Theresa May returning to Brussels later for more talks with Jean-Claude Juncker: Brexit News for Wednesday 20 February

Theresa May returning to Brussels later for more talks with Jean-Claude Juncker: Brexit News for Wednesday 20 February
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Theresa May returning to Brussels later for more talks with Jean-Claude Juncker…

Prime Minister Theresa May will return to Brussels later to continue Brexit talks with the European Union. She is trying to renegotiate the Irish backstop – the insurance policy to prevent the return of customs checks on the Irish border. Mrs May is expected to request legally-binding assurances that the backstop will not extend indefinitely. However, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker has said he does not expect a “breakthrough” in talks. The backstop policy is part of Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement and became one of the main reasons her Brexit deal was voted down in Parliament in January. Critics fear it would leave the UK tied to a customs union with the EU indefinitely and see Northern Ireland treated differently. MPs gave their backing for Mrs May to renegotiate the policy in a vote earlier this month and said she was “working hard to secure the legally binding changes” that Parliament wants. – BBC News

  • Theresa May to put new proposals to EU – Guardian

…as she calms Brexiteers with a pledge to keep Malthouse backstop plan on table

Conservative Brexiteers have backed away from a full-scale confrontation with No 10 over the fate of their plan to replace the Irish backstop. Stephen Barclay, the Brexit secretary, told the cabinet yesterday that the Malthouse compromise could not be negotiated with the EU in time for March 29, when Britain is due to leave. Last night, at the annual dinner of the manufacturers’ organisation Make UK, Philip Hammond, the chancellor, said it was clear the EU would not replace the backstop with the arrangements set out in Malthouse. He added that a no-deal Brexit would be a mutual calamity for the EU and UK, delivering a short-term shock to Britain’s economy and betraying promises made by Brexit campaigners during the referendum. Under Malthouse the proposed backstop, in which the UK would remain in a customs union with the bloc, would be replaced by a technological solution to avoid physical checks on goods at the Irish border. Brexiteers accused Mrs May of “squandering” unity in her party and warned that they would vote down her deal if it did not include Malthouse. However, after a meeting with her last night senior members of the Tory European Research Group (ERG) said they had been reassured that Malthouse was still on the table. One said the prime minister had told them that the EU was receptive to the plan but that it needed more time to be developed. – The Times (£)

  • Theresa heads to Brussels after eurosceptics say they may back Withdrawal Agreement – Telegraph (£)

New meaningful vote could be held next week in a bid to see off the threat of more ministerial resignations

Theresa May is considering plans to bring forward a vote on her Brexit deal to next week in a bid to see off the threat of resignations by pro-European ministers. The Prime Minister will travel to Brussels on Wednesday to meet Jean Claude-Juncker, the President of the European Commission, where she hopes to secure a breakthrough on a new Brexit deal. Downing Street is now concentrating efforts on agreeing a new legal text stating that the backstop, which would tie Britain to a Customs Union with the EU, cannot be “indefinite”. The legal “codicil”, which is being drawn up by Geoffrey Cox, the Attorney General, would impose a time-limit on the customs backstop but stop short of demands by Tory Eurosceptics to scrap it entirely. off by European leaders at an EU-Arab summit in Egypt this weekend, which the Prime Minister is now expected to attend. The Telegraph understands that Mrs May has asked Mr Cox to write to MPs once a deal is secured informing them that he has changed his legal advice on the backstop. – Telegraph (£)

  • Britain targets Brexit deal within days as May heads to Brussels – Bloomberg

Get Brexit sorted out, says Greg Clark following Honda plant decision

The United Kingdom must urgently end the uncertainty over its exit from the European Union so that businesses can have clarity about the future, business minister Greg Clark said just hours after Honda said it would close its car plant in Britain. “Decisions like Honda’s this morning demonstrate starkly how much is at stake,” Clark said, adding that the decision was a very big blow. “This news comes on top of months of uncertainty that you as manufacturers have had to endure about Brexit, about our future relationship with the EU,” Clark told a manufacturing conference. “A situation in which our manufacturers do not have the certainty they need about the terms under which two thirds of our trade will be conducted in 40 days time is unacceptable – it needs to be brought to conclusion and without further delay.” – Reuters

