David Trimble to launch legal challenge against Theresa May's Brexit deal: Brexit News for Tuesday 5 February

David Trimble to launch legal challenge against Theresa May's Brexit deal: Brexit News for Tuesday 5 February
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David Trimble to launch legal challenge against Theresa May’s Brexit deal…

One of the architects of the Northern Ireland peace process is backing a legal challenge against Theresa May’s Brexit deal on the grounds that it undermines the Good Friday Agreement. Lord Trimble, the former leader of the Ulster Unionist Party who was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for his work on the agreement, is working on the plans to challenge the deal in the High Court in London. The news came as the Prime Minister flies to Belfast for two days of talks with local businesses today and meeting with local politicians tomorrow. A crowdfunding page is set to be launched this morning, with £5,000 already raised from private donors in Northern Ireland. The legal action is based on the argument that the Prime Minister’s Withdrawal Agreement “encroaches” in the Good Friday Agreement.  Mrs May’s deal is controversial because it includes a “backstop” if no trade deal is concluded by the end of next year which risks keeping the UK tied to the European Union for decades. – Telegraph (£)

> Further details on the proposed Judicial Review of the Irish Backstop

…as May promises a deal that honours commitments to Northern Ireland…

Theresa May will insist that she can secure a Commons majority for a Brexit deal that “commands broad support” in Northern Ireland as efforts continue to find an alternative to the controversial backstop. The Prime Minister will use a speech in Northern Ireland today to acknowledge that it is a “concerning time” but “we will find a way to deliver Brexit” that honours commitments including avoiding a hard border with Ireland. On Wednesday Mrs May will hold talks with Northern Ireland’s political leaders including the DUP’s Arlene Foster, who has promised to tell the Prime Minister the proposed border backstop “drives a coach and horses through the Belfast Agreement’s principle of consent” and would effectively create a new border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK. Meanwhile in Westminster, the working group bringing together senior Eurosceptic and former Remain-supporting Tories will continue efforts to agree alternatives to the backstop along the lines of the Malthouse Compromise. – Telegraph (£)

  • May heads to Belfast in search of backstop solution – FT (£)

…but the European Commission suggests the substance of the backstop won’t be changed…

Brussels is ready to reopen the withdrawal agreement to get the Brexit deal through the House of Commons but won’t change the substance of the Irish border backstop, it emerged after a meeting of MPs and senior EU officials. Rather than accept British demands to time-limit the backstop, the European Commission would simply add a protocol that would repeat the promises made in letters already sent by Jean-Claude Juncker and Donald Tusk to Theresa May, MPs said. The commission and EU-27 have repeatedly ruled out any reopening or renegotiation of the withdrawal agreement. That position appears to have softened slightly to allow cosmetic changes to the backstop, which would put the UK in a bare bones customs union with the EU if it was triggered. Stephen Kinnock, a Labour member of the committee, said, “The Juncker-Tusk letter would be, in essence, copy and pasted and shoved into the withdrawal agreement. It is definitely reopening the withdrawal agreement but only to slip something in and close it again very quickly,” he said, describing it as a protocol. – Telegraph (£)

> Derek Epstein on BrexitCentral today: The European Commission’s messaging about the Irish border is both illogical and contradictory

…with Martin Selmayr suggesting ‘nobody is considering’ offering legal assurances on the backstop

The EU is not considering offering the UK legal assurances on the backstop, a Brussels powerbroker has said in a major blow to Theresa May’s hopes of salvaging her Brexit deal. Mrs May wants the EU to reopen negotiations on the Withdrawal Agreement and agree to replace the backstop with “alternative arrangements”. But Martin Selmayr, the secretary general of the European Commission, said adding on legally binding assurances was being considered by “nobody” in the bloc – let alone a more substantial reworking of the original deal. And in a sign of worsening relations, Mr Selmayr said it was a good thing the EU had started its no-deal Brexit preparations in December 2017. His comments, made following a meeting in Brussels with members of the Brexit Select Committee, will dash Mrs May’s hopes of securing changes to her deal. The idea of adding legally-binding assurances on the backstop to the Withdrawal Agreement has been dismissed by many Brexiteers as insufficient and they are adamant the agreement itself must be changed. – Telegraph (£)

