Theresa May to plead with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for short Brexit delay: Brexit News for Tuesday 9 April

Theresa May to plead with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for short Brexit delay: Brexit News for Tuesday 9 April
Sign up here to receive the daily news briefing in your inbox every morning with exclusive insight from the BrexitCentral team

Theresa May to plead with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron for short Brexit delay…

Theresa May will today hold last-ditch talks with Angela Merkel and Emmanuel Macron as ahead of an EU summit as she pleads with them for a short Brexit delay. The Prime Minister will fly to Berlin and Paris for talks as she attempts to convince the European leaders of her case for extending Article 50 until June 30 ahead of a crunch European summit tomorrow. However Mr Macron, the French President, is said to be “dead set” against granting Britain a long extension until March 31, 2020. A senior EU source suggested that if Mr Macron is forced to agree to one by other European leaders any extension will come with a long list of preconditions. “France and Spain have submitted a list of conditions and demands as long as your arm,” said the source. “But they are still in a minority of member states. There is still a majority still accept the extension will need to be long.” Mrs May will seek to reassure European leaders after Jacob Rees-Mogg, a leading Eurosceptic, said that Britain must use it’s “remaining powers” while it is still in the EU to be “difficult”. – Telegraph (£)

…as Brussels prepares to humiliate her and ‘keep Britain in the EU until March 2020’…

Theresa May will be told to keep Britain in the EU until March 2020 by Brussels, it was claimed. In a humiliation for the PM, sources confirmed EU leaders will tomorrow demand an extension of up to a year because of her failure to pass a Brexit deal through the Commons. Britain will be told it can still “Brexit” on May 22 — but only if the Government’s Withdrawal Agreement is approved by MPs by Friday. EU Council chief Donald Tusk suggested March 2020 last week. Arch Tory Eurosceptic Jacob Rees-Mogg told The Sun: “I think voters will look at the Government and think it is incapable of delivering on its promises and wonder what the purpose of the 2016 referendum was.” He spoke out as Mrs May began a round of phone calls with EU leaders to lay out her “rationale” for seeking a fresh extension. – The Sun

…with the UK’s new Brexit date potentially being fixed by a small group of EU leaders

Britain’s new exit date from the EU, and the conditions attached to a Brexit delay, will likely be fixed in the gilded rooms of the Belgian prime minister’s 16th century Egmont Palace hours before Theresa May addresses the leaders. Under emerging plans, a small group of EU leaders whose countries will be most affected by the UK’s departure will be hosted by the Belgian PM, Charles Michel, on Wednesday afternoon. The guest list is likely to include the leaders of France, Germany, Spain, the Netherlands, Denmark and Ireland. The purpose of the proposed coordinating meeting, three hours before May was set to address the full complement of 27 heads of state and government, would be to try to shepherd the debate that would be held later on, and avoid potentially catastrophic errors, the Guardian has learned. The bombastic positions emerging from Paris over any sort of extension without a clear purpose – beyond a two-week buffer after 12 April to prepare the markets for no deal, along with the warning from Leo Varadkar, the Irish taoiseach, that a member state that vetoed one would “never be forgiven” – have injected peril into the process, sources said. – Guardian

Theresa May to consider giving MPs a vote on holding a second referendum in a bid to break Brexit deadlock with Labour…

Theresa May is considering giving MPs a vote on whether to hold a second referendum in a bid to break the deadlock in negotiations with Labour, The Telegraph can disclose. The Prime Minister held discussions with Cabinet ministers in Downing Street on Monday about the prospect of holding a Commons vote on whether to enshrine a commitment to a second referendum in law. Mrs May was said to have been “pragmatic” during the discussions and told ministers that securing a deal is not going to be “easy” and will require compromise.  Julian Smith, the chief whip, is understood to be “confident” that the Government has the numbers to defeat a bid by Labour to hold a second referendum in the Commons. The plans would see the EU withdrawal and implementation bill amended to include a commitment to “confirmatory vote”. However the issue is deeply divisive for Labour. Keir Starmer, the shadow brexit secretary, Tom Watson, Labour’s deputy leader, and Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, have all pushed for a second referendum. – Telegraph (£)

