Cabinet ramps up no-deal planning as ministers approve an extra £2bn of spending on preparations: Brexit News for Wednesday 19 December

Cabinet ramps up no-deal planning as ministers approve an extra £2bn of spending on preparations: Brexit News for Wednesday 19 December
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Cabinet ramps up no-deal planning as ministers approve an extra £2bn of spending on preparations…

The cabinet has decided to “ramp up” preparations for a no-deal Brexit amid uncertainty over the fate of Theresa May’s proposed EU exit deal. Ministers approved £2bn to go to government departments to help if the UK leaves the EU on 29 March without a formal agreement. They will also send letters to 140,000 firms advising them about preparations. With 101 days left until Brexit and many MPs still opposed to the government’s withdrawal agreement, ministers met for two and a half hours for a longer-than-normal cabinet meeting. Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay said the cabinet had agreed that “preparing for a no deal will be an operational priority within government but our overall priority is to secure a deal”. He said no-deal planning “needs to be much more of a priority for businesses” and there would be a “significant increase” in the guidance issued to them over the next 14 weeks, as Brexit day approaches. Businesses will be provided with a 100-plus page online pack to help them prepare and emails will be sent out to 80,000 of those most like to be affected over the next few days. – BBC News

  • Cabinet agrees to step up planning for a no-deal Brexit – ITV News
  • Cabinet moves to ‘war footing’ for no deal Brexit – The Times (£)

> WATCH: Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay explains the Cabinet decision to make no-deal preparations an operational priority within government

…while David Lidington embarks on cull of Tory manifesto pledges to concentrate on no-deal preparations…

Theresa May is to start culling Tory manifesto commitments after her cabinet decided yesterday to accelerate planning for a no-deal Brexit. David Lidington, who is in effect the prime minister’s deputy, will start in “short order” to identify policies to be shelved to free resources for the no-deal, a senior figure said. Reforms to social care have been identified by one minister as a likely casualty of yesterday’s decision, which escalated preparations across Whitehall. A Department of Health aide confirmed that some staff had already been diverted from social care to prepare. Philip Hammond, the chancellor, announced an extra £2 billion for no-deal planning, with the Home Office, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs and HMRC receiving the lion’s share of the cash. – The Times (£)

…and Government ‘places 3,500 troops on standby’ to prepare for no-deal…

A total of 3,500 troops will be put on standby for any crisis triggered by a no-deal Brexit, the defence secretary has announced. Gavin Williamson said the soldiers would be ready to “support any government department on any contingencies they may need”. The comment came despite Downing Street indicating there would be no need for troop deployments as part of the decision to move “in full” to prepare for crashing out of the EU without an agreement. It also comes after Tobias Ellwood, Mr Williamson’s deputy at the Ministry of Defence went public on his department’s assessment of readiness for a no-deal Brexit. Mr Ellwood told the BBC, last week, it was “not an option” for the army, adding: “MoD planning shows that arrangements are not in place – economically, and from a security perspective, it’s not possible.” – Independent

…although Philip Hammond is in the firing line for seeking to thwart no-deal preparations…

A fierce row is thought to have broken out in yesterday’s Cabinet meeting between ministers, with Mr Hammond’s actions at the heart of the argument. The Chancellor attacked his colleagues for failing to spend the money he has allocated for no deal preparations. However, Ministers blamed the Runnymede and Weybridge MP’s own department for not signing off on individual preparation projects. With just 100 days until Brexit the Chancellor is thought to be deliberately refusing to quickly release money needed for making adequate contingencies for leaving the EU without a withdrawal agreement. A Cabinet Minister told The Sun: “The one Government department doing the most to stop no deal is the Treasury, so it is incredible for them to now criticise anyone else. “Hammond has never wanted us to prepare for no deal because he thinks it’s more likely to never happen if we don’t. All the delays in getting money come directly from him.” – Express

…as Remainer Tory MPs Nick Boles and Anna Soubry vow to bring down their own Government if Theresa May presses ahead with a no-deal Brexit