> WATCH: Business Secretary Greg Clark speaking at the National Manufacturing Conference

Honda confirms Swindon car plant closure – and that it is not due to Brexit

The Japanese company builds 160,000 Honda Civics a year in Swindon, its only car factory in the EU. Honda said the move was due to global changes in the car industry and the need to launch electric vehicles, and it had nothing to do with Brexit. Business Secretary Greg Clark said the decision was “devastating” for Swindon and the UK. A fall in demand for diesel cars and tougher emissions regulations have shaken up the car industry. Ian Howells, senior vice-president for Honda in Europe, told the BBC: “We’re seeing unprecedented change in the industry on a global scale. We have to move very swiftly to electrification of our vehicles because of demand of our customers and legislation. This is not a Brexit-related issue for us, it’s being made on the global-related changes I’ve spoken about. We’ve always seen Brexit as something we’ll get through, but these changes globally are something we will have to respond to. We deeply regret the impact it will have on the Swindon community.” – BBC News

> LISTEN: Ian Howells of Honda talks to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme

Tory minister blasts Brexiteers for ‘tarnishing’ party amid claims Conservative MPs could quit

Defence minister Tobias Ellwood attacked the European Research Group (ERG) of Conservative Brexiteers for their actions, which he claimed were threatening to “poison” the party. He also added to speculation Tory MPs could join a group of seven former Labour MPs, who this week walked out of their party and formed a new group in the House of Commons. Mr Ellwood suggested it would be difficult for him to remain in the Conservative Party if the ERG’s “viewpoint” took prominence. Adding to the censure of the ERG, Mr Ellwood told Sky News: “There are many of us who normally would not be commenting in public about a wing of our party or, indeed, individuals themselves. – Sky News

Tom Watson no longer being invited to key Labour Brexit meetings

In a further sign of the tensions at the top of the party, PoliticsHome has learned that Mr Watson has been shut out of recent meetings of the Shadow Cabinet Brexit sub-committee. Among those who attend the high-powered gatherings are Jeremy Corbyn, Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer and Shadow International Trade Secretary Barry Gardiner. As deputy leader of the party, Mr Watson is also supposed to attend but it is understood he has not been invited to one since February last year. Three senior Labour sources – including one member of the sub-committee – confirmed to this website that it was meeting on Tuesday afternoon in Mr Corbyn’s office, although once again Mr Watson was not among those invited. A Labour spokesperson denied that it was a formal meeting of the group, but could not explain why those attending believed it was. Mr Watson told PoliticsHome: “It’s news to me that this committee has been meeting.” Splits between Labour’s deputy leader and Mr Corbyn have grown in recent months, particularly over the party’s failure to tackle anti-semitism by some members. Following the resignation of seven Labour MPs on Monday, Mr Watson said that unless Labour changed the way it is run “we may see more days like this” – PoliticsHome

UK farmers could be unable to export food to EU in event of no-deal Brexit, warns Michael Gove

British farmers might  be unable to export any food to the European Union in the event of a no-deal Brexit, Michael Gove has warned. The Environment Secretary told the National Farmers’ Union conference that he remained “optimistic” MPs will back an improved version of Theresa May’s Brexit deal. But he said the benefits for farming of leaving the EU would be “put at severe risk” if no agreement is struck with Brussels as he urged NFU members to put pressure on MPs to back the Prime Minister’s deal. Mr Gove, a Brexiteer who played a prominent role in the Leave campaign in the run up to the 2016 EU referendum, issued a stark warning of what a no-deal divorce could mean for farmers. He said: “As things stand, just six weeks before we are due to leave, the EU still have not listed the UK as a full third country in the event of no deal being concluded. “That means that as I speak there is no absolute guarantee that we will be able to continue to export food to the EU. I am confident that we will secure that listing but in the event of no deal the EU have also said that they will impose strict conditions on our export trade. If we leave without a deal the EU has been clear that they will levy the full external tariff on all food.” – Telegraph(£)

