Michel Barnier has warned about the dangers of temporary measures being too comfortable
Bruno Waterfield, Brussels
March 29 2019, 12:01am, The Times
The European Union will insist that Britain pays a £39 billion bill and implements the Irish backstop before beginning emergency talks to prevent an economic crash after a no-deal Brexit.
European ambassadors met in restricted session yesterday for “full-on war-gaming for a no-deal”, according to one source, to dictate the terms that Britain would have to sign up to in order to open talks if it crashes out of the EU as early as April 12.
The EU’s decision to step up crisis plans is a response to the political chaos in Westminster and growing pessimism about whether the government will be able to ratify the Brexit withdrawal treaty in the next two weeks. “The expectation is that UK will come back quickly after a no-deal Brexit with requests to keep open the vital connections, access to markets and transport links it needs for the British economy to survive,” read a diplomatic note of the meeting. “To avoid unity breaking at that point the EU has to decide what the price will be for Britain to enter those discussions.”
Since last October, the EU has agreed temporary contingency measures, lasting between six and nine months, to keep aircraft flying and ports, rail and road freight links open if Britain crashes out without a deal.
Other measures, lasting 12 months, keep City of London access to European markets for key sectors of the finance industry to prevent the risk of full-blown financial meltdown.
Arlene Foster, leader of the DUP. Senior figures in the party have privately made clear that they could live with a much softer Brexit as long as it fully protected the union between Britain and Northern Ireland
Oliver Wright, Policy Editor | Kieran Andrews, Scottish Political Editor
March 29 2019, 12:01am, The Times
Supporters of a soft Brexit are in talks with the Democratic Unionist Party and Scottish Nationalists about keeping Britain in the customs union and single market after the country leaves.
Before another round of voting on alternative Brexit proposals in the Commons on Monday, supporters of the so-called Common Market 2.0 proposal have been asked into meetings with both party leaderships.
Talks are also continuing with the Labour leadership, which encouraged its MPs to vote for the proposal on Wednesday night but stopped short of whipping for it. One source claimed that Labour MPs supporting a second referendum had put pressure on the leadership not to fully endorse the rival proposal to reduce its chances of gaining a majority.
The People’s Vote campaign and Common Market 2.0 supporters have been at loggerheads for months over which “soft” or no-Brexit option has the most chance of getting a majority.
Under Common Market 2.0, which was proposed by Nick Boles, the Tory MP, Britain would remain in a customs union with the European Union unless alternative arrangements could be found to protect frictionless trade at the Irish border. Britain would also remain in the single market with a similar relationship to the bloc as Norway has.
While the plan would result in minimum disruption to trade, Britain would not be able to negotiate its own trade deals. It would also have to allow free movement of people.
On Wednesday night the proposal was defeated in the Commons by a majority of 94. An amendment in favour of a second referendum was defeated by 27 votes. However, analysis of the results suggests that the scale of the defeats are misleading. On Common Market 2.0, the SNP’s 35 MPs abstained as did 60 Labour MPs. The DUP’s ten MPs also abstained.
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.”
Henry Zeffman, Political Correspondent | Oliver Wright, Policy Editor
March 27 2019, 12:00pm, The Times
This evening, for the first time since Britain decided to leave the European Union in 2016, MPs will get the chance to vote on what kind of Brexit they favour.
In the past 24 hours groups of MPs have put forward 16 motions for debate this afternoon. They range from a hard, no-deal Brexit to the softest type of departure that would keep Britain in both the customs union and single market.
MPs will be able to vote in favour of as many options as they like and by tonight we will know for what, if anything, there is majority support.
So what are the options, who supports them and could they be negotiated with Brussels?
Permanent customs union
Under this plan the UK would implement Theresa May’s withdrawal agreement but also negotiate a continuing customs union with the EU. This would mitigate but not remove the problem of the Irish border and come closer to “frictionless” trade with the EU while preserving Mrs May’s desire to end free movement of people. But Britain could not strike new free trade deals.
