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A group of senior Conservative MPs, including thirteen former Cabinet Ministers, have warned Prime Minister Theresa May that she risks losing the “loyal middle” of the Conservative Party if she agrees a Brexit deal with Labour which would keep the UK in a customs union with the EU. In a letter to May published by The Times the MPs write, “We believe that a customs union-based deal with Labour will very likely lose the support of Conservative MPs, like us, who backed the Withdrawal Agreement in March,” adding, “You would be unlikely to gain as many Labour MPs to compensate. More fundamentally, you would have lost the loyal middle of the Conservative Party, split our party and with likely nothing to show for it. No leader can bind his or her successor so the deal would likely be at best temporary, at worst illusory.”
Elsewhere, The Sun reports that at today’s Cabinet meeting, ministers will pressure May to end cross-party Brexit talks with the Labour Party. The paper quotes a senior Cabinet member as saying, “The talks will end this week whatever. I can’t see Labour carrying on with them,” adding, Whether [May] then goes or not will depend on whether No 10 have a Plan B, because we need one now, and it must be credible.” This comes as the Cabinet meets this morning, with discussions to focus on preparations for a potential No Deal Brexit scenario.
Separately, the Telegraph reports that May is moving towards holding “definitive votes” in parliament on different Brexit options if talks with Labour break down. Unlike previous rounds of “indicative votes,” the proposal would reportedly involve an alternative voting system, with MPs asked to rank different outcomes in order of preference. The least popular option would then be eliminated and its second preferences reallocated. A Government source told the Telegraph, “The difference between indicative votes and what we’re looking at is that with indicative votes people just went and said ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on everything. We’re looking at some way of finding a winner.” A Downing Street spokesman said that the Government would “ideally” have an agreement of Labour on the options for the votes.
Meanwhile, the BBC reports that the UK’s Chief Brexit negotiator, Olly Robbins, is in Brussels today to discuss how the Political Declaration on future relations could be modified.
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A new poll for the European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland suggests that Sinn Féin and the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP) will retain their seats, with several parties competing for the third seat. The poll, conducted by Lucid Talk for The Times, puts Sinn Féin on 24.6% of first preference votes, with the DUP on 18.2%, the Social Democratic and Labour Party (SDLP) on 11.8% and the Ulster Unionist Party (UUP) and the Alliance Party on 10.6% and 10.2% respectively. 6.7% said they were undecided about their first preference vote. Eleven candidates are standing for three seats in Northern Ireland, where the Single Transferable Vote system is used. The poll also put Jim Allister, leader of the Traditional Unionist Voice party, on 8.5% of first preference votes, but slightly ahead of the UUP in terms of transfers from the DUP.
This comes as the DUP launched its election campaign in Belfast yesterday, while Sinn Féin held campaign launches in Dublin and Belfast. Six of the Northern Ireland candidates also took place in a televised debate for UTV last night. Speaking in Belfast, DUP leader Arlene Foster said that Brexit had not been delivered “in the way it should have been delivered upon,” adding, “We have a Prime Minister, frankly, who doesn’t have the vision for the United Kingdom post-Brexit that we all want to see.” Meanwhile, Sinn Féin MEP Martina Anderson said the European elections represented an opportunity “to send a message to London and Brussels, that we reject Brexit, we reject borders and we stand for rights.”
Elsewhere, Sinn Féin President Mary-Lou McDonald said in Dublin that her party’s MEPs would engage with the EU in a way that was “eurocritical,” adding, “The team have demonstrated that it is possible to engage fully and get results without becoming a lackey to a Europhile establishment view of the world.”
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In response to comments by Shadow Brexit Secretary Keir Starmer regarding the need for a confirmatory vote on any Brexit deal, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt has said that another referendum would be a “betrayal” of the 2016 Brexit vote. Meanwhile, President of the European Council Donald Tusk said yesterday that the results of another referendum “would certainly be different” because the UK have had a “real debate about the consequences of Brexit.”
Elsewhere, Jeremy Hunt said yesterday that the UK should “consider [a] defence spending boost.” He said, “We simply do not know what the balance of power in the world will be in 25 years’ time,” adding, “So for these and other reasons I believe it is time for the next Strategic Defence and Security Review to ask whether, over the coming decade, we should decisively increase the proportion of GDP we devote to defence.”
Meanwhile, Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage has confirmed that he will stand again as a Parliamentary candidate in the next general election.
The European Commission has warned Romania that it will take legal action unless the country removes recent judicial measures, saying that the laws undermine the independence of courts. Chief Spokesperson of the Commission Margaritis Schinas said, “The main concerns relate to developments interfering with judicial independence and the effective fight against corruption, including the protection of financial interests of the EU and particularly to the recently adopted amendments to the criminal code that create a de facto impunity for crimes.”
Elsewhere, EU finance ministers are set to remove the British overseas territory of Bermuda, the Dutch Caribbean island of Aruba, and Barbados from the bloc’s blacklist of tax havens, an EU official said yesterday.
In a piece for Conservative Home, Open Europe’s Henry Newman argues that the collapse of the Conservative vote for European elections “coincided not with the advent of the Prime Minister’s deal, but with the failure to deliver Brexit on March 29.” He concludes, “Ninety per cent of Tory MPs backed the Withdrawal Agreement the last time it was put to Parliament. If the rest could be persuaded to do so too, Brexit could be secured, and the Party could move on to deciding which leader should take forward the next phase of the negotiations.”
Elsewhere, writing for the LSE EUROPP Blog, Open Europe’s Zoe Alipranti offers an overview of the Greek political landscape ahead of the European elections. She argues, “Greece is no longer reeling from divisions over Europe, but swathes of the population hit by austerity are still largely dissatisfied with many angles of the European project.”