  • Government will use tariffs to protect farming in no deal Brexit – Reuters

Compromise or risk ‘being blamed’ for no-deal Brexit, former European Commission President warns Brussels…

The EU will compromise with the UK over the Brexit withdrawal agreement, the former president of the European Commission has said. Calling for a “sense of perspective”, Jose Manuel Barroso warned Brussels not to be on the “wrong side of the blame if things go wrong”. The former Prime Minister of Portugal, who was president of the commission from 2004 to 2014, said: “There is still room for some renegotiation. While I fully understand the EU27 will not reopen withdrawal agreement – I believe it is possible with some creativity and imagination to find some kind of compromise, it’s far from certain but we should still try. The EU should try to avoid being on the wrong side of the blame game if things go wrong. “Everybody needs to move a little, that’s compromise. Where there is a political will, there is a political way. Europe should be making an effort to accommodate some of the UK’s concerns.” – Telegraph (£)

…as he suggests the UK will probably delay Brexit

Britain is likely to delay Brexit because of the lack of a deal, former EU Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso has said. Mr Barroso, who ran the bloc’s executive from 2004 to 2014, said it would be right for the EU27 to accept any request for an extension. Theresa May has repeatedly said she would not extend the Article 50 period – which expires on 29 March – and that “no-deal is better than a bad deal”. MPs have however voted in principle. When the date arrives, Britain will crash out of all EU institutions without anything to replace them – with widespread predictions of chaos and economic damage. “I think the most likely scenario is not to do that in March of this year. We need more… preparations,” Mr Barroso, told Sky News when asked for his view on what would happen. “Even if there was a positive deal now, from a practical point of view, it’s obvious that everything is not ready. So I think the right thing to do is to have some extension, and I believe that if the UK demands an extension of Article 50, European Union countries will naturally accept it.” – Independent

Leo Varadkar reveals that he raised extension of Brexit date with Theresa May

The Irish premier has said he raised the issue of extending the deadline for the UK leaving the EU with the British Prime Minister. But Leo Varadkar said Theresa May made it clear that Brexit would go ahead on March 29 as planned. The Taoiseach made the comments in the Dail parliament on Tuesday afternoon as the Irish Government ramps up its action plan for the event of the UK crashing out of the EU. “I have raised the issue of Article 50 potentially being extended and the Prime Minister has made her position clear that she intends the UK will leave the EU on time on the date that they have set for it,” he told the Dail. Mr Varadkar said the March 29 deadline was set in Britain for Britain, not imposed by the EU or Ireland. “No deal is not a threat that Ireland is making or the European Union is making,” he said. “No deal can be taken off the table by the United Kingdom at any time, either by revoking Article 50 or by seeking an extension of Article 50, and we’ll listen to any request that they make for that.” He added that a no-deal Brexit would cause a “dilemma” for the UK and Ireland. – Belfast Telegraph

UK heading for No Deal if EU doesn’t reopen Withdrawal Agreement, warns DUP Chief Whip

DUP MP Sir Jeffrey Donaldson has warned that the UK is heading for a no-deal Brexit if the EU and Republic of Ireland refuse to renegotiate the withdrawal agreement. Mr Coveney was speaking ahead of a trip by Prime Minister Theresa May to Brussels this week to meet with European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker. In response to Mr Coveney’s comments Lagan Valley MP Sir Jeffrey said that “any agreement is never closed until it is agreed by both sides. Otherwise it isn’t an agreement at all,” he tweeted. “UK Parliament has made it clear that change to withdrawal terms is needed. If EU/Republic of Ireland refuses then we are heading for no deal.  Is that what Dublin really wants?” He asked. – Belfast Telegraph

  • DUP Assemblyman says claim that No Deal may reignite violence is ‘scaremongering’ – Belfast Telegraph

