No-deal Brexit would mean hard Irish border, Juncker’s spokesman now says: Brexit News for Wednesday 23 January

No-deal Brexit would mean hard Irish border, Juncker’s spokesman now says: Brexit News for Wednesday 23 January
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No-deal Brexit would mean hard Irish border, Juncker’s spokesman now says…

The EU has confirmed it will enforce a hard border on the island of Ireland in the event of a no-deal Brexit, despite the risk it would pose to peace. In comments that will be highly uncomfortable for Dublin, Jean-Claude Juncker’s chief spokesman told reporters it was “pretty obvious” that border infrastructure would be necessary if the UK were to leave without deal. In a private conversation, he had told the Irish transport minister, Shane Ross, that “once you start talking about checks anywhere near the border, people will start delving into that and all of a sudden we’ll be the government that reintroduced a physical border on the island of Ireland”. But the EU’s chief spokesman said on Tuesday that the likely enforcement of border checks could not be avoided. He said: “If you were to push me to speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it is pretty obvious you will have a hard border, and our commitments to the Good Friday agreement and everything we have been doing for years with our tools, instruments and programmes will have to take inevitably into account this fact. So of course we are for peace. Of course we stand behind the Good Friday agreement but that is what a no-deal scenario would entail.” – Guardian

  • Eurocrats admit they’ll force Ireland to put up hard border in No Deal Brexit – The Sun
  • No-deal Brexit would trigger Irish ‘hard border’, warns Brussels – FT(£)

…and Ireland’s Foreign Affairs minister agrees it would be ‘difficult’ to avoid…

Foreign Affairs minister Simon Coveney said his focus remained on the Withdrawal Agreement and the backstop insurance policy. On Tuesday, a European Commission spokesman suggested Britain exiting the EU without a Withdrawal Agreement in March may lead to the imposition of a hard frontier between Ireland and Northern Ireland. Mr Coveney said: “In the absence of the backstop and a Withdrawal Agreement we have a very difficult job to do to prevent border infrastructure, but of course that would have to be our focus.” The Irish Government has insisted for months that while it will prepare for a hard Brexit with the UK at the ports and airports, it will not put in place infrastructure to check goods or people at the land border with Northern Ireland. – Belfast Telegraph

…as the DUP claims Brussels is spreading fear and confusion on the matter…

The DUP has accused Brussels of using Northern Ireland as a “political football” after an European Union spokesman said a no-deal Brexit would lead to a hard border. Party MEP Diane Dodds accused the EU of adopting conflicting positions and called for clarity on the issue. The Irish Government admitted it would be “very difficult” to avoid border infrastructure under a no-deal Brexit. The controversy about a hard border followed comments by the European Commission’s chief spokesman yesterday. Margaritis Schinas was asked by reporters whether the EU commitment to the peace process would last “whether or not there is a deal”. He said: “If you like to push me and speculate on what might happen in a no-deal scenario in Ireland, I think it’s pretty obvious, you will have a hard border. Mrs Dodds said: “Northern Ireland is fed up being used like a political football by the Commission. “One spokesman says there will not be a hard border and another says there will.” DUP MP Gregory Cambpell accused the EU of scaremongering. “The EU must spell out what exactly this hard border would look like,” he said. “Residents and business people are being bombarded daily with a diet of fear and recklessly inaccurate scare stories.” – Belfast Telegraph

…while indicating they will support May’s deal if she secures crucial backstop end-date

The DUP’s Sammy Wilson said the party would support the Prime Minister’s deal if she can secure a definitive end date to the backstop. Despite opening the doors to cross-party thinking, Mrs May has failed to secure enough support for her blueprint and was widely mocked yesterday for her plan, which many said resembled her initial proposal. With that in mind, No 10 has put its efforts into securing the votes of rebel Tories and the ten DUP MPs who are propping up Mrs May’s Government. Mr Wilson told The Sun: “If the Government says ‘we have got the Withdrawal Agreement changed, we now have a time limit, that time limit is a legal guarantee which when we reach December 2021 – or whenever it happens to be – the backstop will no longer apply and nobody can change that, it won’t require anybody else’s consent to be applied, then yes – that would be something that we would certainly be prepared to look at.” – Express

Cabinet ministers round on Remain colleagues as backlash builds over plans to stop no-deal Brexit…

