Theresa May angers eurosceptics by saying she is 'not proposing' to replace the Irish backstop, but merely ‘change’ it: Brexit News for Wednesday 6 February

Theresa May angers eurosceptics by saying she is 'not proposing' to replace the Irish backstop, but merely ‘change’ it: Brexit News for Wednesday 6 February
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Theresa May angers eurosceptics by saying she is ‘not proposing’ to replace the Irish backstop, but merely ‘change’ it…

The prime minister appeared to go back on last week’s Commons vote – to replace the backstop “with alternative arrangements” – by saying she was only seeking “changes”. Brexiteer Tories have already warned such a compromise would be unacceptable – ruling out either a unilateral withdrawal clause or an end date to the backstop. Instead, they insist the prime minister must demand that Brussels scrap it altogether and replace it with new – unproven – technology, to avoid the return of checks at the Irish border. The hardline European Research Group reacted immediately to the speech, in Belfast, saying: “Even if she doesn’t mean what she said, we still do.” Until now, Ms May has insisted three options were being considered – a time limit, an exit mechanism, or ill-defined” alternative arrangements” to the backstop. However, she faced a backlash in Northern Ireland, where most residents and businesses support the guarantee as a way of avoiding a no-deal Brexit. Asked how she could convince the people of Northern Ireland to accept a Brexit deal which was stripped of the backstop, Mrs May said: “I’m not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that doesn’t contain that insurance policy for the future. – Independent

  • Theresa May says she is ‘not proposing’ to scrap Brexit backstop – Sky News
  • Theresa May won’t try to remove backstop in crunch talks – The Times (£)

…as she defends her Brexit strategy during Northern Ireland visit…

In a speech to business leaders in Belfast, the PM pledged to secure a deal with the EU that “commands broad support” and a majority in parliament. The DUP leader, Arlene Foster, said the “toxic backstop” remained the problem. Brussels was “unfortunately turning their face against that” and needed respect for unionism in NI, she added. Mrs Foster spoke out as the European Commission confirmed the prime minister will visit Brussels on Thursday for talks with its president Jean-Claude Juncker. This follows a visit by Taoiseach (Irish Prime Minister) Leo Varadkar on Wednesday. “But they are quite content, apparently, to build a hard border between Northern Ireland and the rest of the United Kingdom, thereby interfering with the constitutional position of the United Kingdom.” The backstop is an insurance policy designed to avoid a hard border “under all circumstances” between Northern Ireland and the Irish Republic after Brexit. – BBC News

  • Theresa May says commitment to avoid hard border in Ireland ‘unshakeable’ – but she will find a way to deliver Brexit – Belfast Telegraph
  • May vows ‘unshakeable’ commitment to avoiding return to hard Irish border ‘of the past’ as she urges EU to work with her to ‘find a way’ through Brexit deadlock – MailOnline

> Read on BrexitCentral: Full text of Theresa May’s Belfast speech reaffirming her commitment to the principles of the Good Friday Agreement

> WATCH: Theresa May’s speech in Northern Ireland on Brexit

…and she meets Northern Ireland’s political parties today…

The PM is on a two-day visit to try to reassure people she can secure a Brexit deal that avoids the return of customs checkpoints on the Irish border. On Tuesday, she told business leaders she wanted changes to the controversial backstop plan to prevent this but indicated she did not seek to scrap it. Meanwhile, Irish PM Leo Varadkar will meet EU leaders in Brussels. rs May is due to spend Wednesday morning meeting the political parties. BBC Ireland correspondent Chris Page said: “The Stormont parties will give the prime minister two very different messages about the backstop. Sinn Fein has said her plan to ask the EU for legally binding changes is a huge act of bad faith. But the DUP says the current backstop proposal is unacceptable.” – BBC News

…in advance of meeting Jean-Claude Juncker tomorrow to seek concessions

Theresa May is to return to Brussels on Thursday seeking fresh concessions despite the EU’s insistence that the bloc will not renegotiate the Brexit deal. The European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, will host the prime minister just 24 hours after a meeting with the Irish taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, in the Belgian capital. May is expected to formally seek the reopening of the withdrawal agreement on the back of the passing of the so-called Brady amendment last week calling for “alternative arrangements” to replace the contentious Irish backstop. The prime minister told her cabinet ministers on Tuesday the objective was to find a legally binding way to ensure the UK could not be trapped indefinitely in the backstop, though alternative arrangements, a time-limit or a unilateral exit mechanism. “Following the vote, work has been taking place on all of the options and it is important for that to take place before we go to Brussels,” her spokesman said. He added: “While Labour did not whip for the Brady amendment, Jeremy Corbyn said he also had concerns about the backstop so this issue that needs to be resolved not just for our colleagues and for the DUP but for MPs across the house.” – Guardian