…as Labour insist any deal to break the deadlock must be ‘Boris-proof’…

Labour will demand that Theresa May “Boris proofs” any concessions made by the government to break the deadlock in cross-party Brexit talks. Ministers are to meet their Labour counterparts for a fresh round of negotiations today after Downing Street tabled a new offer to the party yesterday. It is understood the Conservative side has agreed in principle to accept Labour demands that Britain will automatically adopt all new EU employment, environmental and consumer protection laws after Brexit. Downing Street has also pledged to include the new commitments in the Brexit legislation needed for the government to ratify its withdrawal agreement with the EU. But senior Labour sources said Mrs May had so far refused to budge on their central demand to reopen the political declaration to allow the option of remaining in a full customs union. – The Times (£)

…and Michel Barnier urges May and Corbyn to strike deal on a customs union…

Michel Barnier has urged Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn to strike a pact keeping Britain in a customs union with the EU after Brexit. The EU’s chief Brexit negotiator said that the political declaration, which sets out the terms for negotiations over the future relationship, could be reworked very quickly if cross-party talks between Tories and Labour were successful. “I have said many times before that we can be much more ambitious in our future relationship with the UK,” Mr Barnier said in Dublin alongside Leo Varadkar, the Irish prime minister. “The political declaration provides for a range of outcomes including a customs union,” he added, “We are ready to make this clear if it helps and this work can be done extremely quickly. The aim of our meetings today was first and foremost to take stock of the latest developments in London,” Mr Barnier said, “We all hope these [cross-party] talks will produce a positive outcome.” Mr Varadkar said the EU would be helpful if Britain changed its Brexit red lines after the cross-party discussions. Earlier, Phil Hogan, the EU’s Agriculture Commissioner said in Brussels that a customs union with some regulatory alignment would protect cross-border trade in beef, fruit and vegetables after Brexit. – Telegraph (£)

> Austin Mitchell on BrexitCentral today: A customs union is both incompatible with Brexit and a damaging path to pursue

…which he says the EU is ready to negotiate

The EU is ready to discuss a post-Brexit customs union with the United Kingdom, the bloc’s chief negotiator, Michael Barnier, said Monday. Barnier was in Dublin to meet with Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar ahead of a crucial summit on Wednesday in Brussels, where EU27 leaders will consider a further delay to the U.K.’s departure deadline. Appearing with Varadkar after their meeting, Barnier told reporters that if talks between U.K. Prime Minister Theresa May and opposition Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn yield an agreement to seek a customs union with the EU, Brussels is ready to work “quickly” toward that goal. “We all hope that these talks will produce a positive outcome,” Barnier said on the cross-party discussions currently underway in London. “I have said many times before that we can be more — much more —ambitious in our future relationship with the U.K. The Political Declaration provides for a range of outcomes including a customs union. We are ready to make this clear if it helps and this work can be done extremely quickly,” he continued. – Politico

Tory backbenchers tell May ‘You are the problem’ as they urge her to quit for good of the party…

Theresa May is facing demands from her own MPs to stand down immediately after senior backbenchers told her she is now “the problem”. A delegation of executives from the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers met Mrs May in Downing Street on Monday and said the mood among party supporters had turned against her over the weekend. Mrs May sat in stony silence and refused to discuss her future as the MPs made clear the “damage” she is causing the party, sources said. The meeting will draw comparisons with the final days of Margaret Thatcher’s reign when she was visited by “the men in grey suits” and prevailed upon to resign for the good of the party. Mrs May’s ongoing attempts to reach a Brexit deal with Jeremy Corbyn have enraged Eurosceptic MPs, who have warned her the party will not stand for any compromise with Labour that involves a future customs union with the EU. Andrea Leadsom, the Leader of the Commons, was said to be “absolutely furious” with the Prime Minister over the prospect of a compromise with Labour in one of a series of meetings Mrs May held with Cabinet ministers. – Telegraph (£)

