Daniel Boffey and Jennifer Rankin in Brussels Thu 7 Feb 2019 19.42 GMT, The Guardian
May and Juncker hold strained talks as EU examines technical aspects of Irish border
The Brexit negotiations are being pushed to the brink by Theresa May and the EU, with any last-minute offer by Brussels on the Irish backstop expected to be put to MPs just days before the UK is due to leave.
In strained talks on Thursday, during which Donald Tusk suggested that Jeremy Corbyn’s plan could help resolve the Brexit crisis, Theresa May and the European commission president, Jean-Claude Juncker, agreed to hold the next face-to-face talks by the end of February.
That move cuts deep into the remaining time, piling pressure on the British parliament to then accept what emerges or face a no-deal scenario.
It is understood that EU officials are looking at offering May a detailed plan of what a potential technological solution to the Irish border might look like, which could be included in the legally non-binding political declaration on the future trade deal.
The blueprint would pinpoint the problem areas and commit to breaching the technical gaps where possible to offer an alternative to the customs union envisaged in the withdrawal agreement’s Irish backstop.
But officials believe it is increasingly likely that any renegotiated deal will only be put to the Commons at the end of March, necessitating even then an extension of the article 50 negotiating period to get legislation through parliament.
On Thursday the German finance commissioner, Günther Hermann Oettinger, suggested the chance of a no-deal Brexit was now as high as 60%.
“If the British side asks for an extension of two or three months and there are reasons for that, I think there’s a good chance that the member states would accept that unanimously,” he said. “But in the eight or 12 weeks there needs to be the possibility of achieving progress and that there must be a withdrawal agreement at the end of that.”
The prime minister’s failure during her meetings in Brussels with EU leaders on Thursday to go beyond her previous suggestions of a time limit and unilateral exit mechanism on the Irish backstop has confirmed fears that the deal’s ratification will go to the wire.
Brussels reiterates position minutes after Commons backed plan to replace Irish backstop
Theresa May immediately hit a brick wall in Brussels after being backed by MPs to reopen the withdrawal agreement, as Donald Tusk, with the backing of Emmanuel Macron, said the EU would not renegotiate.
Within minutes of the Commons backing the prime minister’s plan to replace the Irish backstop, a spokesman for the European council’s president insisted Tusk would not permit any changes to the deal already agreed with Downing Street.
Tusk, the EU’s most senior official, instead urged the prime minister to explain her next steps, claiming the agreement negotiated over the last 20 months “remains the best and only way to ensure an orderly withdrawal of the United Kingdom from the European Union”.
The spokesman added: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for re-negotiation.”
In an apparent sign that the EU now fears that the impasse in the Brexit talks is unlikely to be broken within the coming weeks, Tusk’s spokesman said Brussels was open to a delay to Brexit beyond 29 March.
An amendment backed by the Labour MP Yvette Cooper ordering the government to ask for an extension was defeated on Tuesday evening but the Commons is set to vote again in mid-February.
Theresa May in a tartan peace scarf before the Commons votes. She said afterwards there was a “stable” majority for a deal TOBY MELVILLE/REUTERS
Francis Elliott, Political Editor | Henry Zeffman, Political Correspondent | Sam Coates | Oliver Wright. January 30 2019, 12:00am, The Times.
MPs vote for backstop bargaining as Corbyn agrees to meet PM and the EU insists it will not reopen deal
Theresa May will return to Brussels to demand concessions on the Brexit divorce deal after uniting her warring party last night to secure a Commons victory.
The prime minister defeated efforts by MPs to delay Brexit and won a vote on an amendment put forward by Sir Graham Brady, chairman of the 1922 Committee of Tory backbenchers, to replace the Irish backstop guarantee with “alternative arrangements”.
Mrs May won the reprieve two weeks after the Commons inflicted its historic defeat on her Brexit deal. She committed herself to seeking a time limit on the backstop, achieving a unilateral exit from it or persuading the European Union that technology could remove the need for a hard border.