Extremists taking over, claims Sir John Major in attack on the ERG

The Conservative Party is being “hollowed out” by extremist anti-European zealots, Sir John Major has said, calling for a return to “mainstream opinion” in the main political parties. The former prime minister said that voters risked being confronted with “an awful choice” but that the answer was not to create a new party. “The Conservative Party membership appears to be ‘hollowing out’ traditional Conservatives, while former Ukip members strengthen the anti-European right of the party,” he said in a speech in Glasgow. “In parliament, the European Research Group (ERG) has become a party within a party, with its own whips, its own funding and its own priorities. Some of its more extreme members have little or no affinity to moderate, pragmatic and tolerant conservatism. The ERG does not represent a majority view but — with a minority government, as now — can determine policy simply by being intransigent.” – The Times (£)

  • Conservatives being ‘manipulated by Brexit zealots’ – BBC News

Sturgeon to urge EU citizens to stay in Scotland after Brexit

The Scottish first minister addressed a committee of the Assemblée Nationale during a visit to Paris. She said she would “always make it clear that EU citizens are welcome”. The Home Office is currently testing an application system for settled status in the UK, which it said 100,000 people had successfully taken part in so far. In January, Prime Minister Theresa May announced that fees for EU nationals to apply to stay in the UK after Brexit had been scrapped – although Ms Sturgeon said this was only after lobbying from other parties. The first minister began a two-day visit to France on Monday, with a meeting with French European Affairs minister Nathalie Loiseau. She addressed members of the Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the French Parliament, after opening a new Scottish government office in Paris. Ms Sturgeon told the foreign affairs committee that her government “will always stick up for” the EU citizens living in Scotland, who include 7,000 French people. She said: “In recent months we have lobbied successfully to ensure EU citizens would not have to pay a fee to obtain settled status in the UK. And we will always make it clear that EU citizens are welcome. In fact in the coming months, we plan to step up our efforts to encourage EU citizens to stay in Scotland.” – BBC News

Women lead the way as joblessness hits a 44-year low…

Female unemployment has fallen below 4 per cent for the first time on record as the rising pension age for women and a thriving jobs market draw more women into the workforce. Women accounted for the bulk of the fall in unemployment over the past year, the Office for National Statistics revealed as its latest figures again painted a picture of a robust labour market in defiance of Brexit concerns and slowing GDP growth. Total employment for the three months to December climbed 167,000 from the previous quarter to 32.6 million, the highest since records began in 1971. The employment rate, at 75.8 per cent, was the equal highest recorded. – The Times (£)

…and people working in Britain from outside the EU reaches an all-time high

The number of people from outside the EU who are working in the UK has reached an all-time high, according to the latest figures. Data from the Office for National Statistics showed that non-EU nationals working in the UK went up by 130,000 to 1.29 million – the highest figure since records began in 1997 and a jump of 11 per cent. It also showed that the number of EU nationals working in Britain had fallen by more than two per cent, from 2.33 million to 2.27 million, with a slump of 61,000 people. The figures compare numbers from October to December 2017 and October to December 2018. – iNews

Iain Dale: The real Brexit lies and distortions & Why Honda’s decision is not down to Brexit

The announcement of the closure in 2021 of the Honda plant in Swindon is a disaster for the town. More than 3,000 people will lose their jobs and no doubt that figure will increase in the wider area through the supply chain. Honda has this morning been explaining why they are doing this. If you have been on Twitter in the last 24 hours you will no doubt have been convinced that the plant closure is a result of Brexit. People who know nothing about the automotive sector or Honda as a company have been claiming as fact that it is either entirely or mostly due to Brexit. This is a now a trend. Anything negative that happens to our economy is down to Brexit and anything good that happens is despite Brexit or because we haven’t left yet. You can’t have it both ways. I don’t deny that Brexit uncertainty is gradually having a more negative effect on the economy. Investment decisions are being postponed and delayed, and possibly, if it goes on much longer, even cancelled. I think supply chain concerns in some sectors in the event of ‘no deal’ are a real concern, so no one should class me as someone who thinks everything will be alright on the night and I’m some sort of starry eyed economic illiterate who thinks that come 29 March the land will be flowing with milk and honey. I’ve said repeatedly that I believe there will be short term difficulties, but that in the long term there are many prizes to be had. – Iain Dale for iaindale.com

