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Theresa May speaks during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Theresa May tries to buy time for Brexit deal as MPs call on her to leave (The Guardian)

Theresa May speaks during prime minister’s questions in the House of Commons on Wednesday Photograph: Xinhua/Barcroft Images

Rowena Mason and Rajeev Syal
Thu 28 Mar 2019 21.24 GMT, The Guardian

Prime minister will put only withdrawal agreement to a vote on Friday – but it remains unlikely to pass

Theresa May will put only half of her Brexit deal to a vote on Friday, in a final desperate attempt to secure MPs’ support as senior cabinet ministers made clear she must leave No 10 very soon, whatever happens.

On the day Britain was originally meant to leave the EU – something May had promised would happen more than 100 times – the prime minister will put only the withdrawal agreement to a vote, having promised to step aside if the MPs give her their approval.

No 10 is hoping that some Labour MPs could back the withdrawal agreement severing the UK’s membership of the EU, without the political declaration governing Britain’s future relationship with Brussels.

However, it remains extremely unlikely to pass as Labour said it would never vote for a “blindfold Brexit”, while around 30 Eurosceptic Tories and the 10 Democratic Unionist MPs are also holding out against it.

MPs will be warned that failure to back the withdrawal agreement this time will lead to a long extension that requires participation in European parliament elections or crashing out without a deal on 12 April.

MPs who support a soft Brexit are meanwhile working on a new round of votes on the alternatives on Monday, including a compromise that could combine the support of those MPs who voted for a customs union, for Labour’s Brexit plan and for the Norway-style option dubbed “common market 2.0”.

With European leaders sceptical that such efforts will be successful, the EU’s chief negotiator Michel Barnier told diplomats on Thursday that a no deal was now “the most plausible outcome” and ordered work to begin on wargaming the bloc’s response.

No 10 insists that it can still make progress, arguing that passing the withdrawal agreement alone will allow the UK to avoid a cliff-edge Brexit on 12 April and secure another five weeks to renegotiate the political declaration in order win support for the deal in its entirety.

This is because the EU has said the UK will have to leave on 12 April if no deal is passed, but would grant an extension to 22 May if the withdrawal agreement goes through.

But Labour has repeatedly said it is opposed to this plan. After Jeremy Corbyn held a 20-minute call with the prime minister, a spokesperson said: “Jeremy made clear Labour will not agree a blindfold Brexit to force through Theresa May’s damaging deal, which would leave the next Tory party leader free to rip up essential rights and protections and undermine jobs and living standards.”

With the deal looking all but dead without the support of the DUP, there are fears among some ministers and MPs that May could try to cling on and put her deal to the country in a general election if it does not win support. They worry that a futile version of the withdrawal deal is being put to MPs in order for the Conservatives to say at an election that Labour refused to pass even the most basic part of the agreement to leave the EU.

MPs believe some of May’s advisers are pushing the option of an election, but cabinet sources have told the Guardian this option would not be acceptable and that the prime minister’s position was the same whether or not she gets her deal through.

One cabinet minister told the Guardian: “Now the prime minister has said she is going, there is no point in hanging around indefinitely having said that.” The minister also poured cold water on claims that there will be a general election, pointing to the Fixed-term Parliaments Act.

“That is pre-2010 speak. It is not in the PM’s gift to decide that there is a general election. It is in parliament’s gift. I doubt there is a majority in parliament for holding a general election.”

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Brexit deal may not be put to MPs until late March, officials say (The Guardian)

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.

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No renegotiation, says EU after MPs back plan to replace backstop (The Guardian)

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.

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Jeremy Corbyn. Photograph: Parliamentary Recording Unit Handout/EPA

Labour calls for vote in Commons on holding second referendum (The Guardian)

 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.”

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EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, holds the draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

Brexit deal: key points from the draft withdrawal agreement (The Guardian)

EU chief Brexit negotiator, Michel Barnier, holds the draft withdrawal agreement on Wednesday. Photograph: Virginia Mayo/AP

Jon Henley European affairs correspondent
Wed 14 Nov 2018 22.08 GMT

Brexiters will find many contentious clauses difficult to stomach within the 585-page draft document

The 585-page draft withdrawal agreement negotiated between the European Union and the United Kingdom contains several highly contentious points that supporters of Brexit in particular will find hard to stomach. Here are some of the points that may cause problems for the prime minister, Theresa May, in parliament:

Irish border backstop

The draft Brexit agreement says both parties will “use their best endeavours” to have a future trade agreement concluded six months before the end of the transition period in December 2020, but that if this is not the case the EU and the UK could “jointly extend the transition period” for an unspecified period.

