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Negotiations with the EU on the Brexit deal would have to be reopened if Article 50 was extended to hold a second Brexit referendum, Prime Minister Theresa May said yesterday. She told the House of Commons Liaison Select Committee, “What is clear is that any extension to Article 50… reopens the negotiations, reopens the deal. And at that point the deal can go, frankly, in any direction,” adding that a second referendum would bring “a period of more uncertainty and more division.” May also did not reject the possibility of a No Deal scenario if Parliament votes down the deal, saying, “The timetable is such that actually some people would need to take some practical steps in relation to No Deal if the parliament were to vote down the deal on the 11th of December.” The Times reports this morning that EU leaders may be prepared to offer a three-month extension to Article 50 to avoid a No Deal Brexit. The extension would only be offered after Parliament had reached a conclusion on the form of Brexit it would support.
This comes as May has reaffirmed her rejection of a Norway-style Brexit agreement as a way to gain Labour support for an exit deal. She said, “What you see in the political declaration is what would be a deal for the United Kingdom that is not Norway, it is not Canada, it is a more ambitious free trade agreement than Canada, and it ends free movement – which Norway doesn’t do.” She also claimed that Labour opposition to the backstop risks a No Deal scenario.
Elsewhere, The Times reports on a leaked blueprint drawn up by May’s Europe adviser, Olly Robbins, for the UK to be able to unilaterally exit the Irish backstop. The plan contained a legal procedure for the UK to leave the backstop if negotiations on the future UK-EU relationship broke down or if “there [had] been a fundamental change in circumstances since the conclusion of the withdrawal agreement.” In response to the reports, a Downing Street spokesperson said, “Throughout discussions on the backstop the Prime Minister and [former Brexit Secretary Dominic Raab] discussed numerous ideas around this issue with the [European] Commission and the Irish Government. What we have now is a deal that is the best deal available. We are just focused now on winning the vote.”
Separately, EU chief Brexit negotiator Michel Barnier told the European Parliament yesterday, “Given the difficult circumstances of this negotiation, and given the extreme complexity of all the subjects related to the UK’s withdrawal, the deal that is on the table – the draft Withdrawal Agreement and the Political Declaration – this deal is the only and the best deal possible.”
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The International Trade Secretary, Liam Fox, will endorse Prime Minister Theresa May’s Brexit deal in a speech in Bristol today. He will say, “The deal we’ve reached will give us a firm and stable base on which to leave the EU and build this country’s global future, a future that still encompasses Europe, of course, but also the wide fast-growing markets beyond, with all the opportunity that entails.” He will also say that May’s opponents do not have the “luxury” of an alternative plan. This comes as Matthew Offord yesterday became the 100th Conservative MP to publicly state that they would vote against May’s deal.
Fox also told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning that a No Deal Brexit scenario “wouldn’t be a disaster.” Commenting on the Bank of England’s forecasts, he said, “A worst case deal is not going to happen because it assumes the government would not take any mitigating measures.”
The Shadow Brexit Secretary, Sir Keir Starmer, yesterday criticised the Government’s decision to refuse to publish the full legal advice relating to the Withdrawal Agreement. Speaking in the House of Commons, Starmer said that the Government was “showing contempt for this House.” Responding on behalf of the Government, Robert Buckland, the Solicitor General, said that there had been a “wholly confected controversy” over the issue. On Wednesday, the Speaker of the House of Commons, John Bercow, said that it would be up to him to decide “whether there is an arguable case that a contempt has been committed and therefore whether an appropriate motion should be put urgently before the House.”
In a letter to the Treasury Select Committee yesterday, the head of the Financial Conduct Authority (FCA), Andrew Bailey, recommended that the length of the post-Brexit transition period is kept “to a minimum,” in order to minimise the length of time during which the UK is subject to EU rules but has no ability to influence them. Bailey also warned that a No Deal Brexit would create significant challenges and risks in terms of [financial services] firms’ readiness, potential market disruption and insufficient public-policy solutions put in place on the side of the EU.” He added that “new cliff-edge risks could arise” again if there is no clarity on the future UK-EU relationship by the end of the transition period.
Immigration figures released by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) yesterday show that EU net migration in the year to June 2018 fell to 74,000, its lowest level in six years. Moreover, from April to June in 2018, net migration from the EU turned negative, with 27,000 EU citizens arriving but 30,000 leaving. The Director of the Migration Observatory, Madeleine Sumption, said that the drop in the value of the pound was “likely to have made the UK a less attractive place to live and work” for EU citizens; she also highlighted an economic upturn in some EU countries of origin as a reason for the trend.
Meanwhile, net migration from outside the EU has reached its highest level in fourteen years, at 248,000. According to the ONS, an increase in the number of Asian migrants looking for work or study in the UK has driven this change.
Le Monde reports that a group of 16 Southern and Eastern EU member states are willing to increase their EU budget contributions to ensure European cohesion and agricultural funding remains at current levels after Brexit. The group, known as Friends of Cohesion, also called for the Common Agricultural Policy and the Cohesion Fund to be simplified. At a meeting of the group in Bratislava yesterday, Slovakian Prime Minister Peter Pellegrini said, “We want the budget [to remain] as it is today…If the budget has to be cut, we will demand greater flexibility [over spending choices].”