During Cabinet on Tuesday five ministers led by Jeremy Hunt, the Foreign Secretary, warned of the risk of giving Tory MPs a free vote on plans that would clear the path to extending Article 50. The ministers including Michael Gove, Liz Truss, Penny Mordaunt, Chris Grayling and Michael Gove are understood to have argued that a free vote would be “abdicating collective responsibility”.  Mr Grayling, the Transport Secretary, said that as a Eurosceptic he had accepted many compromises over Brexit and suggested that Remain ministers should do the same. While ministers did not name Ms Rudd and “no one went for her outright”, one source said it was “painfully clear” that she was the target of their “ire”. Ms Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has warned that up to 40 members of the Government will resign next week so they can vote to block no-deal. – Telegraph (£)

  • Cabinet split on Brexit as Theresa May refuses to rule out No Deal – iNews

…with Conservative MPs set to be whipped to vote against Brexit delaying tactics…

The prime minister has rejected demands led by Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, for a free vote on Tuesday’s amendments to delay the UK’s exit if a deal cannot be reached with the EU. Warnings that up to 40 ministers were prepared to resign over the issue prompted a backlash from Brexiteers in and out of the government. Mrs May’s spokesman said that she had stated the government’s opposition to seeking a Brexit delay simply to put off the “decision point” — a clear indication that Tory MPs will be whipped to oppose the amendments. That sets No 10 on a collision course with a handful of ministers, including Richard Harrington, from the business department, and Tobias Ellwood, of the Ministry of Defence, who indicated that they would resign rather than support a no deal. One minister said the hard core of ministers opposed to no-deal was about five, and predicted that none would quit next week: “I expect the chief whip will find a way to ensure they are on a fact-finding tour in Afghanistan if they feel that strongly about it.” – The Times (£)

…while Theresa May feels the heat as MPs table plans to alter Brexit process…

Former attorney general and Tory rebel Dominic Grieve has tabled his motion to allow MPs time to debate various Brexit options in the run-up to the UK’s exit from the EU. Grieve was originally planning to table a motion that would have allowed 300 MPs from the five parties to be debated and voted on by the Commons for one day, taking control of the agenda away from the government. Grieve’s motion would now allow backbenchers to table different Brexit motions to debate six days before the UK leaves the EU on 12 and 26 February and 5, 12, 19 and 26 March 2019. The UK is scheduled to leave the EU on 29 March. The debate window could allow MPs to discuss various Brexit options such as remaining in the customs union – something the Labour party favours – a second referendum or the Norway model. Labour today said MPs should be able to vote on whether to hold a second referendum in an amendment it submitted after May’s Brexit Plan B update, in which she caused widespread dismay by revealing few changes to the deal that was resolutely rejected by MPs last week. – City A.M.

…with Dominic Grieve proposing to allow MPs to demand Article 50 extension just three days before Brexit deadline…

MPs would be able to launch a last second bid to delay Brexit under a cross-party plan put forward by Dominic Grieve. The Tory former attorney general has tabled an amendment to Theresa May’s Brexit Plan B which would allow MPs to take control of what is debated in the House of Commons on six separate days in the run up to March 29. Each of these days would see MPs put forward different Brexit options to be voted on and the Government would be expected to act on any which managed to secure a majority. But the final proposed day of debate would be on March 26 – just three days before Brexit day – raising the prospect of an eleventh hour bid by MPs to postpone the UK’s divorce from Brussels. If no deal had been agreed with the EU and all other options had failed to win the backing of Parliament, MPs could demand the Government seek an extension to Article 50. It would then be up to ministers to decide whether to act on the instruction or to ignore it, a move which could have major constitutional ramifications and even cause the Government to fall. Telegraph (£)

…as Brexit Secretary warns the EU would want ‘clarity’ before delaying Article 50

Brexit Secretary Stephen Barclay told Sky News the option of extending Article 50 – the legal mechanism triggered by Theresa May in March 2017 to begin the negotiations – is not a “unilateral decision” for Britain to take. If no agreement is in place at the end of this period they revert to trading with the EU under World Trade Organisation rules. But in comments that will likely be seen as an attempt to corral MPs into backing the PM’s deal and ensuring Britain leaves with an agreement, Mr Barclay said there was an assumption “that everyone in Brussels would want to extend”. What’s clear from the conversations we’ve had with figures in Brussels is that they wouldn’t want to extend if there wasn’t a deal, if there wasn’t clarity as to why we were extending,” he said. He stressed the government “remains committed” to “delivering a deal that respects the referendum result” and the “best way” of avoiding the risk of no-deal is to “have a negotiated deal”. Extending Article 50 would simply “defer the uncertainty”, Mr Barclay said. – Sky News

