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MPs yesterday supported an amendment to the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill, aimed at making it more difficult for the next Prime Minister to prorogue Parliament to force through a No Deal Brexit. The Government was defeated by 315 to 274, a majority of 41, after 17 Conservative MPs rebelled. The amendment to the Northern Ireland Bill, tabled by former Conservative minister Alastair Burt and Labour MP Hilary Benn, requires Parliament to be recalled if it is prorogued in October and meet for the five following days. This is ostensibly to ensure Government compliance with requirements under previous amendments to publish reports to the Commons on the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, and to table a neutral motion on the matter. Speaking after the vote, Hillary Benn said, “This is a very significant amendment because it sends a very significant message to the Prime Minister if you think you can lock the doors on that chamber and tell us to go away until the 31st October, Parliament will not allow that to happen.”
Margot James, one of the 17 Conservative MPs to vote for the amendment, resigned her position as Digital Minister in order to cast her vote. Four Cabinet ministers abstained – Chancellor Phillip Hammond, Justice Secretary David Gauke, Business Secretary Greg Clark, and International Development Secretary Rory Stewart, together with four junior ministers. The Prime Minister’s spokesman said the abstaining ministers would not be sacked, but added, “The Prime Minister is obviously disappointed that a number of ministers failed to vote in this afternoon’s division. No doubt her successor will take this into account when forming their Government.”
Speaking before the vote, the Leader of the House of Commons, Mel Stride, said, “There are a number of occasions where prorogation may occur. But I think the essential principle here is that it should not occur simply as a device to exempt Parliament from the important decisions there will be arising around No Deal or a deal as we approach the end of October.”
Elsewhere, BBC Newsnight reports that senior Conservative MPs opposed to No Deal are considering asking the Queen to intervene if the next Prime Minister tried to pursue a No Deal Brexit against the will of Parliament. The plan would involve holding a vote on a parliamentary device known as a “humble address” to the Queen; if passed the address would say that if the Prime Minister ignored Parliament, the Queen should exercise her right as head of state to request an extension to the Article 50 process. However, the supposed move has already been criticised by other opponents of No Deal. Dominic Grieve, the Conservative MP who has led many anti-No Deal efforts, said, “One of my duties as a member of Parliament is to avoid drawing the monarch into politics. I don’t know where this idea came from but it certainly didn’t come from me.”
The Telegraph BBC
Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar yesterday said he would be willing to listen to the new UK Prime Minister to “see if they have any meaningful or workable suggestions” for alternative proposals to the backstop in order to avoid a hard border on the island of Ireland after Brexit, adding, “If they have proposals that genuinely achieve the same outcome, I have to listen to them. If they don’t, then obviously we can’t depart in any way from the Withdrawal Agreement or the backstop.” He told RTÉ Radio One that any plan needs to ensure the lack of a hard border, the preservation of the Good Friday Agrement and the protection of citizens’ rights, adding, “I am willing to compromise, provided those objectives are achieved. I can see a route [to avoiding a hard border] but I don’t think we can take that for granted and that’s why we are stepping up our preparations for No Deal.” Varadkar said a Northern Ireland-only backstop remained an option to avoid a hard border, adding however, “I don’t think it would go down well with the [Democratic Unionist Party] at all.” He also said he cannot see “there not being delays” at ports in the UK and the EU in a No Deal Brexit.
Elsewhere, European Commission President-elect, Ursula von der Leyen, told the Guardian that a European unemployment benefit reinsurance scheme could “come into force” should “an external shock such as a disorderly Brexit hit two or three countries particularly hard.” Asked whether such emergency aid could be applied to Ireland in a No Deal scenario, she said, “I can’t predict that. But it is right for Europe to help the member states who are hit hardest.” Von der Leyen also said, “A Brexit without a deal comes with massively negative consequences for both sides, not to mention what it means for Ireland. That’s why we need to do everything to strive for an orderly Brexit,” adding, “For both sides it is of the highest interest that there is an orderly and good beginning to our future relationships.”
The Office for Budget Responsibility’s Fiscal Risk Report published yesterday estimated that a “relatively benign” No Deal Brexit would add “around £30 billion a year to borrowing from 2020-21 onwards and around 12 per cent of GDP to net debt by 2023-24, compared with our March forecast baseline.” Chancellor Philip Hammond said, “The report that the OBR has published shows that even in the most benign version of a No Deal exit, there would be a very significant hit to the UK economy… a recession caused by a No Deal Brexit.”