Pay up £39bn Brexit bill come what may or put UK’s future relationship with EU in peril, Brussels’ top bureaucrat warns MPs…

Martin Selmayr, the feared and powerful secretary-general of the European Commission, has told British MPs at a Brussels meeting that the UK must pay the £39 billion Brexit bill even if there is a no-deal exit. Mr Selmayr, who is the most senior EU civil servant, warned on Monday that the future relationship between the UK and EU could be jeopardised by a refusal to pay the financial settlement after no deal. The warning could be interpreted as a thinly veiled threat that, in the event of a no deal, a furious EU would refuse any free trade negotiations unless Britain settled its accounts. Mr Selmayr, who is in charge of the EU’s no-deal planning, made the comments at a meeting with the House of Commons Brexit select committee at the commission’s Berlaymont headquarters on Monday morning. After the meeting, John Whittingdale, the Brexiteer Tory MP for Maldon, said, “Obviously that is something that in the event of no deal we would need to consider…what were our legal obligations. – Telegraph (£)

> Craig Mackinlay MP on BrexitCentral today: Deal or no deal, Martin Selmayr told the Brexit Select Committee our divorce bill is £39 billion

…as Brexiteers reportedly reject EU concession

Europe’s top official offered Britain a legal guarantee that it would not be trapped by the Irish backstop last night but was immediately rebuffed by Brexiteer MPs. Martin Selmayr, the European Union’s most senior civil servant, spent 90 minutes with members of the Brexit select committee, who emerged saying that he was prepared to make significant concessions on Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement. Mr Selmayr offered to give the prime minister a legally binding assurance that the backstop would not lock Britain into a permanent customs union with the EU, the MPs said. Any such shift would allow Mrs May to say that she had secured fundamental changes to her deal, which fell to a heavy defeat in the Commons last month. However, the Brexiteers on the committee, including the Conservative MPs Andrea Jenkyns and John Whittingdale, a former culture secretary, rebuffed Mr Selmayr. – The Times (£)

Whitehall talks on ‘alternative arrangements’ to the backstop begin

MPs have met the government to discuss alternative arrangements to the proposed Irish border “backstop”, as three days of talks begin. The Alternative Arrangements Working Group, with Leave and Remain MPs, met for the first time after the Commons voted to find another way of avoiding the return of Irish border checks. A government spokesman said the talks had been “detailed and constructive”. But EU leaders have continued to rule out making changes to the backstop. The Irish PM Leo Varadkar told RTE radio the UK was reviewing ideas that had “already been rejected”, and it was “very frustrating” that the UK government was “going back to the idea of technology”. But German Chancellor Angela Merkel said the EU would listen to proposals to solve the Irish border “riddle”, although they needed to hear how the UK wanted to do it. The backstop is an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border “under all circumstances” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit. Number 10 said the working group of Conservative MPs was set up following “significant support” for the so-called “Malthouse Compromise” – named after housing minister Kit Malthouse who encouraged talks between different groups of MPs. – BBC News

> WATCH: Housing Minister Kit Malthouse on BBC’s Politics Live

EU goods will be waved through British ports in case of No Deal Brexit

Goods shipped to Britain from the EU are to be waved through 20 UK ports without checks in a No Deal to avoid huge jams – HMRC has declared. In official advice released today, HM Revenue & Customs said that “for a temporary period” it would allow “most” shipments into the country before companies have even informed them they’ve arrived. Exporters would have just over 24 hours to then fill in an electronic declaration. The revelation comes just months after HMRC bosses warned the UK’s post-Brexit customs system would not work properly for two years in a No Deal. HMRC chief John Thompson told MPs last year that the Government would have a choice to make – whether to keep trade moving, ensure security at the border, or collect revenues. Insiders said it appeared that HMRC had decided it was essential to keep trade moving rather than risk huge queues on the way to ports such as Dover or at Eurotunnel terminals. – The Sun