Cabinet ministers hold secret discussions on plans to delay Brexit by eight weeks

Cabinet ministers have secretly discussed plans to delay Brexit by eight weeks despite warnings by Theresa May that it is “counter-productive” to talk about it. Ministers want the EU to agree a two-month “grace period” after March 29 if Mrs May’s deal passes through Parliament to allow extra time for necessary legislation. Britain would remain in the EU on the same terms during this temporary period, The Telegraph understands. An eight-week delay would mean Brexit being postponed to May 24. At Cabinet on Tuesday the Prime Minister appeared to rebuke ministers for talking publicly about delaying Brexit as she insisted that Britain will leave on March 29. Those who have suggested Brexit may be delayed to finalise a deal include Jeremy Hunt, Philip Hammond and Liam Fox, in what has been seen as a sign the Government has been preparing the public for postponing Brexit. – Telegraph (£)

  • Brexit ‘to be delayed eight weeks even if May’s deal gets through Commons’ – Daily Mail

Brexit ministers studying high-tech plan to avoid Irish border checks…

Officials from DexEU have been quietly working on the blueprint – drawn up by Japanese firm Fujitsu – for 10 months. But, it has been rapidly dusted down in the last week after MPs voted to replace the current Irish backstop with a different one that could involve “alternative arrangements”. An 11 page briefing on the explosive Fujitsu plan has been leaked to The Sun. Named the ‘Drive Through Border Concept’, it ensures there is no need for any physical checks on the border or hard infrastructure. Instead, a tracking system monitors vehicles on designated routes as they cross from Northern Ireland to the Republic via GPS as well as number plate recognition cameras. Brexit Secretary Steve Barclay is studying the plan closely. It has also been circulated among a working group of senior Tory Leavers and Remainers who have come together to propose a new backstop based on stand-off customs checks, dubbed the Malthouse Compromise. EU critics of the alternative arrangements to change the backstop have claimed the technology doesn’t yet exist to police the border and are years away. But The Sun’s revelation today heaps more pressure on PM Theresa May to agree to push the border plan during talks in Brussels tomorrow. – The Sun

  • Cabinet ministers hold secret discussions on plans to delay Brexit by eight weeks – Telegraph (£)

…as Angela Merkel is set to press the Irish for compromise on a hi‑tech border solution

The German chancellor is leading EU efforts to help to convince the Commons to ratify the prime minister’s deal by forcing the Irish and British leaders to work together this week. A well-placed source in Berlin said that Mrs Merkel was “very hopeful” that the question of the backstop, which is meant to prevent a hard border with Ireland if the EU and UK fail to reach a trade deal that allows fluid movement of goods, could be solved through a combination of technology and a sophisticated customs scheme. “She is waiting for London to come forward with concrete proposals about how it would work,” the source said. “Dublin will come under a lot of pressure over the coming weeks to work constructively with London.” Speaking in Tokyo yesterday, Mrs Merkel insisted that “from a political point of view, there is still time” to negotiate on the Brexit deal, particularly on “such a precise problem” as the Irish border. “That should be used, used by all sides,” she said. The German source said that Mrs Merkel saw “close to zero” chance that the backstop itself could be altered, whether with a cut-off date or a mechanism for the UK to exit it unilaterally, but she would invite Mrs May to come forward with a plausible alternative. Mrs Merkel is frustrated that Britain has not yet made proposals. – The Times (£)