Brian Monteith: Labour’s Magnificent Seven just made a no-deal Brexit more likely

A number of justifiable grievances were lain at the door of the Labour leadership, including the party’s toxic and dogmatic culture and its refusal to confront the worsening problem of antisemitism. But these are not individualistic independent-minded MPs going separate ways – after all, they have resigned together haven’t they? No, they are more dog than cat, pack animals that will vote together, support each other, and present a common platform – pretty much a party just waiting to agree a name and draft a constitution (that everybody will inevitably argue over). There is an expectation that more Labour MPs might drift over to them, and perhaps a handful of Conservatives, including a minister, too. What then can bind MPs with such disparate origins? Why, Brexit of course, or rather a zealous opposition to it. In making their leap, the seven – and any who follow them – reveal that they have been frauds all along. Let us remember that all candidates from the Labour and Conservative parties stood in the last election on manifestos that respected the outcome of the 2016 referendum and pledged that they would deliver it in a manner that meant leaving the EU’s Single Market and customs union. The two parties also said that they would end freedom of movement into the UK of EU nationals and the jurisdiction over our own courts of the European Court of Justice. That was what the seven told their electorates they would do. But no sooner did they return to Westminster than they were working against those pledges. We know, because they have told us many times and voted in parliament accordingly, that they want to effectively reverse the result of the largest democratic decision in the UK since universal suffrage was achieved. That’s not a very good look either. Just look at how this tribe of anti-Brexit MPs has responded to the news that Honda is to close its Swindon factory and repatriate all European manufacturing (including production in Turkey) back to Japan. No matter how often Honda executives say otherwise, the chorus of those claiming that the carmaker’s decision to is because of Brexit just keeps getting louder. – Brian Monteith for City A.M.

Patrick Minford: Michael Gove’s new brand of middle-class protectionism is bad news for Brexit

Michael Gove has today set out a policy on farming under which it seems the Government would continue to protect farming generally through high tariffs, high consumer standards, as well as direct taxpayer help, while also continuing to follow EU policies banning the use of new farming technologies, especially in bio-technology. Now I am no expert in the minutiae of farming and also I yield to none in my admiration of Michael Gove in his efforts to achieve Brexit,  but I feel compelled to say that this latest Gove programme is not just a big shift from the free trade agenda that lay at the heart of the Lancaster House speech, widely endorsed by Brexiteers with Michael Gove among them. It is also very bad from the viewpoint of the general economy. This much concerns me. Farming has big effects on the economy indirectly through its huge use of land. Subsidising it drives up the price of land, raising costs throughout other sectors. There are good arguments for direct taxpayer help to marginal farmers on uplands for example, because they preserve a valuable rural environment. There is also a good case for the taxpayer to help farmers with adjustment costs as they react to necessary competitive changes. But there is no case for continuing with blanket protection of farming, much of which is large-scale and highly efficient, well capable of adapting to world competition. – Professor Patrick Minford for the Telegraph (£)

Ross Clark: Let’s stop blaming the car industry’s woes on Brexit – there’s far more to it than that

That a gift the announcement of Honda’s closures of  its Swindon plant must have seemed to arch-Remainers. Hardly had news started to leak out yesterday than Larry Elliot was scribbling away in the Guardian. Brexit was not the only factor involved, he suggested, but it was “certainly” one of the reasons for the decision, and “denials by the North Swindon Tory MP will not save May from the burden of this decision”. If you are going to accuse someone of “denial” – which is about as serious a charge as they come in the Guardian’s world – it pays first to listen to what Honda itself has to say. When Ian Howells, Vice-President for Honda in Europe, made the official company announcement this morning he said: “This is not a Brexit-related issue for us.” The car company is refocusing its strategy on electric cars, and has decided that it makes more sense to spend that investment closer to faster-growing car markets away from Europe. It is also closing a plant in Turkey, and will not be shifting any production to EU countries. In other words, Justin Tomlinson, the said Conservative MP for North Swindon, was right: Honda would have closed its Swindon plant, Brexit or no Brexit. Britain could have voted Remain on the basis that it would be best for the car industry – and 3,500 workers at Honda would have lost their jobs anyway. – Ross Clark for the Telegraph (£)

Laura Kuenssberg: Is time running out for Malthouse Compromise?