“If this house can come together, we can deliver the decision the British people took in June 2016, restore faith in our democracy and get on with building a country that works for everyone,” she said. “As prime minister I will work with members across the house to do just that.”
The options were immediately and forcefully rejected by the EU as a chorus of national leaders and the bloc’s most senior officials said that there would be no renegotiation.
Donald Tusk, president of the European Council, said: “The backstop is part of the withdrawal agreement, and the withdrawal agreement is not open for renegotiation.” In a statement the Irish government also rejected re-opening the backstop, describing it as a “carefully negotiated compromise”.
Simon Coveney, Ireland’s deputy prime minister, said the backstop remained “necessary”, while Guy Verhofstadt, the European parliament’s chief Brexit negotiator, said there was “no majority to re-open or dilute” the withdrawal agreement.
Police in Belfast, 2013. Photo: Joshua Hayes via a CC-BY-SA 2.0 licence
January 22nd, 2019
We still have little idea what the customs arrangements on the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland will be after 29 March. A border control expert explains why the border is so crucial and sets out the scale of the task customs and other regulatory bodies on both sides of the border will face.
If the United Kingdom leaves the EU as scheduled, the EU will treat it as a “third country” – with inevitable consequences for border controls between Ireland and Northern Ireland. The extent of these controls will be determined by the terms of the UK’s withdrawal. While the primary impact will be felt in the area of customs controls, a range of other regulatory controls, including agriculture, marine, health, environmental and plant health may come into play.
In the worst case scenario of a no-deal Brexit, the customs relationship between UK and Ireland could, in theory, be compared with that which exists between eastern EU states and their non-EU neighbours – for example, Hungary and Ukraine, or Bulgaria and Serbia.
The stated position of both British and Irish politicians, as well EU officials, is that there is no desire to see a return to the Irish land border controls which operated before both countries became members of the Single Market in 1993. It has been suggested that an “invisible” border without a physical infrastructure, but relying on technology such as Automatic Number Plate Recognition (ANPR), could operate.
Comparisons have been drawn with the existing Norway/Sweden relationship, which allows for certain simplified procedures for movement of people and trade between these states. However, a critical factor in the free movement of people in this region is that both countries are members of the Schengen area. Article 41of the Schengen Convention provides for cross-border pursuit by police forces. Neither the UK nor Ireland is a Schengen member. In terms of trade movements, Norway is a member of European Economic Area and European Free Trade Association and therefore enjoys certain Single Market trading conditions. Despite this both Norway and Sweden operate controls – including some cargo inspection – along their shared border, with a requirement that trade movements pass through one of the several border customs stations.
Technologies such as ANPR and CCTV are used at these border crossings, but as with a wide range of technologies available to customs, they are seen by practitioners as a means to enhance border controls rather than to replace them.
The presence of any fiscal or economic border provides opportunities for smuggling and other forms of criminal activity. The political situation in NI adds an extra dimension to a land border scenario. Serious organised crime groups continue to smuggle and deal in tobacco, alcohol and prescription medicines. Effective border controls and law enforcement measures will be required to prevent escalation of these activities. The PSNI has outlined plans to recruit and deploy an extra 300 officers to police the border, but the Irish government has said that it has no similar contingency plans to increase Garda numbers in the border area.
Oliver Wright, Policy Editor – January 22 2019, 12:00pm, The Times
Next Tuesday MPs will, for the first time, get the chance to seize control of the Brexit process. Under the law the government must table what will be an amendable motion in the House of Commons on the way forward.
And MPs from across the political spectrum fully intend to take advantage of it — to try and amend it to dictate the terms of what happens next. Some of those amendments have already been tabled and more are expected in the coming days.
So what are the amendments so far; what would they do, and what are the potential problems?
The Grieve amendment
What is it? It is one of two procedural amendments designed to prevent a no-deal Brexit.