Who backs it? Labour’s official policy is supportive of a customs union although it also wants a seat at the table in the EU’s trade negotiations with new partners and could pick other holes in this plan. Few in Brussels believe this is any more than a pipe dream. Some business-focused Tory MPs who backed Mrs May’s deal will also regard this as the next best option. There have been intriguing signals that the DUP could accept a permanent customs union.
Who opposes it? Conservative MPs for whom striking new trade deals around the world is the great prize of Brexit.
How would Europe respond? This option could certainly be discussed with the European Union. Michel Barnier, its chief negotiatior, has made clear that if Mrs May’s red lines changed then so would the EU position.
How likely is it to get a majority? Labour will back it, and so will a number of Tory MPs. Much will depend on the SNP and the Lib Dems. If they came out in support it is almost certain to win a majority.
Norway Plus (Common Market 2.0)
Spearheaded by Nick Boles, the former Tory minister, this involves Britain passing Mrs May’s withdrawal agreement but also negotiating continued membership of the single market alongside a customs union until and unless technology can be found to remove the need for border checks. This would solve the Irish border question and trade between the UK and the EU would effectively remain the same. But it would require the UK to continue to allow free movement of people and leave it subject to EU rules without any say in how they are made.
Who backs it? As well as Mr Boles the leading proponents are the Tory MP Robert Halfon and the Labour MPs Stephen Kinnock and Lucy Powell. Unshackled from the whip, many MPs on both sides are thought to believe it is a sensible compromise.
Who opposes it? Those who believe it is Brexit in name only. Also MPs on both sides who feel the referendum was a verdict on immigration so it would not be right to keep free movement.
How would Europe respond? This is an option that could be negotiated with the EU, although it would not be as straightforward as it proponents claim. There would be strict conditions on this type of relationship — and the UK would be required to continue paying into EU budgets.
How likely is it to get a majority? Labour are preparing to whip MPs to back the plan and it could also win the support of dozens of Tory MPs. Its chances of getting a majority could depend on what the SNP’s 30-odd MPs do — if they back it or abstain then it could go through. Intriguingly, the DUP could also back this option as it would solve the Irish border issue and by signalling their support, the unionists could really up the ante on the government to make further concessions.
Organisers hail UK’s ‘biggest-ever demo’, while Tom Watson leads calls for fresh referendum
Toby Helm and Michael Savage
Sat 23 Mar 2019 23.26 GMT, The Guardian
In one of the biggest demonstrations in British history, a crowd estimated at over one million people yesterday marched peacefully through central London to demand that MPs grant them a fresh referendum on Brexit.
The Put it to the People march, which included protesters from all corners of the United Kingdom and many EU nationals living here, took place amid extraordinary political turmoil and growing calls on prime minister Theresa May to resign. Some cabinet ministers are considering her de facto deputy David Lidington as an interim replacement for her, although as pro-Remain he would be strongly opposed by Brexiters.
Organisers of the march said precise numbers had been difficult to gauge, but they believed the protest could have been even bigger than that against the Iraq war in February 2003.
The decision by so many to take part, waving EU flags and banners and carrying effigies of Theresa May, came just three days after the prime minister said in a televised statement to the nation that she believed the British people did not support another referendum, and blamed MPs for trying to block their will.
Senior politicians from all the main parties joined the march, including Labour’s deputy leader, Tom Watson, former Tory deputy prime minister Lord Heseltine, the mayor of London, Sadiq Khan, and the SNP leader and first minister of Scotland, Nicola Sturgeon.
Addressing the crowd in Parliament Square – as chants of “Where’s Jeremy Corbyn?” rang out – Watson said May could not ignore the march and had to give the people a second vote. “The prime minister claims she speaks for Britain. Well, have a look out of the window, prime minister,” he said.
David Lidington with May: at least six ministers favour the cabinet office minister as caretaker in No 10
Tim Shipman, Political Editor
March 24 2019, 12:01am,
The Sunday Times
Theresa May was at the mercy of a full-blown cabinet coup last night as senior ministers moved to oust the prime minister and replace her with her deputy, David Lidington.
