennett: Theresa May keeps giving MPs reasons not to back her Brexit deal

Theresa May’s Brexit deal sales tour continues apace with a stop today on the sofa of ITV’s This Morning. She did not breeze through her chat about the Brexit deal Parliament gets to consider over the next fortnight, as Philip Schofield had a brutal question near the end: did she expect to still be around afterwards? “I will still have a job in two weeks’ time,” the Prime Minister replied. Parliament might be rather volatile in mood, but it is hard for her to be proven wrong. If Mrs May leaves Downing Street after failing to get her deal through, she will still be an MP – unless, of course, she dashes off as fast as David Cameron did after the EU referendum. So her answer was classically Mayite in its sphinx-like ambiguity. Listeners might have thought she was making her intention clear to stay put, even if Parliament throws out her deal, but MPs will notice she left the door open to resignation. The Prime Minister made that clear at another point during her chitchat, saying that the “Government” (not specifying that it would be with her at the helm) would have to “come back with the next step” if the deal flops. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

Norman Tebbit: Why are Remainers like Sam Gyimah so against us having the right to make our own laws?

It was yet another name added to the list of something like 20 members of the Government to have resigned since the general election of 2017 when the higher education minister Sam Gyimah resigned last week.  Gyimah is a Remainer who declared that the draft Withdrawal Agreement was a surrender that would cost us “our voice, our vote and our veto”. He is opposed to the people of the United Kingdom regaining the right to make our own laws, decide our own taxes and elect, or sack, our government. In my view he might be better off standing down from our Parliament and seeking election to the European Parliament. More important to us here in this Kingdom is the question of who in their right mind would accept an invitation to replace him as the Universities and Science Minister. – Lord Tebbit for the Telegraph (£)

Tony Lodge: If Britain can’t keep the lights on this winter, will the EU be to blame?

Britain’s ability to keep the lights on has just been thrown into doubt by the European Court of Justice. It has ruled that the backbone of the UK’s capacity market energy scheme, which pays power stations to generate electricity, is illegal state aid and must be suspended. To call this a body blow for energy security is a gross understatement; as you read these words Whitehall is desperately trying to reassure generators and very nervous investors. – Tony Lodge for The Spectator

Juliet Samuel: EU’s dangerous game of chicken could backfire on its own citizens

We’ve all seen the “no-deal” Brexit cartoons. A good, old British Mini, emblazoned with Union Jacks, loaded up with gung-ho politicians, drives cheerfully and determinedly off a cliff. But the abiding feeling I have after reading the Financial Conduct Authority’s Brexit paper published last week, is that there is an element missing. Attached behind the Mini, there ought to be a trailer loaded up with EU treasures: personal data, regulators, enforcement against market abuse, and so on. Strangely, this part is always missing. The FCA paper assesses what will happen under various scenarios – no deal, no deal with a transition and the Government’s deal. As it states, if we leave in March without a deal, then 359,953 regulatory “passports” used by 13,484 firms to conduct their business across borders suddenly become invalid, potentially throwing huge volumes of trade into chaos. But what’s striking is how most of the risks in this scenario result from the EU’s refusal to take any action – and how severely this stubbornness could backfire on Europe’s own citizens. – Juliet Samuel for the Telegraph (£)

The Sun says: Government knows PM’s EU deal sucks for Britain – we must return to Brussels

Everyone from the Prime Minister down knows her EU deal sucks. Even Oliver ­Robbins — and he negotiated it. The civil servant told the PM the Irish “backstop”, absurdly inserted to “avoid” a hard border no one will ever build, is a “bad outcome” for Britain. Why? Because under international law we cannot leave it without consent which the EU will never grant. Because it leaves us powerless to resist their rules, even new ones that hurt our economy. And because it keeps us in a customs union preventing us enacting our own trade deals. Despite the persuasive efforts of Attorney General Geoffrey Cox yesterday, we just don’t believe the EU will seek to avoid the backstop — or let us leave it. It will do anything to prevent an independent free-trading powerhouse on its doorstep. And once we’ve paid our £39billion “bill” our leverage is gone. – The Sun

Express: A second referendum would be an act of sabotage

The motives of this growing bunch of saboteurs reek of self-interest, arrogance and an utter lack of respect for democracy. What makes the position of Sir Keir Starmer, Labour’s Brexit spokesman, and of all those Remainers who have never accepted the result of the ballot, so odious is the way they refer to a “people’s vote”. What people? Has a tribe of British citizens been discovered in an underground bunker and not been asked their opinion about what the rest of us voted on 18 months ago? Are the “people” who voted Leave not really the right sort of people who can be trusted at the ballot box? As Andrea Leadsom states in today’s paper, a second referendum would be a betrayal. The original has divided our country, leaving a hostile atmosphere that becomes more and more toxic. Imagine the fear and loathing in the country if we are asked to vote again. Imagine the message to the world about our constitutional democracy. Imagine the clamour from Brexiteers for a “best of three” if the vote were to go the other way. – Express

Brexit in Brief

  • Sorry Brexiteers, but Parliament doesn’t want No Deal, and MPs will kill it off – Lord Hague for the Telegraph (£)
  • Split between prime minister and business secretary on immigration – Robert Peston for ITV News
  • Martin Howe QC responds to No. 10’s ‘rebuttal’ of his Spectator article – Martin Howe QC for Lawyers for Britain
  • Let’s take control of our economy – John Redwood’s Diary
  • The best way to ‘take back control’ is by extending Article 50 – Yvette Cooper for the Evening Standard
  • Sturgeon calls for delay to Brexit – The Times (£)
  • EU desperate for Brexit deal as vote looms, DUP’s Foster says – Bloomberg
  • Can the UK get an extension on Brexit? – Guardian
  • Petition of over 1 million names handed into Downing Street demanding new Brexit referendum – Independent