‘Hard’ Brexiteers are ‘playing May to run down clock’, it is claimed

Theresa May is being “played” by Eurosceptic backbenchers who are suggesting they might vote for a modified version of her deal so there is no time left to pursue a softer Brexit, members of her government fear. Mrs May will seek further changes to the backstop, the insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border between Northern Ireland and the Republic. Some figures around her believe that an apparent softening by some of the most ardent Brexiteers means there is a chance she could win a Commons vote if she secures concessions. Other senior government figures, however, believe that suggestions by members of the European Research Group (ERG) that they might vote for a another incarnation of Mrs May’s deal are an attempt to “run down the clock”. Jacob Rees-Mogg, the ERG’s chairman, suggested on Sunday that he would vote for Mrs May’s deal if the backstop were removed, saying that if “Mrs May can persuade the EU to show flexibility” on the border and the so-called divorce bill then “we could get the deal through the Commons”. A source also said that ERG MPs were appearing more amenable towards the deal to make sure that Mrs May whips against plans to stop a no-deal Brexit. – The Times (£)

John McDonnell suggests Labour are ‘highly likely’ to support Yvette Cooper’s plan to delay Brexit if no deal is agreed…

Labour are “highly likely” to support a plan to delay the UK’s exit from the EU if a Brexit deal is not achieved by the end of next month, the shadow chancellor has suggested. John McDonnell described the cross-party Bill – backed by Labour’s Yvette Cooper and Tory Nick Boles – as “sensible” and said it was “increasingly likely” that his party would back it. The group of MPs are seeking to give time for a Bill to suspend the Article 50 withdrawal process if there is no new deal with Brussels by the end of February. Mr McDonnell told BBC Two’s Newsnight: “Yvette Cooper has put an amendment down, which I think is sensible. It says to the Government you’ve run down the clock so much, it looks as though if you can’t get a deal by February 26… the Government will then have to bring forward proposals to extend that. “So I think it’s increasingly likely already that we’ll have to take that option because the Government has run the clock down.” Mr McDonnell said Labour had to go through its own party processes to determine whether they would back it, but added: “It’s highly likely but we’ll go through our normal process of consultation with our members.” – Mail Online

…while Jeremy Corbyn is under fire as he still can’t decide whether or not to back a second Brexit referendum…

Jeremy Corbyn is today under fire for his shambolic Brexit policy as he refuses to explain whether or not he’ll back a second referendum. Labour has tabled a motion which could see the party supporting a so-called “people’s vote”. But the party’s muddle continued today when one of Mrs Corbyn’s top allies insisted the amendment doesn’t mean Labour is now keen to cancel Brexit. Critics have ridiculed the leftie leader for “playing politics” and refusing to take a position on Britain’s biggest issue. Labour’s official policy is to seek a General Election and reopen Brexit talks with Brussels. If that fails, the party says “all options” should be explored, including a second referendum. The party’s manifesto last year stated that Labour respected the result of the 2016 referendum and wanted Britain to leave the EU. – The Sun

…as the Labour leader faces a backlash and possible frontbench resignations over the issue…

Backing a second referendum would make Labour “toxic” in Leave-voting seats, Jeremy Corbyn has been warned as he faced a growing threat of frontbench resignations. Mr Corbyn wants MPs to be given the chance to back another public vote on Brexit but some of his backbenchers are concerned it could have severe electoral consequences. He has been told a second referendum would be “incompatible” with respecting the result of the 2016 vote and leading politicians must not “keep deferring” decisions back to the public. The Labour leadership is currently walking the tightrope of wanting to offer MPs a vote on a second referendum without actually endorsing the plan itself. But pressure is likely to mount on Mr Corbyn to formally call for another poll given the fact the majority of his MPs and party members are anti-Brexit. Any attempt to whip his MPs to back a second referendum would result in a rebellion. Melanie Onn, the shadow housing minister and MP for Great Grimsby, said she would not support a so-called “People’s Vote” and would quit the frontbench if she was told to back it. – Telegraph (£)

…and the party insists it is ‘not in any way backing a second referendum’ with its amendment

Labour has distanced itself from backing a second referendum after tabling an amendment allowing MPs to vote on ways to end the “Brexit deadlock”. Shadow business secretary Rebecca Long Bailey said the amendment had been carefully written and did not tie the party into backing a new vote “in any way”. Labour’s amendment calls for a vote on Labour’s plan for a customs union with the EU, and whether to legislate “to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition” that is supported by a Commons majority. But Mrs Long Bailey reiterated to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme that the party was “prioritising” its own Brexit deal. She said: “The amendment is very specifically worded to allow for the debate of the options. It is not stating that the party supports a second referendum in any way and indeed if it was passed, the amendment, and it went to a vote on the specific issues, then that would be a decision for the party to take at the time.” – Mail Online