Under the law as it stands, Britain will leave the European Union with or without a deal on March 29.
The problem for MPs who oppose a no-deal Brexit is that under Britain’s constitutional convention, the government controls the parliamentary timetable.
In effect this means that a no-deal Brexit can only be stopped with government support.
But because Britain does not have a written constitution this potentially opens the door to novel parliamentary procedure (and tactics) to upend convention and force a change of approach on the government.
The Grieve amendment would suspend House of Commons standing orders that currently give the government the power to control the business of the Commons.
Who supports it? Its lead author is Dominic Grieve, the former attorney-general, and it is backed by Tory former ministers including Justine Greening, Sam Gyimah and Philip Lee. It also has support from Labour backbenchers — mainly those who want a second referendum.
What effect would it have? The Grieve plan is basically a mechanism to force so-called indicative votes on the government. This would allow MPs to vote either for or against a second referendum; a Norway-style soft Brexit; or indeed a no-deal Brexit. While the motion would not have the effect of changing the law, the idea is that it would force MPs to come up with a plan that could command majority support. Those behind the scheme argue that no government could reject the settled will of parliament even if it was technically non-binding. They also believe it will show that there are at least 300 MPs opposed to a no-deal Brexit.
What are its problems? The main one is that any motion could be disregarded by the government if it so chose. The prime minister could, for example, choose to call a general election, arguing that parliament was going against the will of the people and so she needed a fresh mandate.
It is also possible that the process could be indecisive. It is far from clear that there is a majority in the Commons in favour of any kind of option. If all options were voted down the whole process might not achieve very much at all.
The Cooper amendment
What is it? It starts from the same premise of the Grieve amendment. It would also suspend House of Commons standing orders that give the government the power to control the business of the House of Commons.
But instead of a motion, the Cooper plan would involve MPs debating a bill that was tabled yesterday instructing the government to lay a motion extending Article 50 until the end of the year if agreement cannot be reached by a specified date.
The amendment is intended to address division between party leader Jeremy Corbyn and Labour MPs who support a second referendum. Photograph: Parliamentary Recording Unit Handout/EPA
Dan Sabbagh, Mon 21 Jan 2019 21.19 GMT, The Guardian.
Proposed amendment is significant shift in policy towards people’s vote on Brexit
Labour has said the Commons should be able to vote on whether to hold a second referendum in an amendment the party submitted on Monday night to Theresa May’s Brexit update.
It is the first time the party has asked MPs to formally consider a second poll, although the carefully worded compromise amendment did not commit the party’s leadership to backing a referendum if such a vote were to take place.
The wording called for May’s government to hold a vote on two options – its alternative Brexit plan and whether to legislate “to hold a public vote on a deal or a proposition” that is supported by a majority in the Commons.
The intervention came as the party’s leadership seeks to deal with divisions between Jeremy Corbyn and some of the leader’s closest allies who are sceptical about a second referendum and those who are more enthusiastic such as Brexit spokesman Sir Keir Starmer.
The party’s alternative Brexit plan, which would be the subject of a separate vote if the amendment were carried, proposes that the UK remain in a post-Brexit customs union with the European Union and have a strong relationship with the single market. Citizens’ rights and consumer standards would be harmonised with the EU’s.
Corbyn said: “Our amendment will allow MPs to vote on options to end this Brexit deadlock and prevent the chaos of a no-deal. It is time for Labour’s alternative plan to take centre stage, while keeping all options on the table, including the option of a public vote.”
Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has called for a free vote on plans for extending Article 50 EPA/ANDY RAIN
Sam Coates, Deputy Political Editor January 22 2019, 12:01am. The Times.
Amber Rudd warns No 10 to give Tories free vote on a plan to stop a no-deal Brexit
Up to 40 members of the government will resign next week if Conservative MPs are banned from voting for a plan to stop a no-deal Brexit, No 10 has been told.