In a frantic series of private telephone calls, senior ministers agreed the prime minister must announce she is standing down, warning that she has become a toxic and “erratic” figure whose judgment has “gone haywire”.
As up to 1m people marched on the streets of London against Brexit yesterday, May’s fate was being decided elsewhere.
The Sunday Times spoke to 11 cabinet ministers who confirmed that they wanted the prime minister to make way for someone else.
The plotters plan to confront May at a cabinet meeting tomorrow and demand that she announces she is quitting. If she refuses, they will threaten mass resignations or publicly demand her head.
Last night, the conspirators were locked in talks to try to reach a consensus deal on a new prime minister so there does not have to be a protracted leadership contest.
At least six ministers are supportive of installing Lidington, the de facto deputy prime minister, as a caretaker in No 10 to deliver Brexit and then make way for a full leadership contest in the autumn.
Lidington’s supporters include cabinet remainers Greg Clark, Amber Rudd and David Gauke. The chancellor, Philip Hammond, also believes Lidington should take over if May refuses this week to seek a new consensus deal on Brexit.
Crucially, the home secretary, Sajid Javid, has agreed to put his own leadership ambitions on hold until the autumn to clear the way for Lidington — as long as his main rivals do the same.
Lidington is understood not to be pressing for the top job but is prepared to take over if that is the will of cabinet. He would agree not to stand in the contest to find a permanent leader.
A cabinet source said: “David’s job would be to secure an extension with the EU, find a consensus for a new Brexit policy and then arrange an orderly transition to a new leader.”
However, others called for Michael Gove or Jeremy Hunt to take charge instead. Hunt, the foreign secretary, does not support Lidington because he believes he would do a deal with Labour to take Britain into a permanent customs union with the EU, although he has lost confidence in May’s ability to take advice or deliver the deal.
Donald Tusk says ‘short extension’ to Article 50 possible but conditional on MPs approving Withdrawal Agreement
— Donald Tusk (@eucopresident) March 20, 2019
The Speaker, John Bercow, delivers his ruling to MPs today
PM must ‘substantially’ alter agreement
Oliver Wright, Esther Webber
March 18 2019, 5:00pm, The Times
Theresa May’s hopes of forcing her Brexit deal through the Commons at the 11th hour were dealt a potentially fatal blow by the Speaker today.
In a ruling described by one government source as “unbelievable” John Bercow said that the prime minister could not bring her deal back to the Commons again unless it had been “substantially” altered.
His move, relying on a centuries-old parliamentary convention, drives a coach and horses through the government’s strategy of whittling down opposition to the withdrawal agreement through repeated votes.
Mrs May had been expected to put her deal to MPs again this week, before the European Council on Thursday, if she could win the last-minute backing of the Democratic Unionist Party. That now looks impossible and could potentially thwart an attempt to give MPs a final vote on the agreement ahead of Brexit day a week on Thursday.
Mr Bercow based his ruling on a parliamentary convention dating back to 1604 that states a question “may not be brought forward again during the same session” of parliament if it was “substantially” the same as a previous question.
Oliver Wright, Policy Editor, March 14 2019, The Times
What happened in the Commons today?
By just two votes the government succeeded in defeating an amendment put forward by the chairman of the Brexit select committee, Hilary Benn, that would have handed parliament control of the Brexit process and allow MPs to vote on different Brexit options next week.
What does the result mean?
In the short term at least it strengthens Theresa May’s hand and, to a small extent, increases the chances that the prime minister will eventually get her deal passed by the Commons before March 29.
It means that, for now, the government retains control of the parliamentary timetable and can stop MPs trying to coalesce around an alternative to Mrs May’s deal.
However, the prime minister still faces an uphill struggle: she needs to win over the Democratic Unionist Party and the vast majority of her own Brexiteers if she is to stand any chance of getting her deal passed next week. Even then she would probably need around 20 Labour MPs to switch sides and back the deal.
What else did MPs vote on today?
MPs passed the main government motion by 412 votes to 202 stating that if Mrs May’s deal is passed by next Wednesday night the prime minister will go to Brussels and seek an extension of Article 50 until June 30 to pass the legislation needed to ratify the withdrawal agreement.