Theresa May to ban holiday for MPs as time runs out to pass fundamental Brexit bills

Theresa May is preparing to scrap the House of Commons’ recess for the first time in six years, as time runs out to pass Brexit bills before the UK leaves the European Union on March 29. The House would usually adjourn for a 10-day break in February, but MPs will be forced to stay and work during the period instead. The move is because the Government still needs to pass the Trade, Healthcare, Agriculture, Fisheries, Immigration, Financial Services and Withdrawal Agreement bills. The Foreign Affairs Selection Committee has also postponed its trip to India due to take place from 18th-25th, according to The Sun. The chair, Tory MP Tom Tugendhat, yesterday confirmed the news, saying it was “common sense” to wait. Senior sources allegedly said builders working on Parliament restoration have been told they will not be able to carry out their planned programme of work. Government insiders claim Commons Leader Andrea Leadsom is against cancelling the holiday, worried that it will further alienate Tory MPs. However, Ministers reportedly said it was almost inevitable the break will be cancelled due to the sheer amount of legislation that needs to be passed. – Express

Unite union boss Len McCluskey looks forward to face-to-face meeting with Theresa May this week

Union boss Len McCluskey will go to a face-to-face Brexit meeting with Theresa May later this week. The Corbyn-backing leader of Unite accepted an invitation to discuss the prime minister’s Brexit plans despite the Labour leader refusing one. Downing Street said the discussion is part of an ongoing “process of engagement” as Ms May attempts to find a way to win backing for her deal. News that Ms May had called Mr McCluskey last week raised eyebrows in Westminster because it was the first time she had spoken to him, or any union leader, since arriving at Number 10. Her spokesman said on Tuesday: “The PM is due to be seeing a number of union leaders later this week, one of whom is Len McCluskey.” He added: “This is going to be a process of engagement with people from across the House of Commons, but also with other interested sectors. – Independent

Government ‘cancels Brexit talks with Scotland and Wales’

The UK Government has cancelled talks with senior politicians from Scotland and Wales over Brexit, MSPs have been told. Fiona Hyslop, the Scottish Government’s External Affairs Secretary, said a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee due to be held on Thursday will no longer take place. She said the move “flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric” after Theresa May had promised  an “enhanced role” for the devolved governments in Brexit negotiations. Mrs May told the Commons on Monday that while it was the job of her administration to “negotiate for the whole of the UK”, ministers were “committed to giving the devolved administrations an enhanced role in the next phase, respecting their competence and vital interest in these negotiations”. Scottish First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted at the time she was “very sceptical” about the commitment. Ms Hyslop told MSPs in Holyrood on Tuesday: “Given the Prime Minister’s approach to engagement with the Scottish Government to date, her offer of an enhanced role for devolved administrations lacks credibility.” She added: “This morning, the UK Government cancelled a meeting of the Joint Ministerial Committee that deals with EU negotiations, which was due to take place on Thursday – a decision which flies in the face of the Prime Minister’s rhetoric.” – Belfast Telegraph

The campaign for a People’s Vote on Brexit has descended into infighting and splits…

With just over two months to go until the UK is due to leave the European Union, the campaign for a second Brexit referendum is deeply divided over how to achieve its goal, multiple sources on the campaign have told BuzzFeed News. Pro-Remain MPs and officials on the People’s Vote campaign are split on the overarching strategy of how to secure a public vote, on campaign events and tactics, whether People’s Vote should run the Remain campaign if a second referendum is called, and over the actions and motivations of its leading politicians, the sources said. The ongoing internal wrangling is making it less likely that the Labour Party will ultimately back a public vote, a shadow minister and a senior Labour backbencher told BuzzFeed News. The principal division among People’s Vote advocates is over when to begin their main push for a second referendum, a disagreement that has dominated the weekly meetings of the Grassroots Coordinating Group chaired by Labour MP Chuka Umunna for months. – Buzzfeed News

…as supporters of second referendum call for delay to Commons vote until it has ‘greatest chance of success’