> Mark Francois MP on BrexitCentral: It’s time Tory MPs had an indicative vote on Theresa May’s leadership before she destroys the party

…as the starting gun is fired for European elections next month…

Theresa May on Monday night infuriated Conservative Eurosceptics as she paved the way for Britain to take part in next month’s European parliamentary elections and reopened talks with Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn on a compromise Brexit deal. The British prime minister will on Tuesday travel to Berlin and Paris to seek support for an extension to the Article 50 exit process beyond this Friday, insisting that Britain would not use its position as a departing member state to disrupt the bloc’s business. But the reality of Mrs May’s plan to seek another Brexit delay began to sink in on Monday night as the Conservative party rushed to find candidates to contest the European elections, telling applicants to put their names forward by 5pm on Tuesday. In an email sent out to the Conservative candidates list, the party’s head of candidates Gareth Fox, said: “Due to the current situation we will be contesting the European elections on May 23.” – FT (£)

  • Humiliated Theresa May formally launches countdown to European Parliament elections as she begs leaders for Brexit delay – The Sun

…and Tory HQ seeks candidates to fight the contests…

The Conservative party has told potential local election candidates it is preparing to fight in the European elections in May, and asked potential MEPs to put themselves forward. An email to prospective Conservative candidates, seen by the Guardian, says the party “will be contesting the European elections on 23 May” and formally opened applications, asking would-be candidates to return their CVs before nominations close on 24 April. Conservative MEPs were warned in a meeting last week that they faced “annihilation” in European polls, igniting fury among some at the prospect of having to spend money and time on standing again to either lose their seats or spend an unclear length of time in post, with a number considering whether they want to bother at all. “We will be absolutely annihilated. That’s what was said in the meeting,” one Tory MEP said. “We are probably looking at about half the current number of MEPs. It is going to cost all of us to stand again as the party has very little money for it at the moment. Many of us are asking: what’s the point? Everybody is going to have to make up their mind soon whether it is worth taking part.” – Guardian

…while Conservatives face ‘a thrashing’ in local elections because a ‘Brexit penalty’ will see voters desert the party

The Tories face a mauling in next month’s local elections because of a “Brexit penalty,” one of the party’s top election gurus has warned. Election analyst Robert Hayward said voters would desert the Tories or stay at home at the May 2 council elections across England if Mrs May fails to get a deal agreed by then. He said “large numbers” of Brexiteers and Remainers are “so hacked off with it all and they won’t vote”. And surprisingly the main winners of unhappy Tory voters will be the Lib Dems – and not Labour. Jeremy Corbyn’s party could not find candidates to fight one in four seats up for grabs next month – despite boasting an army of more than half a million members since being elected leader. The analysis by Lord Hayward, who famously coined the phrase “shy Tories” to explain why the party won a shock elections victory in 1992, revealed that the Tories are not standing any candidates in the seat of leading Remainer Cabinet minister David Gauke – for fear of being humiliated due to his Europhile views. – The Sun

Parliament passes Brexit delay bill

The House of Lords and MPs in the Commons on Monday passed the final stages of a bill requiring prime minister Theresa May to consult parliament on the length of any new Brexit delay, and seeking to prevent the UK leaving the EU without a deal on Friday. The bill, now an Act of Parliament, proposed by Labour MP Yvette Cooper and approved by the House of Commons last week, is a key initiative by backbenchers to try to take control of the Brexit process amid the deadlock at Westminster over Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement. The draft legislation had encountered hours of filibustering on Thursday by Eurosceptic peers who want the UK to leave the EU without a deal. But it passed the Lords on Monday, with peers amending the draft legislation to reduce the possibility of an “accidental no-deal Brexit” because Mrs May lacked the authority to negotiate with other EU heads of government. – FT (£)