Amber Rudd, the work and pensions secretary, has demanded that all Tory MPs are allowed a free vote on plans that would clear the path for extending Article 50 — the mechanism by which Britain leaves the European Union.
Richard Harrington, the business minister, confirmed yesterday that he would resign if the government pursued a no-deal Brexit.
Margot James, the culture minister, and Tobias Ellwood, the defence minister, were among those said to be considering their positions. Mr Ellwood used Twitter yesterday to call for an extension to Article 50.
Ms Rudd’s intervention suggests that her position could be in doubt if she is barred from voting for the amendment, although her office refused to say whether she would regard it as a resignation issue. Those who are considering resigning include cabinet ministers, junior ministers and ministerial aides.
David Gauke, the justice secretary, who said last month that it would be “very difficult” to remain in the government if it pursued a no-deal Brexit, is standing by Theresa May and is not looking at standing down.
One source, who backs the plan to block no-deal, said: “For too long parliamentarians have shouted from the peanut gallery about what they won’t support. Now is the time for them to get on the stage and show what they would support. If done properly this could help the prime minister to go to Brussels in a stronger position.”
Mrs May indicated in the Commons yesterday that she was likely to reject the request, leading to a stand-off within the party. The prime minister told parliament that she could not take a no-deal Brexit off the table because an approved alternative was yet to emerge, and that the EU would be unlikely to postpone Britain’s exit date — determined by the Article 50 withdrawal notice — without an exit plan.
Julian Smith, the chief whip, will decide at the end of the week whether to give MPs a free vote.
Supporters of a new referendum might hold out through fear of a no-deal Brexit ANDY RAIN/EPA
Oliver Wright, Policy Editor. January 17 2019, 12:01am.
Labour’s push for an election has been thwarted but the country still faces a daunting array of possible outcomes
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF A GENERAL ELECTION BEFORE BREXIT?
A general election is an unlikely but possible outcome: either Theresa May calls an early poll or one is forced on her by the loss of a vote of confidence.
The first option is less plausible because polls show that an election today would not substantially alter the parliamentary arithmetic. It is also next to impossible to see how she could craft a Brexit manifesto that did not irrevocably split her party.
The second option is more likely but it would require the Democratic Unionist Party or Conservative MPs to vote against the government in a confidence motion. That could happen if Mrs May succeeds in getting a deal through parliament that it objects to. It could also happen as a last-ditch move by Tory Brexiteers to prevent parliament from extending or revoking Article 50.
WHAT ARE THE CHANCES OF A SECOND REFERENDUM?
If Jeremy Corbyn pivoted and backed a second referendum then there could be a Commons majority for another Brexit vote. So far more than 70 of his backbenchers have come out publicly for a second referendum. With frontbench supporters factored in, a majority of the parliamentary party are probably in favour.
Then again, some Labour MPs who support a second referendum would also be prepared to countenance a soft, Norway-style Brexit rather than running the risk of another vote that voters could see as a betrayal of the 2016 result. The best chance for the People’s Vote campaign is for other Brexit options to fall, leaving only a no-deal departure or another referendum on the cards.
Oliver Wright, policy editor. January 15 2019, 9:00pm, The Times
What will Theresa May do next? In the immediate aftermath of her defeat the prime minister announced that for the first time in the Brexit process she would work with MPs from other parties to try to identify “what would be required” to secure parliamentary backing for an alternative deal to leave the European Union. She added that if those meetings yielded ideas, the government would “explore them” with the EU.
However, Downing Street insisted afterwards that Mrs May was not looking to depart from her core principles of leaving the customs union and the single market. A spokesman also said that the prime minister still did not believe that it was necessary to extend Article 50, despite a political consensus that there is not enough time to devise and pass a new deal by March.
Mrs May also announced that she would give MPs the chance to debate and vote on Labour’s motion of no confidence in her government. The vote is expected to be held tonight.