Leading supporters of a fresh Brexit referendum are calling for a delay to a Commons vote until it has the “greatest chance of success”. MPs of all parties fear an expected push for a showdown next Tuesday would backfire because there is currently no majority in favour, while the Labour leadership refuses to commit. Dr Sarah Wollaston, the Conservative Final Say supporter, and other “doctors in the house” are considering an amendment to trigger a vote next week, alongside moves for the Commons to “take control”. But, at a People’s Vote event, Labour MPs, a Liberal Democrat and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP, all urged patience and suggested the clash would come too soon. They want other options, such as a Norway-plus soft Brexit, to be rejected first – while one said the Commons should first grab more power to dictate the timing and impact of such a vote. – Independent

Pay growth hits 10-year high and record number in work as jobs market hots up

Pay growth posted its fastest rise in a decade and a record number of people were in work as the UK economy continued to generate jobs despite fears of a slowdown. Unemployment returned to its joint-lowest level since the 1970s at a rate of 4pc. Intense competition for staff means workers have more bargaining power, meaning wage growth is accelerating as companies fight to hire the best talent and to keep the employees they already have. Average weekly pay in the three months to November rose 3.4pc on the year, the Office for National Statistics said – the fastest acceleration for 10 years. Once bonuses are excluded, in the Bank of England’s favoured measure, the pace was 3.3pc. At the same time inflation is falling. Prices rose by 2.3pc over the same period and slowed further into December, helping put more spending power into families’ pockets. – Telegraph (£)

International community could ‘roll with’ no-deal Brexit, says OECD head Angel Gurria

Angel Gurria, secretary general of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), said that even the worst case scenario in Brexit would nonetheless prove manageable. A no-deal Brexit refers to a situation where the UK will leave the EU with no agreements in place for what the future relationship will look like. It means the UK will fall back to World Trade Organisation (WTO) rules on global trade. Talking to Sky News at the World Economic Forum meetings at Davos, Mr Gurria said: “A no-deal, WTO rules…the whole world is running by WTO rules these days. “It’s unfortunate that the UK is leaving the EU but that was the will of the British people so we take our bumps and we roll with it.” – Sky News

Investec banking chief warns stopping Brexit would ‘corrupt democracy’

Hendrik du Toit, joint chief executive of the UK-listed bank, insisted Britain must leave the EU regardless of what people in the financial sector think about the decision. Du Toit argued the negotiations are at an impasse as neither the UK nor EU are being flexible enough with there respective red lines. He said: “For a successful divorce or demerger there needs to be co-operation by all parties. If you treat it like a negotiation to the death, you’re not going to get what you need.” Conservative MP Marcus Fysh, a member of the pro-Brexit European Research Group, welcomed the intervention from du Toit. He said: “As business people know, uncertainty is corrosive and overturning or delaying the implementation of Brexit would extend it. The real way to support business is to reassure people that we remain confident in our democracy and people, and committed to creating in the UK the best business environment in the world.” – City A.M.

Brexit delay is ‘most likely’ option, says George Osborne

Speaking to BBC business editor Simon Jack in Davos, Mr Osborne said that the prospect of no deal meant “the gun is held to the British economy’s head”. Russian roulette is a game which you should never play because there’s a one-in-six chance that the bullet goes into your head,” he said. Mr Osborne, who campaigned for Remain, said his successor Philip Hammond had “sensibly” told businesses that leaving without a deal was not a possibility. “But we now need to hear it from the British prime minister,” he said. Mr Osborne, now editor of the Evening Standard newspaper in London, said that although there might be a majority in Parliament to prevent no deal, it was not clear how MPs would achieve it. – BBC News

Anna Bailey: Ironically, it will take a ‘no deal’ to solve the Irish border issue

There is always a solution if the political will is there – the Good Friday Agreement itself is testament to that. The Good Friday Agreement also teaches us that it is only possible to reach solutions by de-dramatising the negotiating context and ensuring that all affected communities get to play their part – in other words, the very opposite of what is possible in the context of the UK-EU withdrawal negotiations. The Withdrawal Agreement’s backstop, with its indefinite nature and potential to undermine the Union, provides the very opposite of certainty for Northern Ireland. Only when the border issues are removed from the highly politicised context of the Brexit negotiations can the political posturing end and work on practical solutions begin. At present, only a ‘no deal’ outcome offers such a hope. – Anna Bailey for Briefings for Brexit

Bob Seely: The Withdrawal Agreement is the only way we can guarantee Brexit won’t be stolen