> Felix Hathaway on BrexitCentral today: In numerous areas, the solutions are already there to cope with a no-deal scenario

Chris Grayling: Blame Brussels, not Britain, if we crash out of the EU without a deal

He has been cruelly nicknamed “Failing Grayling” and set up as the Cabinet’s Brexit whipping boy, but the Transport Secretary last night restated his Leave credentials by insisting Nissan’s X-Trail decision had more to do with diesel than the referendum result. Having described himself as the “lightning rod for the anti-Brexit brigade”, the prominent Brexiteer who ran Theresa May’s leadership campaign cautioned against blaming the Japanese car company’s decision to move the project from its Sunderland plant on the UK’s EU exit. Appearing to contradict Greg Clark, the Business Secretary, Chris Grayling told The Telegraph: “Obviously I’m very disappointed by Nissan’s decision. But it’s clear that this has much more to do with the diesel car market than Brexit. Their statement of continuing commitment to the UK, whatever the outcome of the Brexit negotiations, is welcome.”  The move comes after Mr Clark, who is among those in Cabinet urging the Prime Minister to rule out leaving the EU without an agreement, described the about-turn as a “Brexit no-deal warning sign”, saying it “cast a shadow over their future in Britain”. – Telegraph (£)

Business Secretary faces backlash over secret £80m Brexit sweetener to Nissan…

The Business Secretary Greg Clark was on Monday night facing criticism after it emerged that he offered Nissan an £80million Brexit sweetener despite previously insisting there had been “no chequebook” involved in the deal. Details of the offer emerged in a previously unseen letter from October 2016 in which Mr Clark said that Nissan would receive the funding as long as it built two new models at its plant in Sunderland. The letter was leaked after Nissan revealed that it was breaking its pledge to build the X-Trail SUV in the UK and switching production to Japan. Mr Clark insisted that the announcement was a “warning sign” from industry about the risk of a no-deal Brexit, adding in the Commons that leaving without an agreement would be “ruinous”. Nicky Morgan, the chairman of the Treasury select committee, said that the details of the public funding for Nissan should have been put in the public domain “immediately”. Mr Clark’s comments prompted a Cabinet backlash, with one minister accusing the Business Secretary of “trying to use this as a political football in the Brexit debate”. – Telegraph (£)

> WATCH: Greg Clark delivers a statement to the House of Commons on Nissan

…after his secret letter vowing to protect Nissan from Brexit fallout finally emerges

The UK government promised Nissan that its operations would not be “adversely affected” by Britain’s departure from the EU, in a series of pledges that led to the Japanese car group’s 2016 decision to build new models at its Sunderland plant. The assurances were contained in a letter from business secretary Greg Clark to then-Nissan chief executive Carlos Ghosn, a copy of which has been obtained by the Financial Times… The letter, which has never previously been disclosed and which the government previously declined to release under a series of Freedom of Information requests, also promised support of about £80m towards Nissan’s investments at the site in return for the decision by Nissan to expand SUV production at Sunderland. – FT (£)

Video unearthed showing Jeremy Corbyn branding the EU a ‘military Frankenstein’ and the ‘European empire of 21st century’

Jeremy Corbyn’s hostility towards the European Union has been laid bare in a newly-unearthed video recording. In the extraordinary footage, the Labour leader attacks the Brussels club, branding it a ‘European empire of the 21st century’ and a ‘military Frankenstein’. The footage will be a severe blow to Labour Remainers hoping to overturn Britain’s decision to leave the EU by staging a second referendum. Dating from 2009 and obtained by Left-wing website The Red Roar, the video shows Mr Corbyn mocking the concept of holding repeated votes on the same issue. He was addressing an audience of Irish activists the year after the country rejected the Lisbon Treaty by 53.4 per cent to 46.6 per cent.  Mr Corbyn warned them that he expected officials to refuse to accept the result – and to keep on fighting against moves to augment the EU’s power. – Daily Mail