Sir Keir Starmer appears to soften Labour’s stance on freedom of movement…

In a potential softening of Labour’s position, Sir Keir called for alignment with the EU’s single market. This could pave the way for EU migrants with jobs to be allowed to settle in the UK, subject to certain conditions and for Britain to accept EU rules restricting state aid. The shadow cabinet minister made his remarks in an interview with Newsnight during a visit to Belfast after meeting nationalist parties. He said Labour hoped to negotiate a future relationship with the EU involving a “comprehensive customs union and single market alignment”. This would avoid the need for a backstop, by guaranteeing no hard border in Northern Ireland. Asked whether he could live with the Norway Plus plan, which would involve free movement of workers, Sir Keir said: “Well that would have to be explored and the precise detail of that.” The Norway Plus or the Common Market 2.0 plan – promoted by Labour MP Lucy Powell and Tory MP Nick Boles – would involve membership of a customs union and the free movement of workers, rather than EU rules allowing free movement of citizens. Sir Keir said people would be willing to accept the movement of workers subject to restrictions: “If somebody is coming to do a job and it needs to be done and it has been advertised locally beforehand with nobody able to do it, then most people would say I accept that.” – BBC News

  • Shadow Brexit Secretary Sir Keir Starmer backs free movement, with Labour facing row over Europe – The Sun
  • Keir Starmer suggests UK could adopt softer approach to EU migration after Brexit – iNews

…while trade union leaders are reportedly ‘at war’ over Brexit

Union leaders are “at war” over Brexit with some open to overtures from Downing Street and others insisting they should hold out for a second referendum. Some senior figures in the movement believe Len McCluskey, leader of Unite — the largest union in Britain — is seeking labour market reforms from prime minister Theresa May that would give some Labour MPs an excuse to back the government in the next “meaningful vote” on Brexit. That could allow Brexit to proceed without Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader and life-long Eurosceptic, taking the blame among Europhile grassroots members. “The unions are at war given Unite’s attempt at a side deal,” said one senior union figure. “And people are suspicious that it’s being nodded through by the leader’s office.” Last week Mr Corbyn refused to sack eight front-bench MPs who defied the leadership whip by not backing a vote that would have delayed Brexit and blocked a no-deal departure. That prompted speculation that the Labour leader was only paying lip service to the idea of a second referendum. – FT (£)

Amber Rudd tells May to be ‘straight’ with public about the risks of No Deal…

Theresa May was on Tuesday told to be “straight” with the British people about the risk of a no-deal Brexit as she said she will not push for the removal of the Northern Ireland backstop. The Prime Minister, who will travel to Brussels on Thursday for talks with Donald Tusk and Jean-Claude Juncker, said she was “not proposing” to get rid of the backstop, but only to make “changes” to it. A source from the European Research Group of Eurosceptic Tory MPs said: “Even if she doesn’t mean what she said, we still do.” It came as Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions minister, told Cabinet the Government should publish information from official briefings about the implications that a no-deal Brexit will have for national security. – Telegraph (£)

…and Michael Gove urges her to step up No Deal warnings on TV and internet

Michael Gove yesterday urged the PM to step up No Deal warnings on TV and the web – with Brexit just 51 days away. The Environment Secretary and Brexit-backer joined Cabinet colleagues in calling for more public briefings about the consequences of leaving the EU without an agreement. It came as Amber Rudd urged the PM to be “straight with the British people” if No Deal really was being seen as a prospect. Earlier in the crunch meeting, the PM told the Cabinet that Brexit must and will still happen on March 29. She failed to offer any hint of an extension to the Article 50 negotiating deadline and told Ministers talking publicly about a delay were being counter-productive. – The Sun

Trade experts to publish draft UK-EU Free Trade Agreement today

Today, we are getting a glimpse of what the future economic partnership with the EU could look like. International trade policy experts, led by Shanker Singham, have drafted a proposed Comprehensive Free Trade Agreement (FTA) between the UK and the EU. It promises to be the most advanced and liberalising FTA ever developed – and the first serious attempt to put the detailed future economic relationship between the EU and UK on paper… This FTA builds on the EU’s original offer of a comprehensive FTA with the entirety of the United Kingdom. It reduces trade and regulatory barriers, including behind the border barriers, minimises disruption to businesses and consumers across Europe and the UK and, just as importantly, preserves the UK’s ability to strike trade deals around the world and to make changes to domestic regulation. It will allow us to negotiate a UK-US FTA, to join the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans Pacific Partnership (CPTPP), a new international trade grouping of 11 countries, including the major economies of Japan and Canada. – Sir Rocco Forte for BrexitCentral