Elsewhere, in an interview with French newspaper Le Monde, Hammond said that as a backbench MP, he would “everything in his power” to assure that Parliament blocks a No Deal Brexit. Commenting on No Deal preparations, he said, “There are certain things the UK Government cannot do… Many key elements in border procedures are in the hands of Europeans,” adding that while ports on both sides are preparing, “In practice, the quantity of controls needed at Calais will come from a political decision.”
The Financial Times
Prosperity UK’s Alternative Arrangements Commission yesterday published a report and two protocols on alternative arrangements to the Irish backstop, recommending that such a protocol could be “fully up and running within three years,” using “existing technologies and Customs best practice.” The report suggests adopting a “multi-tier trusted trader programme,” a common area for sanitary and phyto-sanitary measures, and that the UK continue participating in the EU’s VAT Information Exchange System.
Writing in the Evening Standard, co-chair of the commission, Conservative MP Nicky Morgan, said, “Rather than just publish a report, we have commissioned the leading City law firm Herbert Smith Freehills to help us draft two alternative arrangements legal protocols. The first protocol is intended to be inserted into the current Withdrawal Agreement. The backstop provision could remain but it would be superseded, assuming the UK met its commitments to implement the alternative arrangements. The second protocol could be used in any other scenario, such as a new free trade deal or a No Deal situation (which we are keen to avoid).” Morgan added, “We have seen at first hand that upholding the Good Friday Agreement while also avoiding a hard border in Ireland is the key to unblocking the Brexit logjam. Reconciling these two objectives is not easy, but we have done the technical work and I hope both sides will soon be able to come to an agreement.”
Italian Deputy Prime Minister and leader of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement, Luigi Di Maio, yesterday said that the right-wing Lega Party, his coalition partner, risks “isolating Italy” within the European Union after its MEPs voted against Ursula von der Leyen’s nomination as European Commission President. Di Maio said, “Lega wants to [nominate] the [Italian EU] Commissioner, but if you isolate yourself and then ask to nominate a Lega candidate there will be difficulties,” adding, “There was an agreement to vote for her in exchange for the Commissioner. Then they realised they could not have the Commissioner and withdrew.” Unlike Lega MEPs, the Five Star Movement’s MEPs voted in favour of Ursula von der Leyen’s nomination as European Commission President on Tuesday.
Lega’s leader Matteo Salvini, who also holds the post of Deputy Prime Minister, said, “We have taken note of the historical change of the Five Stars, which have voted together with [German Chancellor Angela] Merkel, [French President Emmanuel] Macron, [former Italian Prime Minister Silvio] Berlusconi, and [former Italian Prime Minister Matteo] Renzi,” adding that the Five Star Movement no longer has his trust. Di Maio also said yesterday that the current Italian government “is the only possible one,” while Salvini said there was still time to call for an early general election before the summer holiday.
Writing in the Scottish Daily Mail yesterday former Prime Minister Gordon Brown said that the UK is presently “united in name only with two extreme and bleak views of our future in head-on conflict. [Conservative party leadership candidate Boris] Johnson’s hard-line, anti -European conservatism – which is also seen in Scotland as anti-Scottish – versus the SNPs extreme nationalism, hell-bent on abandoning the UK pound and our 300-year-old single market and customs union.” He also said Scottish independence would be an “even worse financial catastrophe for Scotland’s economy” than a No Deal Brexit.
This comes as former deputy Prime Minster Nick Clegg said on Wednesday a break-up of the UK was “now more likely than not,” citing Brexit as having “unleashed such an aggressive and regressive right-wing English nationalism.”
The European Commission will conduct a “rigorous” assessment of a third country’s regulations before its financial services firms will be allowed to operate in the EU, according to a document seen by Bloomberg. In its updated approach to the equivalence system, the Commission will say, “The determination of the equivalence of a third-country regime results from a rigorous case-by-case assessment,” adding that “high-impact” countries for the EU’s financial system “present a more significant set of risks which the Commission will need to address.” It also states the need to continuously monitor foreign regulations, and that it can suspend or withdraw equivalence decisions in consequence.
According to a Politico-Hanbury poll, UK voters have increased their support for both a No Deal Brexit and revoking Article 50. In London and Scotland, voters supported revoking Article 50 and remaining in the EU by 53% and 51% respectively, compared with 29% and 24% who supported leaving without No Deal. However, in the East Midlands and North West, voters favored leaving without a deal by 48% and 46% respectively, compared with 33% and 34% for Remain.
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