Ex-Labour minister Caroline Flint labelled ‘traitor’ by Remainers as she vows to rebel again to back May’s deal

A former Labour minister declares she will again rebel against her party to help Theresa May get Brexit over the line – despite being labelled a traitor by Remainer colleagues. Writing for The Sun today, Caroline Flint vows to vote for any “reasonable” Brexit deal and urges her fellow MPs to do the same. The former Europe Minister dismisses accusations she was being bribed to back the PM’s deal – saying it is “simply wrong” to claim the PM has “bought” her vote. Ms Flint says the PM was instead offering to spend billions of pounds on towns across Britain that are desperately in need of change, adding: “I won’t apologise for demanding a Rebuilding Britain fund.” And she says that she will back Mrs May’s deal as long as it’s backed up with commitments on workers’ rights and environmental protections. Pals of Ms Flint said that unlike other Labour colleagues she is not pushing for the PM to soften her Brexit deal further by a committing to keeping Britain in a customs union with the EU post-Brexit. – The Sun

Michael Deacon: The row over Nissan and Brexit is just a taster of the great blame game to come

When it comes to Brexit, few predictions can be made with confidence. But this one can. After the UK finally leaves the EU, the Commons will spend the following decade locked in a continuous bellowing row about whether Brexit is to blame for pretty much anything that goes wrong, in any sphere of national life. This afternoon, MPs treated us to an exclusive preview. Their inspiration was Nissan, the Japanese car firm that has abandoned plans to produce its new X-Trail model at its plant in Sunderland. Both Remainers and Leavers pounced on the news like starving tomcats. “The cancellation of the X-Trail has Brexit at its heart!” cried the SNP’s Drew Hendry. Tory Remainer Anna Soubry sniffed that the news was “no surprise” to her. Phil Wilson (Lab, Sedgfield) seized the opportunity to demand a second referendum. Tory Leavers snorted. Brexit? Of course this wasn’t about Brexit! In fact, insisted Sir Bill Cash, David Jones and Anne-Marie Trevelyan, the blame actually lay with none other than the EU, because it had been cracking down on diesel emissions. “What on earth are the anti-Brexiteers complaining about?” harrumphed Sir Bill. – Telegraph (£)

Andrew Pierce: The dozens of Brexit-blocking peers and MPs who have received millions from the EU

Dozens of peers and MPs received millions in EU subsidies for their estates, according to a new survey by Friends of the Earth, which estimates that almost 50 politicians have cashed in. Why wouldn’t they if the handouts are on offer? But look closer at those names and surprise, surprise, some are leading the campaign to block Brexit. They include the Duke of Wellington who last year received £91,000 for his 7,000-acre Hampshire estate.  The 73-year-old unelected peer spearheaded a House of Lords move to delete the exit date, March 29, 2019, from the EU (Withdrawal) Bill. Lord Haskins, 81, who has voted for a second referendum, received £82,000 last year for his farmland in Yorkshire. In the Commons, another beneficiary is the Tory MP Antoinette Sandbach, a persistent Brexit rebel. She received £23,000 last year from the EU for the family farming business in North Wales. No doubt these individuals all declared a financial interest when speaking in EU debates. – Andrew Pierce for the Daily Mail