The motion “notes” that if no-deal is in place the EU is “likely to require a clear purpose for any extension not least to determine its length”.
It adds that any extension beyond June 30, 2019, would require the UK to hold European parliament elections in May 2019.
The Cabinet Office minister David Lidington told MPs that if there were an extension the government would stage two weeks of debate after the EU summit from March 21-22 for the Commons to try to establish a majority around a different plan.
UK MPs have voted by 412 to 202 for Prime Minister Theresa May to ask the EU for a delay to Brexit.
It means the UK may not now leave on 29 March as previously planned.
Mrs May says Brexit could be delayed by three months, to 30 June, if MPs back her withdrawal deal in a vote next week.
If they reject her deal again then she says she will seek a longer extension – but any delay has to be agreed by the 27 other EU member states.
MPs earlier rejected an attempt to secure another Brexit referendum by 334 votes to 85.
And they also rejected a plan to allow MPs to take control of the Brexit process to hold a series of votes on the next steps by the narrow margin of two votes.
Following the votes, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn reiterated his support for a further referendum after earlier ordering his MPs not to vote for one.
He said: “Today I reiterate my conviction that a deal can be agreed based on our alternative plan that can command support across the House.
“I also reiterate our support for a People’s Vote – not as a political point-scoring exercise but as a realistic option to break the deadlock.”
Brexit vote: MPs poised to reject no deal
What is happening today?
MPs are debating the government’s motion on a no-deal Brexit. It is not quite a clean rejection of leaving without a deal. The motion tabled by Theresa May states its opposition to a no-deal Brexit on March 29 but also recognises that this is what will happen at the end of the month unless the UK and the EU both ratify a deal.
It is on this precise formulation that the prime minister has offered her MPs a free vote.
How will MPs vote on the government’s no-deal motion?
The common consensus is that there is a majority against no-deal among MPs. That consensus exists for good reason: a majority backed a (non-binding) amendment tabled by Dame Caroline Spelman and Jack Dromey opposing no-deal this year.
The government’s motion is more complicated: it does not straightforwardly reject the possibility of a no-deal Brexit taking place.
Theresa May’s deal again rejected by UK Parliament
In favour of the deal: 242 Against: 391
Senior Brexiteers are calling for Theresa May to resign by June
Tim Shipman and Caroline Wheeler
March 10 2019, 7:30am,
The Sunday Times
Theresa May is battling to save her premiership this weekend as cabinet ministers warned she may have to fall on her sword to save Brexit.
In a final throw of the dice, Philip Hammond will offer Tory MPs a £20bn Brexit “bribe” this week to finally “end austerity” if they support the prime minister’s deal.
The chancellor will use his spring statement on the public finances on Wednesday to pledge to pump money into the police, schools and even some tax cuts in a spending review this autumn — but only if parliament votes for a deal.
This weekend May’s team was warned by senior Brexiteers that she would get her deal passed only if she offered to resign by June so a new prime minister could lead the second phase of negotiations.
In a sign that senior colleagues are abandoning her, one cabinet minister said: “I don’t believe there is a single one of us who thinks it’s a good idea for her to stay beyond June.” Another, previously loyal, added: “She’s run out of road.”
Senior figures revealed that:
■ May’s aides are considering persuading her to offer to resign as soon as the deal is passed in order to get MPs back on board.
■ Senior cabinet ministers have held private talks about whether they will have to visit May to tell her to go as early as this week.
■ A ministerial aide predicted that if Labour tabled another vote of no confidence in the government, “Tories will vote for it” in order to “bring her down”.
■ Allies of the four main contenders to succeed her — Boris Johnson, Sajid Javid, Jeremy Hunt and Dominic Raab — said they were “ready to go” and that “things could move quickly”.
Last week Theresa May and I met to discuss how the Brexit deadlock can be broken after her botched deal was rejected by MPs.
Today I have written to outline Labour’s five demands for a sensible agreement that can win the support of parliament and bring the country together. pic.twitter.com/8Kw8gE054U
— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) February 6, 2019