Ministers in ‘secret’ no-deal plan to slash tariffs on all imports

Ministers are secretly planning to unilaterally cut tariffs on all imports to zero in the event of a no-deal Brexit, in a move that could flood the market with cheap goods and “ruin” industry, HuffPost UK has learnt. Trade Secretary Liam Fox wants to use executive powers – reserved only for ministers – to make a last-minute change to the Trade Bill which would allow the government to dramatically slash tariffs on all foreign goods. It has been described by manufacturing union the GMB as “the ultimate Brexit betrayal”. Fox revealed his strategy to industry leaders in behind-closed-doors meetings this week, blaming fears that inflation could see prices sky-rocket if Britain crashes out of the EU on March 29. Business chiefs are “deeply concerned” the Brexiteer minister risks “wrecking” homegrown industry, including farming and potteries, in one fell swoop, but Fox claims consumers will benefit. Labour, meanwhile, said unilaterally switching all tariffs to zero would be an act of “sheer lunacy” which would give Brussels no motive to negotiate a future trade deal with the UK. – Huffington Post

  • Liam Fox mulls cutting UK import tariffs to zero in no-deal Brexit – FT(£)

Tax cuts can be ‘rocket boosters’ for UK economy after Brexit, says Dominic Raab

Former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab has urged Theresa May to stress the benefits of Brexit – and called for tax cuts to provide the “rocket boosters” needed to see Britain through “a difficult moment”. And he also acknowledged Mrs May needed to “go in to bat” with the so-called Malthouse Compromise to Jean-Claude Juncker in Brussels on Thursday if she is to have any hope of getting her Brexit divorce deal through Parliament. Mr Raab, who quit his job last year the day after Mrs May unveiled her draft withdrawal agreement, made his remarks in an interview with the Conservative Home website. Praising the decision to cut Corporation Tax, Mr Raab said: “There are other tax cuts which sector by sector, and without infringing on state aid rules domestic or international, we could provide businesses, who are undoubtedly feeling a bit uncertain right now, with a bit of confidence.” Pressed to elaborate on what these might be, he said: “Well there is a strategy under way, so I don’t think there’s any point reinventing the wheel.  But we haven’t heard from Government, publicly, this is what we’re going to do to give you the rocket boosters to see you through what will undoubtedly be a difficult moment. And so rather than just being reactive and saying Brexit is something that will happen to us, whether it’s the EU dictating terms or No Deal being upon us because we can’t accept those terms, let’s get on the front foot and give the public and businesses that reassurance.” Mr Raab sounded a warning to the Prime Minister, who is preparing to travel to Brussels on Thursday for more talks with Mr Juncker. – Express

Ireland and EU discuss emergency funds to offset no-deal Brexit

Ireland is in talks with the EU over a substantial Brexit emergency fund to offset the damage caused to the country’s €4.5bn (£3.96bn) food exports to Britain if the UK crashes out of the bloc with no deal next month. As Theresa May prepares for a crunch meeting in Brussels on Thursday,officials at the European commission are already looking at continuous compensatory measures for Ireland as part of an ongoing arrangement that could last years. Contingency funds to compensate farmers have already been discussed at the highest levels and are expected to arise in talks with the taoiseach, Leo Varadkar, during a round of meetings in Brussels on Wednesday. Sources say Ireland will be looking for a “long-term fix” in EU budget talks in April rather than a lump sum Brexit bailout. – Guardian

Irish Government rejects Brexit bilateral talks with DUP

The Irish government has rejected the prospect of bilateral discussions on Brexit with the Democratic Unionist Party. It comes after DUP leader Arlene Foster said she hopes to speak to Irish premier Leo Varadkar later this week. Mrs Foster said her party is in the process of setting up talks with the Irish government. In a statement, however, a spokesman for the government said: “The Irish government is always willing to discuss the Good Friday Agreement and peace process with the DUP.  “However, negotiations on Brexit take place through the European Commission.” Mr Varadkar said he will travel to Northern Ireland on Friday where he will meet with political parties, but added he will not be holding any Brexit negotiations. Speaking in the Dail, he said: “As should always be the case when you travel to Northern Ireland, we should listen to all of the parties and not just any one party. (I will) also speak to businesses and civil society in relation to Brexit, however I won’t be carrying out in negotiations with any political party because the negotiations are between the EU and the UK. While we can certainly have discussions with the UK and discussions with political parties or individuals politicians, the negotiations can only happen with Ireland and the EU on one side of the table and the UK on the other, and we are in a much stronger position in that regard and we will not be departing from that.” On Monday, DUP MP Jeffrey Donaldson said his party wants to have face-to-face discussions with the Irish government. Speaking to RTE, he said: “I want to respect the integrity of the Irish government position, I want to sit down with them and see if we can move this forward. I believe there will be meaningful engagement and we have asked them.” – Belfast Telegraph