William Hague: The Prime Minister has a point – a no-deal Brexit could unravel our United Kingdom

Any approach by a prime minister to the leader of the opposition to work out a joint solution to the nation’s most pressing issue is fraught with risks and dangers. It is undoubtedly infuriating to many government supporters, and has only a slim chance of success. The tempting strategy for an opposition presented with such an initiative is to appear to engage constructively in the talks, draw the government into concessions that further antagonise its own side, and then pull the rug from under it by pronouncing those concessions as inadequate. They would thereby be closer to bringing down the government, their ultimate goal. The whole manoeuvre is akin to having a dinner date with a crocodile – its main interest is in eating you, not the dinner. It is difficult in any case to see how carrying through the programme of Brexit procedures and laws could be sustained by an agreement between part of the Conservative Party and the bulk of the Labour Party – the Government would be highly likely to collapse under such a strain. Some good could come of the talks, nevertheless, if they achieve the more modest of the goals set for them: an agreed way of making Parliament come to a decision about what it wants. If the Commons voted this week, by preferential voting or exhaustive ballots, so that one option had to win a majority in the end, they could still settle what form Brexit can take – and leave the EU before the nightmare of European elections. – Lord Hague for the Telegraph (£)

Owen Paterson: The PM has a choice this week: deliver the Brexit she promised, or stand aside for someone who will

One thing has been clear from Downing Street over the last week. What the Prime Minister has said we would do for over two years, we have not. What she said we would not do has come to pass. I have never known such a level of public anger and such a gulf between people and Parliament.  We were told that “Brexit means Brexit.” But according to the Withdrawal Agreement – from which there is no unilateral right of exit – Brexit means breaking up the UK, having potentially prejudicial laws imposed upon us by 27 other countries, being subject to substantial fines for non-compliance and paying £39 billion for the privilege. We were told we would leave the EU on the 29 March. We were told that “no deal is better than a bad deal.” It was with this mantra ringing in their ears that MPs voted to trigger Article 50 and passed the Withdrawal Act. But despite most of the Cabinet, most Conservative MPs, most of the party, and much of the public now supporting “no deal”, the Prime Minister’s pathological aversion to decision-making has ensured that we will never leave without one. – Owen Paterson MP for the Telegraph (£)

John Redwood: Who now doubts the power of the EU?

Before the referendum pro Remain commentators and MPs delighted in telling us we were a free and independent country whilst still in the EU. They explained that the EU did not have much power over us, just a few necessary details to allow trade to take place. Since we voted to leave some of these same people have explained how crucial EU laws and controls are, and how they penetrate most features of our public life and law codes. They now claim the control is so wide ranging we cannot live successfully without it. The supremacy of EU law over domestic law has been at the centre of recent disputes over the matter of delaying our exit. The Prime Minister requested a delay of Brussels at the last Council. She wanted to leave on 30 June. The EU Council instead gave her the ultimatum  of a delay until April 12th, unless she could carry the Withdrawal Agreement which could hold up our departure until May 22nd. These different delays had not been agreed by Parliament or even explained to Parliament. As soon as the PM said Yes to the Council we were told they were good EU law which trumped all that Parliament had enacted to get us out on 29 March. After a legal wrangle the government decided to put it beyond doubt by legislating in the UK as well, whilst claiming the supremacy of EU law. – John Redwood’s Diary

Tim Stanley: Don’t be surprised if Brexit is stopped – the EU has developed a talent for riding roughshod over voters’ wishes

A golden rule of politics is always to listen to my friend Daniel. The night of the referendum, as the results came in, my old comrade was both upbeat and realistic. “It’s a great victory,” he said, “but you realise they’ll never let it happen.” In retrospect not only was he probably right but this was obvious. As outrageous as overturning Britain’s referendum result might seem, it’s the historic norm. “They” always get their way in the end, and when I write “they” I refer not just to the EU but also to national governments who have worked to override several democratic decisions of their own populations. Since Maastricht (and excluding Brexit), the EU has been beaten in a member state referendum nine times. In every single instance, the result has either been explicitly reversed, circumvented or fudged. In 1992, the Danes voted against Maastricht; their government secured opt-outs and, in 1993, the public backed the Treaty on a second referendum (in 2015, the country voted to keep a justice and home affairs opt-out but the legislature voted for continued cooperation with Europol anyway). – Tim Stanley for the Telegraph (£)