A miserable truth has been dawning in the past week: some members of the House of Commons are now engaged in a concerted attempt to overrule the wishes of the British people and block Brexit. True, Tory Remain obsessives and opportunistic opposition MPs who are engineering this democratic heist are not putting it quite like that; they use euphemisms like ‘extending the negotiating period’, but the intention behind Parliament’s procedural wrangles is clear: Brexit now may not happen. This is now a crisis in our democracy. Not delivering on the 2016 EU referendum – after everything we have said and done – will have far reaching consequences for the relationship between the people and their MPs. Our nation will succeed, ‘in’ or ‘out’ of the EU, but to ‘fix’ the referendum by undermining it will do lasting harm to our democracy. I believe that we are honour-bound to deliver a Brexit. We have a Brexit nation, but a remain Parliament in which the consensus to respect the referendum is weakening by the day. The best chance of Leave remains the Withdrawal Deal, warts and all. Whether Government represents a significantly different deal, or the original agreement in the political equivalent of sparkly costume, we need to get it through the House. It is the best hope of delivering on the mandate of the people and respecting our democracy. We are at a turning point. We need to do the right thing. – Bob Seely MP for the Telegraph (£)

Chris Moncrieff: Anti-Brexit MPs are guilty of greatest act of treachery in our history

Those rogue elements in the House of Commons, who appear to be doing their utmost to prevent Brexit from ever happening, will, if successful in their tawdry efforts, be guilty of one of the greatest parliamentary betrayals of all time. They seem to be oblivious of the fact it was parliament which ordained the referendum and it was parliament which vowed to honour the outcome of that referendum – a significant majority for those who want the UK to leave the EU. It is to the eternal credit of Theresa May, who supported the Remain campaign and yet has throughout kept the faith of parliament with the Brexiteers. Even though she has been assailed on all sides by those – including many in her own party – who take a different view, as well as suffering a veritable crop of ministerial resignations, she has stuck steadfastly to Westminster’s solemn undertaking. It is quite possible that this sorry affair could cost her the premiership. –  Chris Moncrieff for the Belfast Telegraph

Asa Bennett: If Remainer MPs take no-deal off the table, Brexiteers could have no choice but to back Theresa May

The flood of amendments from MPs to Theresa May’s plans have left Brexiteers convinced in no doubt that Remainers are on the warpath. “The purpose of these parliamentary manoeuvres is ultimately the same,” Boris Johnson wrote in yesterday’s paper. “They want to frustrate the will of the people”. Indeed, these amendments are the work of prominent Remainers, such as Dominic Grieve, a former “political champion” of the In campaign. Supporters say these proposals seek to prove that Parliament is “taking back control” of the Brexit process. As embarrassing as that might be for the the Prime Minister, she has reason to hope it happens. However, these staunch Brexiteers have been adamant that they would prefer no support to Prime Minister’s deal unless she can secures change the terms she has agreed with Brussels over areas like the backstop to make it more appealing. Jacob Rees-Mogg made that clear over the weekend, while holding out a small olive branch by suggesting that if no-deal Brexit was not possible, he would prefer leaving under Mrs May’s terms to “not leaving at all”. The Prime Minister cannot take a no-deal Brexit off the table by herself, as it would require her to take politically grisly steps (delaying Article 50, revoking it outright or appeasing Remainers enough with a referendum and/or a customs union to get her deal through). But if MPs force her into such steps, Brexiteers will have to consider if it is time to protect Brexit from further plots by a Remain Parliament by backing whatever Mrs May comes back with. – Asa Bennett for the Telegraph (£)

John Curtice: Campaigners claim ‘the people’ want a second referendum, but that’s not what the polls say

Given the difficulty that MPs seem to be having making a decision about Brexit, it is perhaps not surprising that there is considerable discussion of the idea that the issue should be put back in the hands of voters. But the idea of a so-called “People’s Vote” has also become a major talking point thanks to a skillfully conducted campaign that has been intent on creating the impression that there is popular support for such a ballot by commissioning polling that appears to show that is the case. However, this impression is misleading. True, many a poll does suggest that more are in favour of another ballot than are against. However, there are also plenty of polls that show the very opposite. Meanwhile, all polls show that the support for holding a second referendum is largely confined to those in favour of remaining in the EU. Perhaps in the end we may find that holding a second referendum is indeed the only way out of the Brexit impasse. But it cannot be said that voters themselves are very keen for MPs to pass them the buck. – John Curtice for the Telegraph (£)

Tim Stanley: Forget dodgy dictators in designer dark glasses, this is what a very British coup looks like