While Westminster is looking the other way, scouring the ranks for more defectors, don’t forget the government is trying to press on with achieving what looks like the near impossible in Brussels. That is, wrestling enough concessions from the EU to give them a chance of pushing their Brexit compromise through Parliament so we can actually leave the union on time. Attorney General Geoffrey Cox is working on the “Cox codicil”, which the government hopes will be something tangible rather than just legal flannel, to tweak the backstop, the controversial clause aimed at preventing the return of a hard border on the island of Ireland. And the prime minister herself is expected in Brussels this week, to get, ministers hope, a sense of what the EU’s “best and final” offer to help close the deal will be. Part of the political handling that, although clumsy, has got Number 10 this far, is consideration of the so called Malthouse Compromise (remember that?). A process that has involved Conservative former Remainers and Brexiteers, chewing over what some of them believe is a genuine solution to the deadlock, and is, for some of its supporters, the only way the Tory party might get through this without smashing itself to bits. The government has, for good political reasons, taken the proposals seriously, in the sense that they have hosted hours of talks between officials and the group, and tried to keep its participants’ hopes up. Remember, part of the reason the Brexiteers defeated the government last week was a frustration that the prime minister was not rushing to adopt the Malthouse Compromise. But as the moment of the truth approaches, with the Brexit deadline getting closer, this act of political management now presents a dilemma in itself. – Laura Kuenssberg for BBC News

James Kirkup: Honda’s departure is bad news for Brexiteers – and Remainers

The story of Honda leaving Swindon is another case-study in how Brexit is a political circus-mirror, warping and twisting perceptions on all sides. Basically, everyone is wrong and should shut up. Honda isn’t leaving Swindon because of Brexit. We know that because Honda has said it, about as clearly as a company can. Ian Howells, senior vice-president for Honda in Europe, told the BBC: ‘This is not a Brexit-related issue for us.’ That, of course, is at odds with the account offered by several politicians and countless #FBPE people on Twitter. David Lammy and Sarah Wollaston are among the MPs who yesterday linked the closure to Brexit. At the time of writing, neither has said anything about the company’s comment. And even if they did correct themselves, I suspect it wouldn’t make any difference. The confirmation-bias that drives Brexit narratives is just too strong for mere facts to change much. The committed Remain supporters who yesterday decided the Honda story proved them right on Brexit are unlikely to change their position now. Facts still matter though, and the failure to accept them has consequences. This is something that some people on the Remain side still need to accept: when you present yourselves as a source of truth and your opponents as liars, you need to be scrupulously honest and painfully candid – especially about the things you get wrong. – James Kirkup for The Spectator

Telegraph: Why won’t the Government defend Brexit?

Ian Howells, the senior vice-president for Honda in Europe, stated more than once yesterday that the decision to close a plant in Swindon had nothing to do with Brexit. So why do Remainers say that it does? Lord Adonis: “The Japanese are now systematically withdrawing their 30 years of manufacturing investment in the UK, because of Brexit.” David Lammy MP: “Do not let Brexiteers pretend for one second that this series of closures is a coincidence.” Phillip Lee MP: “Every job lost is on the heads of [the Leavers] who misled people so badly.” And, to cap it all, even the Government appeared to join in. The Business Secretary, Greg Clark, cited uncertainty in the automobile sector, saying: “Decisions like Honda’s this morning show starkly how much is at stake.” Linking Swindon to Brexit is a disingenuous strategy by Remainers – using the tragedy of 3,500 job losses to score political points – but if they are allowed to get away with it, blame a government that is using the spectre of no-deal chaos to pressure MPs into backing its hugely flawed Withdrawal Agreement. The ministers charged with delivering Brexit thus find themselves in a perverse alliance with those implacably opposed to it. Project Fear Mark 2 is talking down the economy, spooking investors and drawing the wrong conclusions from events. – Telegraph (£) editorial

Katy Balls: Could a meaningful vote come as early as next week?

