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The Chancellor, Philip Hammond, said yesterday that the Brexit deal would not be put to the vote this week without the support of the DUP. Speaking on the BBC’s Andrew Marr show, Hammond conceded that the Government did not “yet” have the required number of votes, but said that “a significant number of colleagues … have changed their view on this and decided that the alternatives are so unpalatable to them that they on reflection think the Prime Minister’s deal is the best way to deliver Brexit.”
Among the former opponents of the Brexit deal who have now announced their support is the former Work and Pensions Secretary Esther McVey, who resigned from the cabinet over the draft Withdrawal Agreement in November. Speaking over the weekend, she said, “No deal has been removed [as an option]… So the choice before us is this deal or no Brexit whatsoever – and to not have Brexit you go against the democratic vote of the people.” The backbencher Daniel Kawczynski, who has twice voted against the deal, has also said he will support it, describing it as the “only game in town.”
Elsewhere, in a piece for the Sunday Telegraph, Prime Minister Theresa May urged MPs to make “the honourable compromises necessary to heal division and move forward” by supporting the deal. She added, “If Parliament can find a way to back the Brexit deal before European Council, the UK will leave the EU this spring, without having to take part in the European elections, and we can get on with building our future relationship with the EU. If it cannot, we will not leave the EU for many months, if ever.”
Meanwhile, former Foreign Secretary Boris Johnson has urged MPs to vote against the Brexit deal if it is put to the vote again. Writing for the Telegraph, he said that under the deal, “We will be legally and politically at the mercy of Brussels, since we will be obliged to accept all EU legislation, during the so-called implementation period. Worst of all, the Irish backstop arrangement gives the EU an indefinite means of blackmail.”
Separately, advice from government officials seen by the Sunday Times has suggested that there could be potentially no limit on the number of extensions of Article 50. The advice said, “Once the UK has taken part in the EU elections, there is effectively no limit to the number of extensions of article 50 the UK can ask for or be required to ask for by parliament.” A senior government source told the paper that this meant “We could be in the EU forever.”
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In a new report, Lord Trimble, the former First Minister of Northern Ireland, and Lord Bew, the crossbench peer, argue that in the course of recent negotiations, “the Government has succeeded in securing substantive changes that will affect and limit the impact of the Irish backstop, if it is ever put in place at the end of the transitional period.” They also say, “While a temporary backstop for a short period is acceptable to all parties (including the DUP), it is clear that the prospect of an enduring structure, with expanding and dynamic functions, is untenable in the long run.” Lord Trimble and Lord Bew have previously voiced their opposition to the backstop on the grounds that it conflicts with the Good Friday Agreement.
Elsewhere, writing in the Daily Mail, the former Conservative Chancellor, Lord Lamont, has said, “Any perceived risks in the backstop have to be balanced against the risks that will follow if the PM’s deal is thrown out again,” adding, “The danger is that once we postpone our exit for the first time it may be the start of a process whereby it is postponed again and indefinitely.”
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn has suggested that he is likely to back an amendment tabled by the Labour MPs Peter Kyle and Phil Wilson, which would make support for the Brexit deal conditional on holding a “confirmatory” referendum. Speaking on Sky News’ Sophy Ridge Show on Sunday, Corbyn said, “I had a very good discussion with Phil Wilson and Peter Kyle last week, and we went through what they’re trying to do, which is make sure people do have a say in the final matter, and that we agree with and support.” However, Corbyn also said that he would continue to promote Labour’s own Brexit policy, and that he might call for a vote of confidence in the Government this week. Asked how he would vote in a second referendum, Corbyn said, “It depends what choice is in front of us. If we’ve got a good deal in which we can have a dynamic relationship with Europe, that might be a good way forward that unites the country.”
Separately, two senior Scottish National Party (SNP) figures have urged Conservative Brexiteers to back the Brexit deal this week. Jim Sillars, the SNP’s former deputy leader, and Alex Neil, a former Health Minister in the Scottish Government, said that voting down the deal for a third time would “hand control to a Remain majority determined to keep us in the EU.” They added that the Prime Minister’s deal, though imperfect, “recreates a sovereign state.” Sillars and Neil, the two most senior SNP figures to publicly back Brexit, said they were “among the many SNP Leave voters whose views have not been represented in the Commons debates.”