Melanie Phillips: No-deal is the real deal, a passport to freedom

Despite Theresa May’s attempt in her weekend video to present a more human face, most have probably given up trying to explain her extraordinary inability to process information contradicting her chosen position. Her behaviour, however, is not the only puzzle in this Brexit crisis. It seems to be an article of faith among most MPs that Britain cannot leave the EU with no-deal. This is presented as an unthinkable disaster which cannot be allowed to happen. The question is why. For it has become clear that the apocalyptic no-deal scenarios have been much exaggerated. The French government has launched a “smart” customs border at Calais to enable goods to keep flowing. Legislative measures have been taken to ease traffic at British ports. A civil servant at the heart of no-deal preparations, writing anonymously, has described multiple contingency measures and bilateral arrangements to protect financial services, essential trade, transport and so on, and concludes: “There is nothing whatsoever to fear from leaving the EU without an agreement and reverting to WTO rules.” – Melanie Phillips for The Times (£)

Stephen Booth: The price of the PM’s customs union deal with Corbyn could be a second referendum

Theresa May faced little choice but to reach out to Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn to break the Brexit deadlock last week. Parliament has made it clear it will not approve a no deal departure and is legislating to force the Government to seek an extension of Article 50. Opposition to the Brexit deal from a handful of Conservative Brexiteers and Democratic Unionist Party MPs means that the only remaining parliamentary majority that might deliver a negotiated exit from the EU lies in a cross-party pact. We don’t yet know if the talks will make significant progress. However, for all the clashes and government defeats in the House of Commons, the reality is that very little of substance appears to separate May and Corbyn’s view of what would constitute an acceptable Brexit. The Labour Party accepts that the Withdrawal Agreement negotiated between the government and the EU is not going to change. This provides for the rights of UK and EU citizens, the financial settlement and the Northern Irish backstop. The Opposition’s chief objections to the Brexit deal focus on the Political Declaration on the future UK-EU relationship, which is a non-binding statement of intent from both the UK and the EU about where future negotiations might end up. – Stephen Booth for the Telegraph (£)

Peter Lilley: UK will prosper if we leave with no deal this week

The EU27 are palpably reluctant to force the UK to leave without a withdrawal agreement because they have done the sums. They can see that, on balance, the UK would gain from leaving with no agreement whereas they would be substantial losers. Few of us like doing arithmetic over breakfast but the sums are simple. If the UK leaves without a deal our exports to the EU will face tariffs costing about £5 billion. But these would be more than offset by saving our net contribution to the EU budget of over £10 billion. Overall the UK would be at least £5 billion better off. That is before including revenues from whatever tariffs we impose on imports from the EU which could amount to up to £13 billion. Our gains are the EU27’s losses and vice versa. They will lose our net contribution of £10 billion and receive £5 billion tariffs levied on our exports to them. But EU27 exports to the UK would face tariffs of more than £13 billion if we levied our current external tariffs on them. Even if we slash some tariffs — as the government rightly plans — that would expose their goods to global competition forcing them to reduce their prices correspondingly. Either way the EU27 would be worse off. – Lord Lilley for The Times (£)

James Frayne: Cross-party co-operation over Brexit is initially popular, but it will swiftly sour in practice