Some MPs are trying to take control of Brexit and, you might say, that can’t be a bad thing. Wasn’t the whole point of Brexit to empower Parliament? Yes. Giving MPs more of a say has also been part of the historic mission of John Bercow, a necessary corrective to the executive overreach of the Blair years – and many of the demands MPs are making, such as ruling out a no-deal to save jobs, sound reasonable. The problem is that the real intention behind these efforts isn’t to increase oversight but to stop Brexit, and that would amount to a coup. Not the kind of coup they have down ol’ South America way (a general in sunglasses and a mariachi band) but a very British coup: a perfectly legal conspiracy of MPs against many of the people who voted for them. The game plan is to chisel away at the Government’s Brexit operation with a series of amendments. One aims to stop Britain leaving on March 29 without a withdrawal agreement, by extending Article 50 and pushing back our exit date. The justification is flimsy. No one wants to leave the EU without a deal, fine, but if Labour MPs and Tory rebels really wanted to avoid this horror they could have just backed the Government’s withdrawal agreement. Taking no deal off the table also leaves Britain weaker when it comes to negotiations: if there’s no credible threat to walk away then there’s no leverage. – Tim Stanley for the Telegraph (£)

Telegraph: Mrs May has a slim chance to save her deal

There was a certain logic to Mrs May’s assessment of the current state of Brexit as she delivered yet another statement to the Commons on how to resolve the current impasse in the process. After consulting opposition parties (though not the Labour leader) the Prime Minister said she was rejecting the two principal requests they had made. She would not rule out a no-deal Brexit, which remains the default position in the absence of an agreement, and she remained hostile to a second referendum. Mrs May is right to say that Parliament has a duty to honour the 2016 referendum vote, but the great danger is that the way this matter has been handled will end up doing the opposite. Understandably, Mrs May’s aim is to ensure she is not blamed if that is what eventually happens. Perhaps if she can obtain EU agreement to change the legal text of the backstop she might yet have a chance; but it is a slim one. – Telegraph (£) editorial

The Sun: Leavers, and plenty of Remainers, are sick of EU bullying and weak-willed MPs ready to roll over and reverse Brexit

Theresa May is exactly in tune with an angry public whose mood is hardening. Leavers, and plenty of Remainers, are sick of EU bullying and weak-willed MPs ready to roll over and reverse or forget the whole thing. No Deal is the No1 choice for many, regardless of the fallout. The world now knows that Michel Barnier never negotiated in good faith. He reportedly boasted: “I’ll have done my job if the exit terms are so bad that the British would rather stay.” Yet Remainers want to capitulate anyway: to scrap or “extend” Article 50, risibly pretending it’s a pragmatic solution instead of what they wanted all along. They would force on us a dangerous second referendum, or some vague pause to avoid No Deal, disgracefully backed by Work and Pensions Secretary Amber Rudd and other Remainer Ministers. The tactics are so undemocratic the Queen might have to block them. That’s right, these MPs could force our monarch, in her 93rd year, into the worst constitutional crisis for three centuries. – The Sun says

Sebastian Payne: Why Theresa May’s Brexit deal could still pass through Parliament

Theresa May’s shellacking on her Brexit deal last week was so comprehensive and humiliating there is no chance of revival. Right? So goes the conventional thinking — the prime minister only has a chance of prevailing if she brings back a significantly revamped withdrawal package to the House of Commons. But Mrs May’s stoicism in the face of a historic defeat suggests there is little chance of a major rethink. But something is shifting. All hope of a smooth withdrawal from the EU is not yet lost. Some of the most boisterous Brexiters have changed their tone in recent days, rolling the pitch for a possible endorsement of Mrs May’s deal. Jacob Rees-Mogg, for example, said at the weekend he would prefer her deal over remaining in the EU. Sammy Wilson of the Democratic Unionist party has said he can live with a “backstop” for Ireland, albeit with significant changes. And Tory MP Nadine Dorries attacked “Europhile kamikaze MPs” on Monday evening, hinting there might be circumstances in which she could support the prime minister. But for all of the key players involved, an orderly Brexit is in their interests. Mrs May’s deal might not be quite dead. There is a possibility that if opinion continues shifting in the way we have seen over the past few days, she could yet emerge battered but somehow victorious. – Sebastian Payne for the FT(£)

Tom Harris: Remainers need to consider the disastrous consequences of a second referendum