The Conservative MP for Grantham and Stamford, Nick Boles, quit his local Conservative Association on Saturday, citing differences with local activists over Brexit. Boles, an advocate of a Norway-style Brexit and an outspoken critic of leaving the EU without a Deal, will remain a Conservative MP. He told the BBC’s Andrew Marr Show on Sunday that he had considered sitting as an independent, but that he was not “ready to give up on the Conservative Party yet.” He added, “I’m not going to be bossed around by a very small number of people with very ideological views.”
An EU document discussed by EU27 ambassadors last Friday states that an Article 50 extension beyond 1 July cannot be granted unless the UK holds European Parliament elections in May. It adds, “If an initial extension puts the withdrawal date after the date of the European Parliament elections, and if these elections were not organised by the withdrawing State, this would make any further extension impossible.”
Austrian Foreign Minister Karin Kneissl said this morning that the EU faces “a big dilemma, a real quagmire in terms of democratic legitimacy” if it allows a longer Brexit extension without the UK participating in European elections.
Separately, on a visit to London during the weekend, Latvian Foreign Minister Edgars Rinkēvičs said that “any possible postponement and its conditions would have to be agreed at the European Council… At the same time, it is important that we have a clear offer from the British Government on its further steps in Brexit.”
Elsewhere, the Brexit coordinator of the European People’s Party (EPP) group in the European Parliament, Elmar Brok, said there were “very different views” among EU governments about the length of an Article 50 extension.
This comes as European Council President Donald Tusk will meet French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel in Paris today.
Latvian Ministry of Foreign Affairs
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A European Commission in-house think tank, the European Political Strategy Centre (EPSC), will today release a paper on EU Industrial Policy. In a copy obtained by Politico, the paper states that the Commission’s decision to block the rail merger between Siemens and Alstom may have “unleashed a significant backlash against EU competition policy,” but was “fully justified.” The EPSC says that justification is rooted in “thorough economic analysis, established methods and applicable law,” but also in the significant risks of “relaxing merger control, antitrust or state aid rules.”
This comes as German Chancellor Angela Merkel said that France and Germany will push their European Industrial strategy at the EU summit that will take place on 21-22 March. Their strategy suggests a need to relax anti-trust laws and create European industries that compete on a global scale.
In an article for the Canadian Globe and Mail, Open Europe’s Henry Newman discusses the current state of affairs in Brexit politics. He says, “British Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal took another huge knock this week, losing by a margin of 149 votes. But the size of the defeat was less than the historic battering it suffered two months ago. And although clearly wounded, her Brexit deal is far from dead. In fact, the binding divorce deal will certainly be the basis of Britain’s withdrawal from the European Union.” He adds, “The paroxysms over Brexit in the British Parliament risk distracting us from the three broad choices facing the country. These are: leave with no deal with the EU, leave with a deal or don’t leave the EU.” He concludes, “At times, all the various paths ahead have seemed impossible. Yet one of those paths has to happen. And the most likely course is a version of the Prime Minister’s deal ultimately passes the Commons. Despite all the political twists and turns, the drama and the defeats, I remain convinced that the Britain will leave the EU.”
Elsewhere, writing for the Spectator Coffee House, Open Europe’s Anna Nadibaidze argues that for most EU27 leaders, the crucial condition to agree to an Article 50 extension “remains the certainty that a delay will actually help the withdrawal agreement get ratified by Westminster,” adding, “Above all, the EU27 want to avoid a “blind” extension and a delay which would pose a risk to the functioning of EU institutions.” She concludes, “Theresa May will be expected to offer a credible plan for an extension at next week’s council. But if her demands do not meet the expectations of the EU27, a desperate 11th hour bid to reconcile things will unfold. Ultimately though, this will come down to a question of politics: this will depend on how much other countries want to help Theresa May out – and for how long.”