> WATCH: DUP’s Jeffrey Donaldson MP on RTÉ Claire Byrne Live

Nicola Sturgeon says new Scottish independence vote depends on Brexit outcome

Scotland’s first minister told the US broadcaster PBS that it was too soon to be sure where Brexit would lead, adding that voters had a right to see “some clarity emerge” around the consequences of Brexit. Her remarks will be seen as a rebuff to Scottish National party MPs and senior activists, including her predecessor Alex Salmond, who have been pressing Sturgeon to exploit the chaos around Brexit at Westminster by calling for a new independence vote now. In a keynote speech during a visit to the US on Monday, Sturgeon told an audience at Georgetown University in Washington DC she believed the most pressing issue was delaying the date of EU withdrawal, currently due on 29 March, and holding a second referendum on EU membership. She confirmed she would update Holyrood and Scottish voters on her thinking about a second independence vote in “in the next few weeks”, but later indicated on PBS’s flagship NewsHour current affairs programme the time for that vote was not yet right. Asked by PBS when the appropriate time would be, Sturgeon said: “Well, I think we have to follow the process that is currently underway to reach some conclusion. What that conclusion will be remains to be seen. And then take a decision based on a calm consideration of what’s in Scotland’s best interests. And that’s what I would do. So I’m not going to say right now what I think the best timing would be.” – Guardian

David Davis: We must hold our nerve with the EU to get the deal we really want

For some time, EU negotiators have demanded to know what the UK wants. An EU Commission spokesman even quoted the Spice Girls, saying: “We expect the United Kingdom to tell us what they want, what they really, really want.” Well, last week Parliament sent a very clear message: by passing the Brady amendment, it showed there is a majority for a deal which removes the Northern Ireland backstop. A working party of MPs is now looking into how the supposed border conundrum can be solved.  There are many concrete proposals to consider. This is the time for Government and Parliament to hold their nerve. There is no case whatsoever for an Article 50 extension. We need to insist on a deal that is mutually beneficial – not punitive – and that can be shown to work for everyone. Our proposal for a free-trade agreement is not only what the British people voted for in the referendum but what they expect to be delivered. That is why they have not wavered in their support for Brexit. It’s time to focus on the positive, ambitious and valuable trading opportunities available to the UK in the future.  – David Davis MP for the Telegraph (£)

Andrea Jenkyns: After meeting Martin Selmayr, I know why the EU is confused about Brexit

No, I did not convert to Remain, I am still a steadfast Brexiteer, but after a day in Brussels meeting Martin Selmayr and Guy Verhofstadt, it enabled me to better understand some of the confusion faced by the European Union and the messages the UK are sending out. I had never met Mr Selmayr before, he seems like a very pleasant man – much easier to engage with than Michel Barnier that’s for sure! He seemed to have a good sense of humour and I rather cheekily said that I understand that his reputation is that of a ‘bull in a China shop’ and ‘If so, we will get along just fine!’. My view is that it highlighted that their minds are very much more focused as we approach the 29th March deadline. This was further evidenced by him stating that no deal would be damaging for both the UK and the EU, and an orderly withdrawal is the only way forward.  And that they have been working on no deal damage limitation measures since the end of 2017. This honest rhetoric about the impact on No-Deal on the EU is contrary to the recent articles or possibly speculation that we have heard about him trying to punish the UK for leaving the EU. The threat of No-Deal is possibly focusing his mind. – Andrea Jenkyns MP for the Telegraph (£)

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

Caroline Flint: Parliament voted to get a Brexit deal done now. So let’s make it happen

Parliamentary turmoil over Brexit has lasted almost 1,000 days and still the arguments rage. Last week saw a glimmer of a solution. Strip away the theatrics and the parliamentary proceduralism and it became pretty clear what parliament voted for. The Commons collective voice said no to leaving with no deal (backing the Spelman/Dromey amendment); no to delaying Brexit by nine months (rejecting Yvette Cooper’s); or two years (as put forward by Rachel Reeves). And it voted yes to renegotiating the backstop (the Graham Brady amendment). Though it was easy to miss, parliament approved the government proceeding on that basis. Notably, Labour’s front bench did not press the government’s motion to a division. In summary, parliament voted to get a deal done, and done now. Those of us who wanted May to talk to Corbyn, to listen to Labour MPs, to ignore the extremes and to improve the deal are the majority in parliament. And that majority will see the will of the people done. – Caroline Flint MP for the Guardian