Otherwise the backstop solution for Ireland and Northern Ireland aimed at preventing a hard border would come into force. The backstop, consisting of “a single customs territory between the Union and the United Kingdom”, will apply from the end of the transition period “unless and until … a subsequent agreement becomes applicable”.

The single customs territory would cover all goods except fishery products, the agreement says, and will “include the corresponding level playing field commitments and appropriate enforcement mechanisms to ensure fair competition between the EU27 and the UK”.

There would necessarily be extra non-customs checks on some types of goods passing between Northern Ireland and the rest of the UK, which will not please the Democratic Unionist party who have consistently opposed any kind of differential treatment for Northern Ireland.

On exiting the backstop, the agreement says that if “either side considers the the backstop is no longer necessary, it can notify the other” setting out its reasons. A joint committee must then meet within six months, and both sides must agree jointly to end the backstop.

This part of the agreement would be difficult for Brexiters to swallow. They have consistently argued that Britain must be able to exit any all-UK customs union as and when it wants to be able to pursue free-trade deals around the world.

Level playing field

The agreement says that under the backstop arrangement the UK must observe “level playing field” commitments on competition and state aid, as well as employment and environment standards and tax. These measures are intended to ensure that UK businesses are not able to undercut EU industry.

Brussels has demanded “dynamic alignment”, which would oblige the UK parliament to simply cut and paste EU regulations as they are issued after Brexit. Britain must also transfer three EU tax directives into law – on the exchange of tax information, reporting on investment firms and the EU’s code of conduct on taxation.

“Non-regression clauses” will also prevent the UK from bringing in lower standards on social, environmental and labour regulations such as working hours.

Many of these requirements would also be anathema to Conservative Brexiters, for whom leaving the EU represented an opportunity to head towards a low-tax, light-regulation economy such as that seen in Singapore.

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Boris Johnson. Photograph: Victoria Jones/PA

Boris Johnson urges Theresa May to scrap Chequers plan (The Guardian)

Ex-foreign secretary outlines his Brexit vision ahead of the Tory party conference

Boris Johnson has urged the prime minister to abandon her Chequers plan and “change the course of the negotiation” on Brexit, in a 4,000-word intervention aiming to recapture the narrative before the Conservative party conference.

The piece sought to put to bed criticisms that Brexiters such as Johnson who oppose Theresa May’s plans for a common UK-EU rulebook on goods have no alternative of their own. “The single greatest failing has been the government’s appalling and inexplicable delay in setting out a vision for what Brexit is,” he said.

The former foreign secretary, who conceded that his alternative approach might need an extension of a transition period beyond 2020, accused May of a “pretty invertebrate performance”.

“There has been a collective failure of government, and a collapse of will by the British establishment, to deliver on the mandate of the people,” he wrote in an article for the Telegraph.

Johnson said it was “widely accepted that the UK is now in a weak position in the Brexit negotiations”, a tacit criticism of the prime minister’s negotiating approach, which he said had been defined by a “basic nervousness” and a “lack of conviction”. He said May’s premiership had been “in the grip of a fatal uncertainty about whether or not to leave the customs union”.

Jacob Rees-Mogg echoed Johnson’s criticisms, likening the Chequers plan to Count Dracula in that it “doesn’t have much life in the sunlight”. The chairman of the Eurosceptic European Research Group told BBC One’s Question Time: “I think the negotiations have been badly conducted, I think we have let the European Union make the running in negotiations, we agreed to their establishment of the terms of negotiations and the timetable of the negotiations.

Johnson’s article did not challenge May’s leadership directly, but was likely to fuel speculation that Johnson may move against the prime minister before the negotiations have been concluded.

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Momentum’s national co-ordinator, Laura Parker

Momentum won’t block second Brexit vote debate at Labour conference (The Guardian, Jessica Elgot)

Wed 19 Sep 2018

More than 100 constituency parties want party to back a referendum on Brexit deal.

Momentum has said it will not block a debate on Brexit at the Labour conference, meaning the party could see members back a second referendum on the conference floor.

Last year, Momentum steered its delegates to vote on other topics, including housing, the NHS and rail, to swerve a possible vote on single-market membership which could have exposed tensions between the Labour leadership and members.

In Liverpool this year, that will not be repeated, Momentum’s national co-ordinator, Laura Parker, said. “Last year, the context was very different. Now, it’s absolutely inevitable there will be a discussion on conference floor, I can’t conceive there won’t be – we’re 200 days away,” she said. “Without a doubt, there has to be a debate.”

More than 100 constituency Labour parties have submitted motions to the Labour conference calling for the party to back a referendum on any final Brexit deal, which campaigners believe is an unprecedented number.

The drive has been spearheaded by a number of leftwing groups, including Another Europe is Possible, Remain Labour, Labour for a People’s Vote and the student group For Future’s Sake (FFS).