John Redwood: The EU/UK volte face on diesels

EU/UK policy of many years was to encourage the diesel car as part of the solution to excess CO2 . Diesels are more fuel efficient so less CO2 is generated per mile travelled than a petrol vehicle. The UK was particularly keen on this policy, and successful at attracting substantial new investment in diesel car engine manufacture and diesel car assembly. Jaguar Land Rover, for example, moved to producing a range of vehicles where two thirds sold were diesel. The UK became a centre for excellence and research in passenger car diesel technology. More recently the EU has discovered that its emissions tests were not stringent enough to prevent higher levels of Sox and Nox from diesels, and that these gases do create problems in the air we breathe. The EU has now set more severe standards and tougher tests to enforce them, so the modern Euro 6 diesel car engine is around the same as a patrol engine car when it comes to unpleasant exhaust gas and particulates, with both types of engine now hitting high standards of cleanliness. – John Redwood’s Diary

Tim Stanley: A no-deal Brexit makes us want to dig for victory, because there’s more to life than GDP

Remainers are astonished that so many Brits are relaxed about a no-deal Brexit, but there are two good reasons why. First, we’re so used to politicians lying to us that we assume the prophecies of doom are all made up. Suez, Iraq, Project Fear… “Fish gotta swim, MPs gotta lie/ I gotta love Brexit till I die!” Second, and for some reason this is a very controversial thing to say, a significant slice of the population did vote on the understanding that they’d be poorer. I know this because they keep telling me. Falling house prices? At last! No more Mars Bars? Well, the Government does keep telling us to lose weight. “I’m just fascinated to see what’ll be like,” said a cleric. “Blitz spirit and all that.” For some it’s a sacrifice worth making, “I’d rather be free and poor than slave and rich” (easy for them to say because it’s usually not their jobs we’re talking about.) For others, economic loss is an opportunity to change a few things about the country they don’t particularly like, which is a politics of uneven sacrifice we’ve been practising for centuries. How many jobs in industry have been deliberately destroyed in the race to “go green”? – Tim Stanley for the Telegraph (£)

Henry Newman: Beyond Malthouse. Which compromises would be feasible and acceptable to secure a deal?

As Conservative Home readers will know, I’ve been a reluctant supporter of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. Although I’ve thought there were substantive issues with the backstop, which required addressing, I also argued that the deal overall offered the safest path out of the EU, particularly given the Parliamentary maths and errors made during the negotiations. In my view some critics of the deal misrepresent it, while ignoring its various benefits, and can be unrealistic about the alternatives on offer at this stage. Last week, MPs conclusively demonstrated they would support a version of the deal, if problems with the backstop could be resolved. But how possible is it to resolve those issues, and what can be achieved when? European leaders are understandably irritated that Theresa May is seeking changes to a package she herself signed off in December. However, the Prime Minister has little choice – the deal suffered the biggest defeat in Parliamentary history. Getting it through the Commons will require movement. – Henry Newman for ConservativeHome

The Sun: Remainers can’t accuse Leavers of ‘lies’ when they push Project Fear exaggerations about No Deal anarchy

How can Remainers still be accusing Leavers of “lies” given THEIR ludicrous yarns? It’s not just the latest cobblers they seized on about the Queen being whisked to safety from rioting hordes descending on Buckingham Palace when food and medicines run out. It’s David Cameron pretending back in 2016 that a Remain vote would empower him to fix the EU, as if Brussels was remotely interested in reform. It’s George Osborne’s Project Fear tosh about an immediate crash after a Leave vote. It’s the wild exaggerations of Project Fear II about No Deal anarchy. It’s the Remainer MPs who voted to trigger Article 50, then lied to voters about respecting the referendum result even as they plotted to reverse it. It’s the brass-necked Tory MP who claimed “Brexiteers were lying when they said Nissan was going nowhere” — long after it was clear the war on diesel was really to blame for the U-turn on the new model in Sunderland. – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • How long will the Tory truce hold? – Katy Balls for The Spectator
  • Government won’t use hard Brexit to lobby EU on emissions – The Times (£)
  • Is Labour softening on freedom of movement? – BBC News
  • Twenty Labour MPs and five Tories are poised to quit their parties to form a new centrist group, Liberal Democrat leader Sir Vince Cable claims – Daily Mail
  • Sajid Javid says voters ‘will never forgive us’ if we call snap general election – Express