I remain unconvinced that we’re on an inevitable path towards a second EU referendum. But bearing in mind my dictum in these uncertain times – “Everything is possible, nothing is likely” – I have to admit it’s as probable as any other development. The Remainers pushing for a rerun – and they are all Remainers – dismiss all warnings of civil unrest and riots on the streets should the result of the 2016 referendum be overturned. And they’re right to do so, decisions of parliament cannot be constrained by threats of violence. Yet it is significant that, in persevering with their project, the negative long term social and political consequences of their actions seem not to intrude whatever on Remainers’ thoughts. A convulsive and defining break between the democratic process and great swathes of the populace would seem to be the minimum expected consequence of such an act, and the cynical observer might conclude that this would suit a certain type of politician very well indeed. If those who currently regard the political establishment with suspicion come to regard it with an outright hostility and loathing that in turn leads to a disengagement with the political process, then the voices of Remainers and their elected representatives become comparatively louder and more influential. – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)

Tom McTague: Theresa May shouldn’t expect any Brexit help from Labour

Faced with an imploding government led by Theresa May, the U.K. Labour leader has two primary goals: Force a general election to win power, and avoid being cast as the leader of those who wish to remain in the European Union. Those closest to him fear he is now on course for one, but cannot have both. Some of the most senior officials in No. 10 Downing Street have reached the same conclusion. While maintaining an ambiguous position on Brexit has thus far allowed the Labour leader to focus his political narrative on austerity rather than choosing between backing a second referendum or supporting the U.K.’s exit from the EU come what may, an election triggered by Britain’s inability to agree a way forward on Brexit would inevitably force the party to take a clear stance, those close to Corbyn privately admit Corbyn’s dilemma goes to the heart of the rolling political crisis gripping Westminster. With more than 100 Tory MPs lined up against the prime minister’s proposed EU Withdrawal Agreement, the route to a parliamentary majority for a negotiated exit is now all but impassable without the Labour leader’s support. According to one senior official familiar with the prime minister’s strategy, May has concluded that he has no incentive to give it. Corbyn’s stance locks the British prime minister into a precarious position, unable to push a Brexit deal through the House of Commons, at risk of alienating both sides of her party and teetering on the edge of crashing out of the EU with no deal at all. – Tom Mctague for Politico

Telegraph: The surprising progress of the strange European Army fantasy is a reminder of why Britain voted to Leave

Rather than head for Davos, Angela Merkel, Germany’s Chancellor, and Emmanuel Macron were instead in Aachen, a border city with a great deal of symbolism for both, as the former seat of Charlemagne and subsequent Holy Roman emperors. They were there to sign an update to the Elysee Treaty which in 1963 set the seal on the post–war reconciliation between France and Germany. Ever since, Europe has developed very much in the way decreed by these two countries. But more than renew their bonds of friendship they also committed to a “common military culture” that Chancellor Merkel said could “contribute to the creation of a European army”. Given the history of these two countries, enhanced cooperation is not something to be gainsaid on this side of the Channel. But to use this axis as a prototype for an EU army is another example of the aggrandisement that has made it impossible for the UK to remain a member. – Telegraph (£) editorial

Brian Monteith: Despite apocalyptic Brexit warnings, the good news keeps on coming

As the twists and turns of this long drawn-out Brexit drama continue, possibly the most surprising aspect of all is just how resilient the good news about UK business continues to be. I know this is tempting fate, I know many experts keep saying that the economic cycle suggests we should have had a recession in Britain by now, and I know I’m not alone in believing that we would benefit from a having a chancellor who demonstrated a positive belief in our country and the benefits that Brexit could bring. But let’s be honest with ourselves, the UK is doing pretty damn good, despite Brexit. Of course, surely no one would want to wish bad economic news on their own country. But in their private thoughts, I can imagine devout Remainer strategists saying to themselves: “if only something would give, if only unemployment would return, if only inflation would climb, if only we had the economic warnings the Germans are getting, if only there were some real bad news – then the British people might finally abandon Brexit”. – Brian Monteith for City A,M.

Brexit in Brief

  • Brexit wrecker Dominic Grieve is a creature going quack on everything he stands for – Quentin Letts for The Sun
  • Sorry, we baby boomers are not all dead yet – Melanie Phillips for The Times (£)
  • Why Brexit is good for Britain’s security, and Europe’s – Joshua Mackenzie-Lawrie of Get Britain out for The Commentator
  • Theresa May is moving through the five stages of Brexit grief – but they are all denial – Tom Peck for the Independent
  • Leave voters want UK to welcome doctors, nurses and care workers after Brexit – but no more bankers – The Sun
  • P&O Ferries to re-register all ships on the English Channel under Cyprus flag ahead of Brexit – Evening Standard