Is a Brexit breakthrough imminent? The talk in Westminster tonight is that the government could soon have something to present to MPs on the Irish backstop. Geoffrey Cox – the Attorney General – has been in Brussels this week working with EU officials on a legally binding change. He has managed to charm some on the EU side and – in a sign of his commitment to the cause – is said to have threatened to sleep in the corridors if that’s what it took to get a deal done. At Cabinet today, Cox urged caution, telling colleagues there is still some way to go – yet Cabinet sources are optimistic that a concession is coming in the form of a codicil. The European Research Group’s preferred option – the Malthouse compromise – appears to have been put on ice for the time being though members of the ERG insist it lives to fight another day (potentially in the next stage of the negotiations). A pre-scheduled speech from Cox has been delayed. That speech had been part intended as a way for Cox to propose an idea – and then show Brussels the positive response back home for such a change on the backstop. Now it seems the plan is that any Cox speech should be formed around an announcement of him having achieved something on the backstop. Notably, there is an EU/Arab summit in Egypt this weekend which May may attend. There are some government figures who are optimistic that if things do go to plan over the next few days, a meaningful vote on a revamped deal could happen as early as next week. While a number of ministers are sceptical of such a quick turnaround, there is an argument gaining traction in Whitehall that a meaningful vote could be the best way to stop the Boles-Cooper amendment to take no deal off the table from passing next week when MPs vote on options once again. Others think it would be enough to simply show MPs next week that a deal is near and substantial progress has been made. If Remain-leaning MPs believe a deal is close (or – better still – a deal passes), they will feel less inclined to rebel. – Katy Balls for The Spectator

Mark Wallace: If we were staying in the EU, would Honda still be leaving?

While the announcement that Honda’s Swindon plant is expected to close in 2022 almost immediately became engulfed in the wider national debate about Brexit, the first and foremost fact ought to be that it is a source of distress and loss for thousands of workers and their dependents. While the political causes or implications of Honda’s decision should of course be investigated, discussed and considered, it would be unforgivable if the human reality of the situation was overshadowed because parties and politicians are in a hurry to use them to score a point. Some have rushed to allocate the bad news entirely to Brexit, and others have dashed to deny it has anything to do with it. Others have blamed the Government or austerity, while some Conservatives have pointed to the generally positive employment figures, despite the fact that national totals and averages offer zero comfort to the specific people who now stand to lose their jobs. The issues involved – diesel’s collapse, green regulations and levies, the rebalancing of global trade eastwards, and the on-shoring of Japanese manufacturing following the signing of the EU-Japan trade deal – are real, and they matter. Ignoring them to aid your Brexit argument doesn’t help anybody, and doesn’t help resolve those issues. In that sense, much of the Brexiteer defence has been justified. That Honda is closing its Turkish plant at the same time, for the same reasons, does underscore that this is about more than Britain leaving the EU. Where spin is at play and lies are being told they should be called out. But, it’s also possible to go too far in the opposite direction. I don’t share Greg Clark’s views on the EU, or indeed on the Brexit negotiating strategy, but he surely had a point when he told the Commons that continued uncertainty and lack of clarity is likely incurring an economic cost in terms of business investment. In other words, if Britain was remaining in the EU, would Honda still be closing its plant? All the evidence we’ve seen suggests the answer is probably yes, sadly. – Mark Wallace for ConservativeHome

Brexit in Brief

  • How can independent MPs demand another referendum, but refuse to put themselves up for their own People’s Vote? – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)
  • The Independent Group would have got off to a roaring start if it hadn’t chosen an anti-Brexit platform – Allison Pearson for the Telegraph (£)
  • Hungary takes aim at Juncker and Soros with shock campaign to turn voters against EU – Express
  • ‘Tusk is a disgrace!’ Britons have had enough of EU’s ‘poisonous mentality’ – Express
  • TripAdvisor suspends reviews on ‘Brexit Party B&B’ – BBC News
  • Tory former minister says she is prepared to join Independent Group over Brexit – Telegraph (£)
  • Nearly a third of French people think Britain has already left the EU, poll finds – Independent