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The European Parliament Brexit coordinator Guy Verhofstadt told MEPs yesterday that a six-month extension to Article 50 is “too near for a substantial rethink of Brexit and at the same time too far away to prompt any action,” adding, “My fear is that with this decision, the pressure to come to a cross-party agreement disappears.” Elsewhere, European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker said that the EU is “ready” for the possibility of the UK leaving at the end of October with No Deal, but that Brussels has “nothing to gain” from the “disruption” a No Deal scenario would cause.
Elsewhere, the Independent Group of former Labour and Conservative MPs announced that it has officially become a political party called Change UK. This allows it to field candidates in the European elections if the UK has not left the EU by May 23.
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The Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, has said that there is “no agreement as yet” between Labour and the Government on a way forward on Brexit, following several days of talks. Corbyn said yesterday, “There has to be access to European markets and above all there has to be a dynamic relationship to protect the conditions and rights that we’ve got for environment and consumer workplace rights.” He added, “The Government doesn’t appear to be shifting the red lines because they’ve got a big pressure in the [Conservative] party that actually wants to turn this country into a deregulated, low-tax society which will do a deal with [US president Donald] Trump.”
Separately, the Evening Standard reports that Independent MP Frank Field and the Father of the House of Commons, Conservative MP Kenneth Clarke, are planning to table a motion to gain cross-party parliamentary support for the UK to be in a customs union with the EU after Brexit. Field told the paper, “I think if it comes from the backbenches, neither of the party leaders [Theresa May and Jeremy Corbyn] can be accused of dividing their parties. I would be confident of getting it through.”
The Evening Standard
A new YouGov survey has found that 64% of Remain voters and 57% of Leave voters are “more sure” that they voted the right way in the 2016 referendum. It found that only 12% of Leave voters and 6% of Remain voters are “less sure” that they voted the right way, with even fewer saying they would change their vote (7% of Leave voters and 4% of Remain voters). Conservative Remain voters (14%) and Labour Leave voters (20%) were more likely to be unsure about their vote than Conservative Leave voters and Labour Remain voters.
New figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) reveal that unemployment in the UK decreased by 27,000 in the three months to February, remaining at a rate of 3.9 percent, its lowest since 1975. Total earnings rose by an annual 3.5 percent, while average weekly wages, without bonuses, increased by 3.4 percent during the same period. Employment Minister Alok Sharma said, “The UK jobs market continues to go from strength to strength, proving the underlying resilience of the British economy. But we must not take this for granted. We need to work urgently to get behind a Brexit deal that protects this jobs record and gives employers the certainty to continue to invest in their workforce and boost wages.”
Elsewhere, Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt continued his visit to Japan yesterday, saying, “I gave Japanese businesses one simple message: whatever type of Brexit, the UK will remain the best place in the world to invest and create jobs.” This comes as the Financial Times reports that NTT Communications, a subsidiary of Japanese telecoms group NTT, is expected to announce London as its new international headquarters in July.
The Telegraph reports that a number of Conservative Party chairmen are seeking to hold a vote of confidence in Prime Minister Theresa May by calling an Extraordinary General Meeting of the National Convention, which represents grassroots Conservatives. A petition calling for the meeting, which requires the backing of 65 chairmen, has already gained between 40 and 50 signatures. The Chairman for the London East area, Dinah Glover, said, “There is a lot of frustration and anger within the party – this is a route that we have to demonstrate those feelings so we can encourage MPs to make those feelings known.”
Elsewhere, the Irish Government has said it is prepared to cover the costs of European Health Insurance Cards (EHIC) for citizens in Northern Ireland in all Brexit circumstances. It is also seeking to ensure that students from Northern Ireland can continue to participate in Erasmus programmes. Speaking in the Irish Parliament yesterday, Foreign Minister, Simon Coveney, said, “We are working to make sure the practical benefits that come with EU citizenship continue to apply to people in Northern Ireland. If necessary, we will fund that to make sure it is paid for as part of the package that will be necessary in the cases of the EU health insurance card and Erasmus.”