Tory Remainer MPs Anna Soubry and Nick Boles today vowed to quit their party and try to topple Theresa May’s government if she presses ahead with a no deal Brexit. The two former ministers threatened to push the nuclear button and back Labour in a no confidence vote if this was the only way to stop the UK crashing out. Mr Boles, a former business minister, said on Twitter: ‘The Cabinet spent this morning discussing preparations for ‘no deal’ Brexit. ‘I accept that it is prudent for the government to get ready for all eventualities. But I owe my constituents and my colleagues total clarity about my position. If at any point between now and 29 March the government were to announce that ‘no deal’ Brexit had become its policy, I would immediately resign the Conservative whip and vote in any way necessary to stop it from happening.’ And he was immediately backed by Ms Soubry, another former business minister and a leading campaigner for a second referendum. Replying to the tweet, she said: ‘You and many other sensible responsible One Nation Tories. Well said.’ – Mail Online

European Commission to publish its plans for a no-deal Brexit today

The EU is planning hard for a no-deal Brexit — and especially to make sure that if everyone goes over the cliff, the U.K. will land hardest of all. The European Commission on Wednesday is set to approve a series of legislative initiatives to avoid the most disastrous outcomes of a no-deal scenario. It has described the preparations as “a limited number of contingency measures to mitigate significant disruptions in some narrowly defined areas.” But while the EU’s disaster planning is intended to avert all-out catastrophe in the days immediately following Britain’s crash-out on March 29, Brussels also wants to be clear that its contingency operations won’t make no-deal a walk in the park. It will neither allow the U.K. to continue enjoying the benefits of EU membership, nor will it replicate the soft landing of the 21-month stand-in-place transition period envisioned in the draft Withdrawal Treaty agreed last month. Generally speaking, contingency measures are expected to expire at the end of 2019 — giving the U.K. nine months to try to replicate the regulatory and policy infrastructure assembled over its more than 40 years in the EU. – Politico

Post-Brexit migration plans to be unveiled with publication of Immigration White Paper today…

A skills-based immigration system will be introduced to “get control over our borders” when free movement from the EU ends, the home secretary will announce. It will focus on people’s “talent and expertise… rather than where they come from”, Sajid Javid will say later. The system – to be phased in from 2021 – would scrap the cap on high-skilled workers like doctors and engineers. A dispute between ministers over a proposed £30,000 minimum salary for visas has resulted in a compromise. Some members of cabinet were worried the set amount would limit the ability of businesses and services to recruit enough staff. But agreement has been reached; the terms of it will become public when the white paper is published on Wednesday morning. The much-delayed draft plan leaves out the long-held aim to cut net migration to less than 100,000 a year. But the government has said it is still committed to that target. BBC News

  • Post-Brexit immigration: An end to EU free movement and no cap on high-skilled jobs – Sky News
  • Javid to unveil post-Brexit immigration plan ‘We’re taking back control’ – Express

…with Sajid Javid finally confirming that EU migrants won’t get priority access to Britain after Brexit

Home Secretary Sajid Javid will reveal plans for a new post-Brexit immigration system tomorrow – ending preferential treatment for EU migrants – despite a bitter Cabinet bust-up. Sources claimed the new regime would be based on “what people contribute rather than where they come from”. A cap on skilled workers such as health professionals will be axed – and there will be no limit on the numbers of international students allowed into Britain. And there will be a “time-limited” short-term work route for low-skilled workers. Insiders said the full details were only likely later tomorrow – when the Immigration White Paper is finally published. – The Sun

May to urge Scottish and Welsh First Ministers to back Brexit deal…

Prime Minister Theresa May is to urge the first ministers of Scotland and Wales to back her Brexit deal at a summit in London. The leaders of the devolved administrations will meet UK ministers at Downing Street on Wednesday. Mrs May said her Brexit plan “delivers for the whole of the UK”, urging others to “pull together” behind it. However, members in both the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly have overwhelmingly voted against the deal. Ministers from around the UK will gather for a summit at Downing Street on Wednesday afternoon, with Brexit high on the agenda. Mrs May will head a team of UK ministers including her de facto deputy David Lidington, the Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay and the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish secretaries. First Minister Nicola Sturgeon and her Brexit Secretary Mike Russell will be there for the Scottish government, while newly-appointed First Minister Mark Drakeford will attend for the Welsh administration. – BBC News