Owen Paterson: The PM has a route to a real Brexit but must avoid any customs union

Last week’s votes in the Commons were good news for the 17.4 million people who voted to leave the EU. Amendments allowing an arbitrary group of MPs to seize control of the Parliamentary timetable and force the Government to extend Article 50 were roundly defeated. Better still, by agreeing to Sir Graham Brady’s amendment requiring “the Northern Ireland backstop to be replaced with alternative arrangements”, MPs have given the Government a firm mandate to return to Brussels, reopen the Withdrawal Agreement and amend it in a manner acceptable to Parliament. President Tusk offered such “alternative arrangements” in March 2018 when he proposed a wide-ranging, zero-tariff trade agreement. That deal foundered on the border question, but the Government can now return to it with knowledge that existing techniques and administrative processes can resolve those issues. This approach is laid out in “A Better Deal” which my colleagues including Steve Baker, Kit Malthouse and Nicky Morgan have come together to agree. The Prime Minister has herself ruled out Customs Union membership more than 20 times, including in the Commons. Critics will ask: what if the EU refuses? What if it is unwilling to reopen the Withdrawal Agreement? Will we than “crash out” as the catastrophising Remainers suggest? No. – Owen Paterson MP for the Express

Tim Stanley: Voters are willing to endure a little hardship to be free of the EU

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

Matthew Goodwin: The pointlessness of a ‘People’s Vote’

With barely eight weeks to go until Britain is scheduled to leave the EU, calls for a second referendum grow more shrill. It’s not entirely unlikely that there won’t be one. But it is unlikely that a second ballot would achieve what those advocating it want: overturning Brexit altogether. There are several key obstacles to this. The first is that very few Leavers have changed their minds. In the nearly three years that have passed since the first referendum there has certainly been a slight drift toward Remain. But the scale of this shift is routinely exaggerated by the second referendum herd. In any case, after last week’s votes in parliament, the likelihood of a second vote has receded. But those continuing to campaign for another referendum would do well to consider the points above. Too few have reflected on the lessons of 2016, a basic problem that will also likely hold back any new anti-Brexit ‘centrist’ party. In fact, they’re making the same mistakes all over again. I think, on balance, it is reasonable to claim that Brexit has curbed some growth and that No Deal would cause disruption. It is also true that levels of pessimism about the economy are reaching levels that we have not come close to since the depths of the financial crisis, though I suspect that the drivers of this are actually mixed and not all down to Brexit. But it is hard to convince voters that the sky is about to collapse when Britain is experiencing the strongest labour market figures on record and as wages are now beginning to outstrip inflation. – Matthew Goodwin for UnHerd

Tom Harris: Corbyn fans have received another reminder of what everyone else knew – he has opposed the EU all his life

Jeremy Corbyn’s demise has been predicted many times since he took over the Labour Party three and a half years ago, including by me. That he is still in post says much about the relevance of previously sacrosanct political rules which Corbyn, to his credit, has successfully consigned to the rubbish bin. So it would be foolhardy to suggest that Brexit, or the continuing machinations by Labour MPs, or the potential disillusionment of his previously enthusiastic mass membership, spells the end for him. Nevertheless, we are entering possibly the most dangerous period of Corbyn’s leadership, at least since the last one. There have been many catalysts for the latest peril, and inevitably Brexit is the main one. A quarter of a million Labour Party members, trade unionists and assorted revolutionaries voted for Corbyn in the summer of 2015, and many of them did so in the belief that their candidate was a supporter of Britain’s membership of the European Union. They might be forgiven for choosing to ignore the evidence to the contrary – of which there was much – because at the time the EU referendum seemed a very long way away. The priority of members was not to address imminent political challenges but to elect someone who would make them feel good about themselves. – Tom Harris for the Telegraph (£)