Will Mrs May survive a vote of confidence? The expectation is that she will. She will have to rely on the Democratic Unionist Party, which is vehemently opposed to her deal but has indicated that it will support the government in confidence motions as long as the deal is not passed. If, as expected, the confidence motion fails and Jeremy Corbyn fails to secure a general election, there will be pressure on the Labour leader to outline a new Brexit policy. Many Labour members want him to call for a second referendum, but he may buy time by seizing on Mrs May’s offer of cross-party talks. He will hope that the government moves towards Labour’s position of keeping Britain in a customs union with the EU and maintaining close ties to the single market.
When will Mrs May go back to Brussels? Jean-Claude Juncker, president of the European Commission, flew to Brussels from a meeting of the European parliament in Strasbourg last night expecting “emergency” talks within 48 hours, but Mrs May said that she would not go to Brussels until next week at the earliest, after the cross-party talks in Westminster.
People react while watching the Brexit deal vote on a television in Brussels, Belgium.Photographer: Dario Pignatelli/Bloomberg
By Ian Wishart January 16, 2019, 12:06 AM GMT+3 Updated on January 16, 2019, 12:33 AM GMT+3
European Commission’s Juncker tells May: ‘Time is almost up’
Macron: EU won’t help fix U.K.’s ‘internal political problem’
The European Union said it was horrified by the massive scale of the U.K. Parliament defeat of the Brexit deal agreed with Prime Minister Theresa May but said there was no option to renegotiate.
Diplomats said they were stunned by the extent of the loss. As they tried on Tuesday night to plot the EU response, they said they think there’s little more they can do to help May and fear that the U.K. tumbling out without agreement in March has now become a real prospect.
Despite only 10 weeks to go until the U.K.’s scheduled departure, officials in Brussels ruled out the prospect of an extraordinary summit of the 27 EU leaders any time soon. They said there’s little to discuss if lawmakers in the U.K. can’t decide what they want.
European Commission Jean-Claude Juncker told the U.K: “Time is almost up.” French President Emmanuel Macron chimed in also to remind May that the EU won’t offer concessions to solve “an internal U.K. politics problem.”
‘I will be very vigilant on that,” Macron told reporters in Normandy, northern France. “ We went as far as we could.”
Theresa May begged Brexiteer Tories and the Democratic Unionist Party to take a “second look” at her agreement FACUNDO ARRIZABALAGA/EPA
Francis Elliott, Political Editor | Oliver Wright, Policy Editor | Sam Coates | Henry Zeffman. January 15 2019, 12:01am.
MPs expected to reject EU withdrawal agreement despite prime minister’s last-minute plea
Theresa May warned Tory rebels last night that they will risk a Jeremy Corbyn government if they vote against her Brexit deal amid fears of the heaviest defeat suffered by a government in modern politics.
Downing Street is braced for a no-confidence vote as soon as tomorrow as Mr Corbyn tries to force an election he claims would break the Brexit logjam.
The prime minister begged Brexiteer Tories and the Democratic Unionist Party to take a “second look” at her agreement in the light of further European Union assurances over the Irish backstop.
However, only half the Conservative parliamentary party turned up to hear her eve-of-vote pitch in which she urged them to unite around two tasks: achieving Brexit and keeping the Labour leader out of Downing Street. The best way to secure those aims, she said, was to vote for her deal.
In a quietly damning verdict of her attempt to secure converts to her cause, one MP present — who is voting for the deal — said that it was a “competent but not transformative” performance. They said the prime minister “mostly rehearsed the arguments she has been rehearsing for months”.
A Brexit-supporting MP who left the Westminster meeting early said that Mrs May’s appeal had not changed his mind over how to vote.
The DUP, the prime minister’s parliamentary ally, also delivered a withering rejection of her entreaties. Nigel Dodds, the deputy leader, said that letters from Brussels attempting to offer support on the backstop increased the party’s concerns.
