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The Government is considering accepting an amendment to the Withdrawal Agreement granting extra protections to workers’ rights and environmental standards in an effort to win Labour MPs’ support for the Brexit deal in next week’s vote. The amendment, tabled by Labour MPs John Mann, Caroline Flint, and Gareth Snell, would enshrine employment and environmental protections in UK law after Brexit. It has not yet been selected by the Speaker, John Bercow. This comes as Prime Minister Theresa May reportedly had phone calls with the general secretaries of unions Unite and GMB yesterday. Downing Street said the calls were “constructive.”
Meanwhile, Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn yesterday said his party would neither “accept [n]or endorse” the amendment, as it does not go far enough on workers’ rights. General Secretary of the Trades Union Congress (TUC), Frances O’Grady, said, “We’ve been clear that what working people need is a long-term, binding guarantee that their rights will keep pace with those across Europe. The amendment doesn’t deliver that. It doesn’t even provide an adequate guarantee for the rights we already have.”
Elsewhere, the Prime Minister’s spokesman yesterday commented on the amendment to the timetabling motion which requires the Prime Minister to outline an alternative Brexit plan if her deal is defeated next week, “[That] there would only be 90 minutes of debate on the motion is our understanding and only one amendment could be selected.” However, Chief Whip Julian Smith yesterday told the Commons, “No decision [on the procedure] has been made. The Government will do everything it can to ensure the House is fully consulted. The information is not correct.”
Separately, Conservative MP George Freeman told the Commons yesterday that he would now vote for the Prime Minister’s deal, having previously opposed it. He said, “I will, with a heavy heart on Tuesday, vote for this deal because we are now in the dying stages and No Deal is unconscionable. But I beg colleagues to ask their front benches to work together across the House in pursuit of something we can all be proud of.” Conservative MPs Trudy Harrison and Sir Edwards Leigh have also publicly said that they would vote for the deal, despite previously being opposed to it.
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Politico reports that UK police are advising supermarkets and retailers to hire extra security staff in order to prepare for a No Deal Brexit, due to fears of crowd control issues if the public are concerned about potential shortages of goods. A London Metropolitan police spokesperson said, “We are suggesting to retailers that they may wish to consider planning for additional security in the event that concerns about shortages of goods leads to a significant increase in customers,” adding, “We are having these conversations in order to minimise the demands on policing from any resulting large crowds or queues at shops and as part of our regular civil contingency engagement with businesses and partners.”
Separately, supermarket chain Tesco yesterday announced its plans to stockpile goods in the lead-up to Brexit. The Company’s Chief Executive Officer, Dave Lewis, said, “We are working with our suppliers to think through sensible opportunities to improve stock-holding closer to the market.” Retailer Marks & Spencer has also disclosed contingency plans, saying that a No Deal Brexit would have a “significant impact” on its food business.
Meanwhile, The Times reports that as many as 4,000 civil servants working on education, justice and welfare have been asked to take up new jobs in order to prepare for a No Deal Brexit scenario.
The director general of CBI, Carolyn Fairbairn, is urging MPs to support the Prime Minister’s Brexit deal, describing it as a “solution” businesses can work with that avoids a “hugely damaging cliff edge.” Fairbairn will tell a conference of business leaders today, “Next week [MPs] face a test. If they meet it with yet more brinkmanship, the whole country could face a no-deal, disorderly Brexit,” arguing that GDP could be up to 8% lower than it otherwise would have been under No Deal.
Former MI6 chief, Sir Richard Dearlove, and former chief of defence staff, Lord Guthrie, wrote to the Conservative Association chairs yesterday warning that the Withdrawal Agreement poses a threat to national security “by binding [the UK] into new sets of EU-controlled relationships” and called for Conservative MPs to vote against the deal. They argued, “this Withdrawal Agreement, if not defeated, will threaten the national security of the country in fundamental ways. Please ensure that your MP does not vote for this bad agreement.”
Meanwhile, at a joint press conference with Prime Minister Theresa May held yesterday, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe said that Japan welcomes the progress made on the Withdrawal Agreement and that he wanted a No Deal Brexit to be avoided, adding, “That is the wish of the whole world.”
Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orbán yesterday said that French President Emmanuel Macron is the leader of Europe’s “pro-immigration forces,” adding, “Of what he wants with regards to migration materialises in Europe, that would be bad for Hungary, therefore I must fight him.” Orbán also said that “German politics does not respect Hungarians’ decision not to become an immigrant nation” and that he did not sense a compromise solution could be reached with Germany.
Meanwhile, Andre Poggenburg, former leader of the German far-right AfD party in the eastern state Saxony-Anhalt, yesterday declared that that he will be leaving the AfD to create a new patriotic party called “Aufbruch deutscher Patrioten – Mitteldeutschland. [(The awakening of German patriots – Central Germany)]” Other AfD members will be joining this new party.
The US car-maker Ford announced yesterday that it will cut thousands of jobs across Europe as part of its restructuring. Ford, which currently has 53,000 workers in Europe, has suffered losses on the continent in the past few years, the result of poor foreign exchange rates, declining diesel sales and a general slowdown in the market. The company’s European president, Steven Armstrong, also warned that its two UK sites would face “significantly more dramatic” job losses in the event of a No Deal Brexit. This comes as Jaguar Land Rover confirmed it would cut 4,500 jobs in the UK.
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In a new blog, Open Europe’s Aarti Shankar argues it “makes sense politically” for the government to accept an amendment by Labour MPs’ which calls for guarantees on workers’ rights and social, consumer and environmental standards after Brexit. She writes, “By supporting this, the government can try to respond to Labour’s concerns that the UK could fall behind in social and environmental standards post-Brexit. However, in substantive terms, the government has not conceded much: it does not alter the terms of the UK-EU agreement, and it does not bind the UK to follow future EU rules in these politically sensitive areas.” She concludes, “It is unlikely this move in of itself will convince enough Labour MPs for the deal to pass, but it is an important first signal that the government is beginning to reach across the House to find its majority. It also sends a message to Conservative hardliners that the direction of travel will only get softer if they fail to support the Prime Minister’s deal.”