Leo Cendrowicz: Ireland is too important to the EU for it to be abandoned

The Brexit drama is being watched with anxiety and apprehension in the rest of the EU, with leaders straining to interpret how each new episode will fit into the existing narrative. Yet they have remained remarkably consistent, insisting that whatever the whims of the British body politic, the other EU countries are not going to fold. The German position is crucial. Last week, Chancellor Angela Merkel’s government nearly halved its 2019 economic growth forecast from 1.8 per cent to 1 per cent, citing Brexit as the first among key reasons for the slowdown. And Mrs Merkel has suggested a “creative” approach to Brexit talks could see outstanding backstop questions resolved. Yet she and other German officials have consistently reaffirmed their support for Ireland. As for the suggestion by the Polish foreign minister, Jacek Czaputowicz, of a time-limited backstop of five years, it was swiftly and roundly dismissed by his EU colleagues. There are other signs of support. Last week, the European Investment Bank said it would ramp up financial aid for Ireland with €300m in soft loans to help the country prepare for Brexit. And even in the US, there is backing: a resolution opposing the return of a hard border in Northern Ireland was introduced in the US Congress last week. There is still a chance that the two sides could forge an agreement without scrapping the backstop. While Brussels refuses to renegotiate, it is open to talking. There could be codicil to the Withdrawal Agreement, and the EU’s chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, says there is flexibility in the Brexit text on future EU-UK relations. But the EU is not going to abandon Ireland. – Leo Cendrowicz for iNews

Dieter Reinisch: Will Brexit increase the threat from dissident Republicans?

A car bomb outside the courthouse in Derry last month reignited fears that dissident republicans will use Brexit as an excuse to launch further attacks. Over the past months, politicians and commentators warned that a hard border would lead to “civil obedience”, renewed attacks on border posts, or even bring back the Troubles. The island of Ireland has arguably the densest net of paramilitary organisations in Europe. While public attention in the Republic focuses on republicans, Loyalist paramilitaries are still active. In October, representatives of the Ulster Volunteer Force met with Irish officials, warning that Brexit could “wind up working-class Loyalists”. while there is increasing frustration with the outcome of the peace process in certain areas that leads to growing support for political alternatives to Sinn Féin, there is no appetite for a return to armed conflict as Richard English stresses. Nonetheless, the election of three dissident republicans to the Derry and Strabane District Council and the participation of 3,000 people at the Easter rally in Coalisland, Co Tyrone in 2016 indicate a small level of visible support among the nationalist population. In sum, there will be no return to a higher frequency of attacks. Dissident republicans will continue with occasional attacks, such as they do for the past 20 years, with or without a hard border. Hence, all warnings that Brexit “could revive the Troubles” do not reflect existing research. – Dieter Reinisch for RTE

David Henig and Daniel Moylan: Irish Brexit backstop is about more than just the border

The Brexit debate has been high in emotional arguments and low on clarity. Nowhere is this more obvious than on the issue of the Irish border, where politicians are still failing to grasp what’s at stake. Ireland has featured prominently in heated Brexit arguments. But it is mainly discussed in terms of how it will be affected by various types of Brexit — whether the U.K. crashes out of the European Union and falls back to World Trade Organization rules, or abides by the bloc’s single market rules, for example. This is a mistake. The underlying issues affecting Ireland are about people and history, not trade rules. Whether we leave with a deal or without, the U.K., the EU and Ireland need to take large steps to address these underlying factors. Otherwise, they  will be jeopardizing the fragile peace maintained since the signing of the Good Friday Agreement and doing great damage to communities on both sides of the border. The Irish issue has so far been treated to an overly legalistic approach. The format of negotiations with the EU has sought to shoe-horn discussion about Ireland and Northern Ireland into the Withdrawal Agreement, reducing the real-life problems Brexit causes for Ireland to the legalistic protocol dubbed the “backstop.” Both sides need to recognize that Northern Ireland is the vulnerable child in the Brexit divorce. Whatever happens on its borders, we need to pay attention to the deeper risks Brexit carries for communities on the island. With goodwill, changes to the border can be kept at a minimum, whether or not there is a backstop. – David Henig and Daniel Moylan for Politico

Telegraph: Eurozone weakness could help Mrs May in negotiations

One certainty of Brexit according to Remainers was that it would adversely impact on the UK economy just as the Europeans were enjoying growth. In the two years or more since the vote to leave, British employment and wages have improved, the economy has continued to expand, and the predicted flight of investors has failed to materialise. Far from powering away to leave an ailing UK economy floundering in its wake, the eurozone is in trouble. Its cornerstone economies – Germany, France and Italy – are all heading into recession, according to the latest statistics. This would be the third contraction for the eurozone in a decade, hardly an advertisement for stability or a guarantor of prosperity. The parlous state of the eurozone economies gives Britain extra negotiating power should Theresa May choose to use it in her pursuit of changes to the Brexit deal. She could threaten to withhold the promised £39 billion in the event of a no-deal and use the tariffs to be charged on EU cars and other goods as leverage. The EU has a big trade surplus with the UK which it can ill afford to endanger. Mrs May should seize the opportunity in Brussels tomorrow. – Telegraph (£) editorial