The final motion put to Labour conference is likely to be a compromise thrashed out between delegates from CLPs that have submitted anti-Brexit motions, trade unions and the leadership.

Labour’s governing national executive committee could also offer its own statement as a substitute, rather than risk being defeated on the conference floor in Liverpool by grassroots delegates who support a second referendum.

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The border between the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland. Photograph: Matthias Graben/REX/Shutterstock

EU27 to offer May a ‘carrot and stick’ approach to Brexit (The Guardian)

Leaders to offer May warm words on Chequers plan but demand Irish border solution

The EU27 are planning a “carrot and stick” approach to Brexit at an upcoming summit, offering Theresa May warm words on the Chequers plans to take to the Conservative conference alongside a sharp warning that they need a plan for Northern Ireland within weeks.

The twin statements from the EU leaders at the meeting in Salzburg later this month would seek to give the British prime minister some evidence of progress in negotiations on the future trade deal as she seeks to fight off the threat of rebelling MPs.

However, under the plans being discussed among the 27, a shot would be fired across May’s bows on the issue of a backstop for Northern Ireland, an issue on which officials and diplomats are becoming increasingly frustrated.

May committed in December, and again in March, to agree on a plan for avoiding a hard border between Ireland and Northern Ireland. This would come into force if a trade deal or bespoke technological solution that could do the same job was not available by the end of the transition period, on 31 December 2020.

The EU27 fear the British are seeking to push back the resolution of this issue into the transition period, after the UK has left the EU on 29 March 2019.

Tempers have flared in recent negotiations over the issue and member states want to send a clear warning that they are not willing to let the issue remain unresolved.

One EU diplomat said: “The first part will say that the Chequers proposals were welcomed and that we are talking about the future: an unprecedented deal which will be our best effort at an internal market in goods.

“That is all true and it is something for her [May] to have at conference, that she needs. The second statement will be a very stern warning. It is clear that the British game plan is to push this back, but they need to step on it now, and stop playing around.”

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President Trump with the Canadian PM Justin Trudeau. Photograph: Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

Trump’s WTO threats matter – especially to a post-Brexit Britain (The Guardian)

The World Trade Organisation is already hurtling towards a crisis, with the US having blocked new appeal judges.

The World Trade Organisation is hurtling towards crisis. Set up more than two decades ago to break down protectionist barriers and to ensure countries play by the rules of international commerce, the WTO is firmly in Donald Trump’s isolationist sights.

Up to now, the White House has been waging war by stealth. Trump has garnered the big headlines for his broadsides against China, the European Union, and Canada, while at the same time conducting a quiet war against the WTO.

But now the president has aired his discontent publicly, warning that the US will pull out of the WTO unless it treats America better. “If they don’t shape up, I would withdraw from the WTO,” Trump said in an interview with Bloomberg.

This matters to every one of the WTO’s 164 members, but it matters especially to Britain, which has said it would be prepared to trade with other EU countries on WTO rules if it proves impossible to negotiate a bespoke Brexit deal. In fact, in little more than a year’s time, the WTO could become ineffective, opening the way for a trade free-for-all in which countries can engage in unfair trade without any legal restraints.

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Theresa May said the UK could make a success out of leaving the EU without a deal Photograph: POOL/Reuters

Theresa May says a no-deal Brexit ‘wouldn’t be the end of the world’ (The Guardian)

Prime minister attempts to distance herself from pessimistic Treasury forecasts that incensed the Tory right.

Theresa May claimed that a no-deal Brexit “wouldn’t be the end of the world” as she sought to downplay a controversial warning made by Philip Hammond last week that it would cost £80bn in extra borrowing and inhibit long-term economic growth.

The prime minister conceded that crashing out of the European Union without a deal “wouldn’t be a walk in the park” but went on to argue that the UK could make an economic success of the unprecedented situation if it proved impossible to negotiate a satisfactory divorce.

Her comments were designed to distance herself from pessimistic Treasury forecasts highlighted by the chancellor at the end of last week, predictions that incensed the Tory right and led to renewed calls from hard Brexiters for Hammond’s dismissal.

Speaking to reporters as she began a three-day trip to Africa, May cited and endorsed remarks about the Brexit situation made last week by Roberto Azevêdo, the director general of the World Trade Organisation, to justify a gentle rebuke of the chancellor.

The prime minister said: “Look at what the director general of the World Trade Organisation has said. He has said about the no-deal situation that it will not be a walk in the park, but it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

“What the government is doing is putting in place the preparation such that if we are in that situation, we can make a success of it, just as we can make a success of a good deal.”

The prime minister voiced her own reservations about the Treasury forecasts, saying she believed the chancellor was talking about figures dating back to January, adding “They were a work in progress at that particular time.”

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