…although Nicola Sturgeon makes a second EU referendum her top Brexit target ahead of today’s Downing Street talks

Nicola Sturgeon has made getting a second EU referendum her top Brexit priority for the first time ahead of talks with Theresa May aimed at breaking the Commons deadlock. The First Minister urged Mrs May to immediately seek an extension of Article 50 and find “an alternative way forward”, before announcing her preference was another EU referendum. Her demand came after Ian Blackford, the SNP’s Westminster leader, told the Commons that Ms Sturgeon’s long-standing “compromise” plan to stay in the single market and customs union was no longer viable. Only weeks after Ms Sturgeon claimed there was growing support among MPs for this ‘Norway plus’ option, he said “that ship has sailed” and the party would instead focus on getting a second EU referendum. – Telegraph (£)

> Daniel Moylan on BrexitCentral today: Remainers demanding another referendum aren’t interested in legitimacy – just reversing the democratic decision of 2016

Brexit deal hinges on final bid to win over DUP, say senior Tories

Theresa May will be within 20 votes of winning a parliamentary majority for her Brexit deal if she can gain assurances from the EU that will persuade the Democratic Unionist party to back her deal, senior ministers and Tory MPs believe. One cabinet minister said they believed the success of the prime minister’s deal hinged entirely on a last bid to win round the DUP. Another MP said they saw the Northern Irish party as the “British standard” who would give them the reassurance they needed to fall in behind. “You unlock huge numbers of Tory MPs if you can get something the DUP can accept,” the cabinet minister said. “There’s no point at all in holding a vote until you win back the DUP. That is the absolute priority.” Several cabinet sources played down the prospect of any efforts to try to form a coalition of support with Labour MPs and said all efforts were focused on regaining the DUP’s support. “You cannot get this deal through only on the back of Labour votes because it would split the Tory party,” one official said. “That means one thing – bringing the DUP back on board.” – Guardian

Some MPs urge May to cut short the Commons’ Christmas break to debate Brexit as early as 2nd January

Parliamentary authorities held talks on Tuesday with ministers about whether MPs will be recalled from their Christmas break a week early to deal with the Brexit crisis. The House of Commons will rise on Thursday with MPs then due to enjoy a 17 day holiday before returning on January 7. But pressure is growing on Theresa May to act, with rumours of an early return on January 2 – the first working day of the new year – swirling around Westminster and staff said to be expecting it. Sources close to John Bercow, the Commons Speaker, said they were working to establish whether ministers were keen to bring MPs back early. Talks were due to be held between representatives from the Speaker’s Office and Andrea Leadsom, the Commons Leader. An early return has the support of some Tory, Labour and Liberal Democrat MPs who believe an extended break is unacceptable given the fact the UK is set to leave the EU in just over three months and there is still no agreed departure plan. – Telegraph (£)

Dominic Raab: Give businesses tax breaks to help weather a no-deal Brexit with the £39bn we would no longer pay the EU

On Tuesday the Cabinet stepped up preparations to leave the EU on World Trade Organisation (WTO) terms. That will strengthen the Prime Minister’s final efforts to salvage her Brexit deal, and mitigate the risks in case they fail. With 100 days until Brexit, we need a clear-sighted appraisal of those risks, and stronger ministerial grip to manage them and reassure the country. The Treasury must prepare a Brexit budget to identify businesses – including ‘just in time’ manufacturers – most at risk from a departure on WTO terms. We should cut business taxes to boost them as they transition, and offset the cost from the £39 billion the UK would have paid the EU. As well as managing risks, there will be opportunities to grasp, including full and immediate control over our laws and borders, and the freedom to bring into force free trade deals straight away. Above all, departure on WTO terms would allow the government to move on from the current, tortuous, Brexit haggling, and focus on the aspirational post-Brexit vision all Conservatives want to deliver – from easing the cost of living for working Britons, to creating ladders of opportunity to boost social mobility. Yes, we might risk up to six months of significant – but manageable – disruption. But, better that than to be trapped in a lousy deal, that cries out to be torn up from the moment the ink is dry, suffocates the opportunities of Brexit, and prevents us as a country from moving on. – Dominic Raab MP for the Telegraph (£)