David Miles: Brexit can help save Britain from next financial crisis

When the Leave campaign offered voters the chance to “take back control”, Bank of England policymakers who oversee the stability of the financial system were probably not the ones they had in mind. Yet one of the stranger impacts of Britain’s departure from the EU could be that it becomes easier to avert another banking crisis, or at least to mitigate its effects. The losses arising from the 2008 financial crisis are immense: our GDP is somewhere between 15 and 20 per cent below the pre-crisis trend. The international response to the crisis was the Basel III system of capital requirements, whereby banks must hold more equity funding (shareholders’ money) relative to their risk-weighted assets (the loans they make). Leaving the EU might therefore have one unintended benefit to set against its more obvious costs: it could give British regulators greater scope to require banks to be much more cautious with their balance sheets and thereby help to avert another financial disaster. As a matter of fact, this did not sway me back in 2016 when, as a former member of the Bank of England’s monetary policy committee, I was an unenthusiastic voter for Remain. It would be ironic if our departure from the EU turned out to make Britain better equipped to prevent another crisis like the one that helped bring about the Brexit vote in the first place. – David Miles for The Times (£)

The Sun: Theresa May will secure new deal with Brussels but if the Tories reject it the Remainers will kill Brexit

Theresa May will, we believe, secure a new deal from Brussels which MPs can back. But only if Remainers don’t derail Brexit entirely next week. It must not happen. The EU seems to be urging Ireland to soften up over the hated backstop. Chief Eurocrat Martin Selmayr reportedly suggests a legally binding assurance that it won’t shackle Britain for ever. Angela Merkel says there’s still time. The DUP’s Arlene Foster tells everyone to compromise. Mrs May is working on options. It all points in the right direction. Which makes it even more likely desperate Remainers will launch another Brexit-destroying bid next Thursday, thinly disguised as a “postponement”. It must be defeated, as it was last week. If not, the revived negotiation is over. Brussels will sit back, relax and watch Brexit unravel. And Leave voters will never forgive the mainly Labour MPs who sabotage it. But Tory Brexiteers must face reality. If any eventual Brussels concession is legally watertight, they must swallow it. They, and much of the public, would rather leave without a deal, of course. We sympathise. But they are outnumbered. The Commons’ Remainer majority will do anything to avoid No Deal. If Tories reject an improved agreement, they will hand Remainers the power to kill Brexit. And they will all deserve the blame. – The Sun says

Katy Balls: Theresa May’s expectation management falls flat with the ERG

Theresa May has been in Northern Ireland today attempting to ease concerns over her commitment to avoiding a hard border. The Prime Minister told business leaders in Belfast that while Parliament wanted ‘changes to the backstop as it currently exists’, her commitment to no hard border in Northern Ireland was ‘unshakeable’. However, May’s words also went some way to highlight the difference in expectation as to what No. 10 think is an acceptable change to the backstop – and what the Brexiteers in the European Research Group believe is acceptable. When pressed, May said she was not seeking to get rid of the backstop entirely as she saw it as an important ‘insurance policy’: ‘I am not proposing to persuade people to accept a deal that does not contain that insurance policy for the future.’ However, given the lack of trust between the Brexiteers and Downing Street, this will only increase concerns that Eurosceptic MPs are being led up a garden path when it comes to May negotiating their desired alternative. Already a number of Leave campaigners have voiced concern about her words. Notably, May’s comments today appear to be in sync with what Arlene Foster said about changes to the backstop this morning. Some Brexiteers could soon be left disappointed, again. – Katy Balls for The Spectator

Brexit in Brief

  • Angela Merkel jibes that Britain is working more closely with the EU since the Brexit process was launched – MailOnline
  • May dangles prospect of UK and Ireland hosting a joint World Cup in 2030 – MailOnline
  • Jacob Rees-Mogg explains what will happen if Theresa May fails to secure EU concessions – Express
  • Brexiteer MP has brilliant plan to call the EU’s bluff in negotiations – Express