The public love the idea of politicians from different parties working together to fix difficult policy problems. In any focus group that deals with Westminster politics you’ll hear people ask “why can’t they all just work together?”; or “why do they always oppose each other for its own sake?” They usually have a point, and it’s strange more British politicians don’t make an effort to reach across party lines on issues. And this is why the Prime Minister’s decision to engage with the Labour Party on Brexit will likely be immediately superficially popular with the public as a whole. I haven’t been able to track down the full tables, but according to the Sunday Times a “snap” Labour poll is said to show significant topline support for their engagement with the Government on this. Why then would such a move only be superficially popular and not generally wildly popular? There are a series of problems with this decision, which can be put into short-term and long-term categories. – James Frayne for ConservativeHome

Brian Monteith: A further Article 50 extension is a threat to the Union

Has Brexit been the threat to Scotland’s place in the Union that was claimed by so many of those arguing against leaving the EU? And does Brexit now pose a threat as we approach yet another deadline for exit or see the deadline extended into the far distance? I ask these questions because rather like we understand appealing to patriotism is the last refuge of the scoundrel in political debate, so it always seems to be that, when our politicians are faced with a crucial decision, the threat of Brexit to the Union is rolled out in expectation of some Pavlovian response that will ensure no dissent is possible. Fortunately there are enough MPs who have minds of their own, who challenge baseless assertions and can conclude if they have any merit. The Scottish Secretary, David Mundell, has yet again warned that leaving the EU on Friday without a deal will strengthen the hand of nationalists. Well, he would, wouldn’t he? Along with David Cameron, Ruth Davidson and John Major, Mundell claimed during the 2016 referendum that the UK leaving the EU could be a threat to Scotland remaining in the UK, on the grounds that, were Scotland to vote differently from the rest of the UK, the clamour for Scottish independence could become much strengthened, even irresistible. – Brian Monteith for The Scotsman

Telegraph: Better no deal or a long Article 50 extension than a customs union cooked up with Labour

With three days remaining before the UK is due to leave the EU, the urgent issue to be settled is the extension of the Article 50 Brexit process. Theresa May will travel to Paris and Berlin today for talks with Europe’s two most powerful leaders to sound them out ahead of tomorrow’s emergency summit in Brussels. President Macron and Chancellor Merkel are anxious to avoid a no-deal outcome if this can be avoided. It is not in their national interests for the UK to leave in a disorderly way. Short of an unexpected U-turn on the Irish backstop, a Brexit delay of a year or more must be the most likely way forward. Mrs May is asking for an extension only until the end of June, but with the British position still deadlocked will the EU27 leaders see any point in such a short hiatus? How long before Mrs May feels it necessary to request yet another delay? Even Brexiteers in the UK are now pressing for a lengthy extension during which time Mrs May can be replaced and the process reset. – Telegraph (£) editorial

The Sun: EU hypocrites are demanding our ‘sincerest cooperation’ in not sabotaging businesses after years of humiliation

After three years of bullying and humiliating Britain, the EU now demands our “sincere co-operation” in not sabotaging its business. Our minds boggle at the nerve and hypocrisy. Since 2016 they have done everything in their power to interfere with our democracy, hoping to strong-arm us into staying in by overturning our ­historic referendum via a second one. Now that WE want to delay Brexit a few months, they say we can if our MEPs play nice. Why should they? EU arrogance and aggression has ­converted even some Remainers into furious Eurosceptics. If a new legion of staunchly anti-Brussels MEPs is elected in May, it can hardly be surprised. And, as long as we are still in the EU, those politicians must be able to throw a spanner in the works if they choose. That’s democracy — even if Eurocrats do find it repugnant and terrifying. A new referendum would unleash the same problem, for years. – The Sun says

Brexit in Brief

  • Compared with Michel Barnier, our Brexit ministers have looked like lightweights – Michael Deacon for the Telegraph (£)
  • Could Theresa May cancel Brexit? – Robert Peston for The Spectator
  • Labour’s Emily Thornberry calls for Brexit Inquiry – Express
  • The majority voted for Brexit to ‘disrupt their lives’, despite what Theresa May thinks – Telegraph (£) letters
  • How Brexit could lead to Frexit – John Keiger for The Spectator
  • Labour’s careerists must bear their share of the blame for this Brexit mess – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)