Nick de Bois: What my government experience taught me about No Deal – and why planning must be stepped up

As we fast approach March 29 2019 and our exit from the European Union, the clamour for not doing so without a deal in place grows to a deafening crescendo. From calls for second referendums from both within the government and outside to poorly considered alternatives of Norway, EEA, EFTA (and a combination of all three), plus of course the emergency extension of Article 50 – all, it seems, because leaving on the 29th March without a deal is too frightening to consider. It’s not. As Roberto Azevedo, the head of the World Trade Organisation, has said, a no-deal Brexit would not “be the end of the world” but added it would not be “a walk in the park either”. The right course of action now is for the Government make implementing No Deal plans the official policy, and immediately shift the full resource of government behind that policy. Indeed, the cabinet has already been told that it have passed the recommended date for doing that. Any further delay is at best irresponsible, at worst bordering on reckless. It doesn’t matter how loud the chorus of calls become for a second referendum, Norway Plus or claims that parliament won’t allow No Deal to happen.  The reality is that in law we are set for leaving on the 29th March at 11pm. Parliament voted for it and now the Government should get ready for it. They have the tools in place; all they need is conviction. – Nick de Bois for ConservativeHome

Philip Johnston: The Prime Minister has cause for cheer, Parliament may yet save her deal

Sometimes, even on the bleakest day, a ray of sunshine pokes through the lowering clouds; and on Monday, Theresa May was grateful for its warmth and promise of better times to come. As she battled through yet another marathon session at the dispatch box, the political weather was unremittingly hostile. She sought cover as thunderbolts flew around her head, and well over an hour had passed before Sir Edward Leigh, Conservative MP for Gainsborough, rose in his place to “express an unfashionably supportive view of the Prime Minister”. But how can she persuade scores of sceptical MPs that the EU will not renege on these apparent pledges once the two sides try to negotiate future trade relationships? With the backstop in place, what possible incentive will they have to expedite talks since the insurance policy is always available? This is where Sir Edward comes in. He has tabled an amendment to the Brexit motion when it eventually comes up for a vote in January to make clear that, if the backstop is in place by the end of 2021 – close to the end of the current Parliament – the Government will use its power under the 1969 Vienna Convention on the Law of Treaties to abrogate those parts of the agreement relating to it. When it comes to the meaningful vote (assuming Mrs May does not pull it again), how the various amendments are ordered might determine the fate of Brexit. Philip Johnston for the Telegraph (£)

Chris Moncrieff: Whether you’re a Leaver or a Remainer, a second poll would be a betrayal

It would be a preposterous act of betrayal of the British people if a second referendum was called in an endeavour to resolve the Brexit shambles. This is true whether you are a Remainer or a Leaver. Parliament ordained the referendum and, at the same time, gave a solemn promise that they’d abide by the result. The fact politicians have got themselves in such a mess trying to implement the referendum result in favour of quitting the EU cannot ever be used as an excuse for defaulting on the original undertaking. To her eternal credit, the Prime Minister refuses to bow to the clamour for a second referendum. Meanwhile, those calling for another poll are claiming that those who voted for the UK to leave the EU did not appreciate what this would involve. How patronising. Of course, most people realised that the EU negotiating team would try to squeeze every drop of blood out of the UK in what has approached the level of bullying the Prime Minister partly, no doubt, to frighten any other member states which might be considering following in the UK’s footsteps. It’s as if the elitists simply assume — arrogantly — that they know better than the people they are supposed to serve (and are paid handsomely for it). – Chris Moncrieff for the Belfast Telegraph

Graham Gudgin: Who’s Afraid of Martin Wolf?