The Conservatives’ hardline Brexit faction has plotted to ensure that Mrs May’s deal goes down to the heaviest possible defeat today. The scale of a loss that No 10 privately concedes is inevitable will depend on which amendments John Bercow, the Speaker, selects. The first votes are expected after 7pm.
Philip Denniel, the Governor of the Bank of England, invited to lunch at his mother-in-law’s house for Christmas Eve of 2021, was slowly chewing a piece of the traditional pudding.
“The pudding does not taste quite like it normally does,” he finally observed.
“It’s the brandy,” replied his mother-in-law. “The French brandy I always bought before is too expensive now. I used a British apple brandy.”
Speechless, Denniel stared at his mother-in-law. If even the Christmas pudding was affected by Brexit, what was the country coming to?
Jane Farrow, though, lived in a comfortable house in an affluent part of the city. It was true that this elegant seventy-six-year-old lady had always been cautious with money, especially since her husband’s death. But this level of austerity was unprecedented.
The elderly lady excused herself to pop down to the ground floor. Denniel finished his pudding with little enthusiasm, alone in the large dining room with floral wallpaper. His wife and their two daughters, keen to do some last-minute shopping, had made good their escape before pudding was served. Big Ben, or rather the miniature replica on the mantelpiece, chimed two o’clock. The Governor, sunk in his thoughts, barely heard it. So this is what it had come to. The mother-in-law of the Governor of the Bank of England, and probably all the mothers-in-law across the country, were too hard up to buy imported ingredients for their puddings.
“Would you like some more pudding?”
Denniel was roused from his brief distraction by the return of his hostess. He declined politely, got up from the table, and went through into the first floor sitting room next to the dining room. He liked thinking in this room, which was lined with beautiful woodwork and red velvet curtains, well lit by several bay windows, and beautifully decorated with a collection of Chinese ceramics and silver ornaments. Several reproductions of works by Reynolds, Gainsborough and Turner adorned the walls. The Governor had a favourite spot, a leather armchair near the fireplace, where he spent long hours smoking his pipe. But today he was too pre-occupied to sit quietly. Wanting to enjoy the sun that had just come out, he went over to the main window and opened it. In from the quiet London street came December air, chilly, invigorating, freshened by the rain that had fallen that morning.
What could be done to rescue his country from the doldrums? Denniel had been asking himself the same question for two years, without arriving at any conclusion. Unemployment, companies failing, devaluation, inflation… The country had been in recession since 2019. Problems were being heaped upon problems. The Governor was now dreading a still darker prospect, a plunge into an even deeper crisis, which would shake the country to its very foundations.
Looking down the street, he saw a taxi passing too fast, splashing a passer-by. The driver stopped immediately, got out, and could be heard apologising, offering to take the passer-by on to his destination for free. The pedestrian accepted gracefully. “All is not lost,” thought Denniel. “We still have a people of great character, able to endure difficulties with phlegm and stoicism.”
He decided to go out for a walk, told his mother-in-law on his way through the kitchen and went down to the ground floor. Having put on his coat and a cap, he opened the front door. It was at that moment that he was hit in the face by something congealed and sticky. A piece of Christmas pudding. “Go on, let them eat pudding! This disaster is all your fault!” shouted the man who had thrown it. Denniel wanted to respond, but the projectile thrower had already disappeared. Returning to the house to clean his face, he considered that perhaps the country was not so phlegmatic after all…
The incident did not prevent him from going on to have an uneventful walk. On his return, an hour later, he noticed that his daughters and his wife had not come back. He could not see his mother-in-law either; she had probably gone out as well. He went back to the sitting room, put a log on the fire, lit a pipe, settled down in the leather chair and turned on the television. He decided to watch the last parliamentary debate of the year, which had taken place two days earlier, and which he had not been able to see at the time. It had been widely discussed in the press.