One of the fixed points of what passes for a national debate on Brexit is the claim that a ‘no deal’ Brexit will be either catastrophic or disastrous. I have heard or read this claim hundreds of times and yet have never seen the claim backed up by evidence. A similar pattern was evident in the Financial Times this week (Friday 15th December). The highly influential economic commentator, Martin Wolf, described a no deal Brexit as ‘a disaster for the UK’ and ‘insane’. The costs of a no deal Brexit would be ‘huge, politically as well as economically’… It is difficult to know what to make of these outlandish descriptions of no deal but at least they give a clue as what is going through the minds of those who believe ‘no deal’ to be a catastrophe. – Graham Gudgin for Briefings for Brexit

Express: It’s time to compromise and accept May’s deal

The Prime Minister did move the process forward by saying the Meaningful Vote will now be held in the third week of January. Her critics accuse of her of trying to run the clock down – and yet at the same time they complain that she is not listening to their concerns. They can not have it both ways, just as the Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn should not be allowed to get away with accusing Mrs May of putting her own interests before that of the country when he and his Labour cronies are offering absolutely no credible alternative. Mrs May insists that “further clarification” over the Irish backstop issue is still possible and she says that a second referendum would cause “irretrievable damage to the integrity of our democracy”. She is right on the second point and we choose to take her word for it on the first point. But there are now a few more weeks to negotiate, after which we urge politicians on all sides of the House to accept an element of compromise and finally vote in favour of her deal. – Express editorial

James Blitz: Should MPs hold ‘indicative votes’ on Brexit?

Senior figures in Theresa May’s cabinet have recently started promoting the idea of holding “indicative votes” in the House of Commons to try to resolve the impasse over Brexit. According to one report, at least four ministers — Amber Rudd, Greg Clark, Philip Hammond and David Gauke — privately urged the idea on the prime minister yesterday as a way to break the deadlock. On the BBC, Mr Clark was very open about the idea. Downing Street has made clear it has no intention of holding such an exercise and Mrs May effectively ruled it out in the Commons yesterday. But with the PM’s Brexit deal in trouble, the idea is likely to continue being raised by ministers in the weeks ahead. At present, the next clear fixture in the Commons timetable is the meaningful vote on Mrs May’s deal. It will be held in the week beginning Monday January 14. – James Blitz for the FT(£)

The Times: Corbyn and Brexit: a lack of regard for national interest

As the date for Brexit marches ever closer, what the country desperately needs from its political leaders is statesmanship and a commitment to put the national interest first. Instead what it is getting from Jeremy Corbyn, Her Majesty’s leader of the opposition, are gimmicks and political games solely to gain party advantage. At least Theresa May has a plan, no matter how imperfect, though she has not yet dared put it to a vote. But the Labour leader has no credible plan. He simply hides behind fantasy proposals that have no chance of being delivered. Given that crashing out of the European Union might well hurt some of the communities that Mr Corbyn professes to want to help, his behaviour is recklessly cynical. Recent polls suggest that the public is not fooled. Voters may be disillusioned with Mrs May’s handling of Brexit and the party may be irredeemably split, yet the Tories still lead Labour by four points, while Mrs May has an 11-point lead over Mr Corbyn as to who would be the best prime minister. Labour may yet pay a high price for its disregard of the national interest. – The Times (£) editorial

Brexit in Brief

  • The Sun: Misguided Cabinet ministers must not delay the Government’s new immigration controls – The Sun says
  • The no-deal Cabinet in full: How ministers clashed over unicorns, car crashes and Brexit ferries – Telegraph (£)
  • ‘Juncker you’re losing your money!’ Wetherspoons boss has no deal Brexit warning for EU – Express
  • Dutch PM warns his voters against emulating ‘chaos’ of Britain’s departure from EU – Independent
  • Sources claim May will hold a series of MPs’ votes on Brexit options – BBC News
  • Businesses raise concerns as PM plans for no-deal scenario – Guardian

And finally… How to avoid Brexit at the Christmas dinner table

This year the Brexit shadow is sure to loom over the dinner table. People don’t just lean one way on the subject, but have unwavering passion that their opinion is right and any other is masochistic idiocy. If you are one of the lucky few that lives in a household where you all share the same view then praise the Gods, stop reading this and go enjoy your blissful holiday. For anyone else – here’s a how-to guide to avoid complete carnage… – Spectator Life